COVID-19 has demanded that parents take on some teaching duties. With months of limited or no in-person school in the rearview mirror and the possibility of more months on the horizon, parents are overwhelmed and stressed, to say the least. For parents with preschoolers, the lack of in-person school can be especially difficult. Neuroscientists tell us that birth to age 3 is the most critical time for brain development. While school-aged kids may be able to benefit from remote learning, younger children are still in the pre-operational stage, making it unrealistic to expect them to gain much from screen-based school.
In the preschool classroom, separation and autonomy, rather than curriculum, are the primary objectives. As a former preschool teacher who specialized in teaching toddlers, my primary goal for my 2-year-old students was that they feel comfortable without their parent or adult caregiver in the room. Unfortunately, with many families spending their days isolated at home, it is impossible to re-create the parent-child separation that is inherent in the in-person classroom.
Creating Routines at Home Helps Prepare Young Children for Preschool
But there is an important objective of the preschool experience that can happen at home, without demanding too much of your time or causing too much additional stress. For toddlers who are not enrolled in a preschool program or who are participating in remote learning, implementing a brief at-home routine that includes a few simple transitions can lay a strong foundation for when they finally do start or return to school. After all, a predictable set of routines forms the core of any good toddler program. Activities such as circle time, washing hands, and snack take place in the same order each day in the classroom. The predictability and sequence of these activities is repetitive but not trivial. In fact, the repetitive nature of these transitions helps toddlers understand that they can manage basic life skills independently and without undue anxiety. After a few weeks, they know the routine and can anticipate what is coming next.
The routine can and should be based on the parent and child’s interests, while including activities that focus on both small and large motor skills. And a good transition makes a natural connection between the sequence of activities.
If you play the guitar or enjoy singing, consider a short sing-along followed by a transition to dancing to expend some toddler energy, then transition to washing hands and a snack. Or, make story time or drawing time the first activity followed by a round of Simon Says, then move on to washing hands and a snack. Keep in mind that stirring, mixing, and stringing are important for fine motor skill development, so preparing the snack with the help of your child could be part of the routine too. Some of my student’s favorite edible activities included stringing Cheerios onto shoestring licorice and cutting slices of bread into shapes with large cookie cutters.
Choose a time of day when your toddler is well-rested. If you can designate a section of your home or apartment for the sequence of activities, ideally different from where your child usually plays, even better. Remember: The specific activities you choose aren’t necessarily key; it’s the fact that the activities follow a pattern that toddlers come to recognize and eventually depend on.
The toddlers in my program were only in the classroom for 2 hours, twice a week. Four hours per week together wasn’t a tremendous amount of time but it was enough for them to get comfortable with the classroom routines. The at-home routine doesn’t need to last more than 20 or 30 minutes. It’s the consistency that matters.
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Allison Tibaldi is a freelance travel, food, and parenting writer. She did graduate work in early childhood education at Bank Street College of Education and has traveled and lived on three continents with her own children.
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