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Our three-year-old daughter attends preschool three days a week, and our one-year-old daughter stays home. With two kids in two different stages, it can be difficult to know exactly how to structure the day when they are both home all day. At times, I find myself wondering if they are getting enough educational play in the day.
I’m amazed at our three-year-old daughter’s preschool. The way the classroom is set up is perfect for the kids to explore and play. The way the schedule is set up keeps the kids active and interested all day long. The extra activities in other areas of the school and outside like music class, the nature center, and recess give the kids opportunities to explore and use their gross motor skills.
So, the other day, when I compared the set up we have in our home with the classroom at her school, I began to realize that the toys that covered our playroom floor weren’t set up in a way that promoted play and exploration. I have cube shelving and try to pick up toys, books, and stuffed animals daily, but they quickly all get pulled back out the next day and scattered throughout the playroom and house.
So, what’s the solution to the toy craziness? I’ve been desperate for more structure, especially in these winter months when we aren’t outside as much as we usually like to be. I’ve decided to take pointers from the experts – our daughter’s preschool where they’ve mastered structure, exploration, creativity, and play.
The tips below are observations that I’ve made from the schedule they follow and the rooms and play areas they have set up for the kids. My goal is to implement these strategies in our home this spring and to completely overhaul the way we structure our days.
10 Tips for Structuring a Day at Home with Toddlers and Preschoolers
1. Switch activities every 20-25 minutes. This seems like a lot of activities in a day, but it’s really not when you incorporate all the different types of activities that kids enjoy like free play, snack time, circle time, art, outdoor play, music and dancing, lunch, and rest or quiet time.
2. Rotate toys. This is a big one that I am determined to get better at. Rather than leaving out all the toys, store the toys out of sight of the kids, and only get out certain toys each day. For example, our toddler loves her Melissa and Doug puzzles. When we leave them out all the time, all the puzzle pieces end up scattered around the house, and she no longer plays with them. However, if we put them away in a container like this and only got them out on certain days, she would be more likely to play with them and even be excited about them. That’s how many of the toys are set up at the preschool, in containers in a different room and pulled out for certain days, at certain times. This frees up so much space in the playroom for free and pretend play.
3. Incorporate music and movement. Set aside time for music each day, and learn new, fun songs that encourage learning, dancing, and other gross motor skills.
4. Explore the outdoors. We love going on walks. But instead of just going on walks, incorporate learning while you’re outside. Go on a scavenger hunt, talk about the leaves, explore dirt and sand, look for bugs, or head to the neighborhood playground.
5. Have a theme for the week. This is my favorite tip! Our daughter’s school has a different theme each week, so we try to incorporate the theme into the activities we do at home. It really gives us a focus for all of our activities for the week during art, music, story time, and more. For example, if the theme is space, my daughter may color or paint a rocket ship during art time. Or if the theme is farm, we may go out driving around looking for various types of farm animals and equipment like tractors. You can incorporate the theme into music time as well by learning songs related to the theme of the week. Some of the themes that the school has had this year include: space, farm, ocean, construction, leaves, Christmas, winter, and home.
6. Set aside time for rest. Even if your child is no longer napping, it’s great to have time built into the schedule for rest or quiet time like reading books. I’ve found that when my daughter is more active throughout the day, she tends to like this time more and usually falls asleep.
7. Read to your kids. Reading and story time is so important for kids. We read books before nap and bedtime, but the girls also love reading throughout the day. Sometimes they like to flip through the pages by themselves, but they always prefer reading a story together. Have exciting books around the house, check out books from the library, attend toddler/preschool story time at the local library, and make reading a fun priority in your home.
8. Set up a play date with friends. Playing with friends is a great way for kids to learn social skills and also things like sharing. We’ve had fun meeting friends at each other’s houses, the local playground, and at kid-friendly restaurants like Chick-fil-A.
9. Go on field trips. Explore fun things to do in your area. Of course there are places like the zoo, children’s museums, and aquariums, but there are also free options like parks, libraries, pet stores, and Home Depot where you can explore and learn for free.
10. Reflect on the week. Especially now that I’m a parent, I feel like I’m always reflecting on the day or week and trying to figure out how to make things better for the next day or week. Try out a new schedule for a week or two, then reflect on what worked well and what can be improved. Ask your kids what their favorite activity was and make sure to continue that one and expand on it the following week. Involving your kids in planning out the activities for the day or week can be an easy way to come up with fun ideas for activities that they’ll enjoy.
Leave any of your favorite tips for setting up an awesome playroom or what schedule works best for your little ones in the comments section below.
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