Little Explorers: Learning Centers in the Home
By Nancy Baetz
Preschoolers: pudgy, sticky, kissable and into everything!
What do you do with a little energizer-bunny bundle of cuteness….or two or three of them? Just love ‘em and give them plenty to do. If you don't, they will find something on their own and it will involve a mess for sure – so Mom, be proactive!
Although we call them "preschoolers" there is nothing "pre" about it. These kids are ready to learn! Kids are interested in the world around them. Everything is new and fresh – they want to experience it all! Every part of their body and all five senses are put to use. We can spend our days saying "don't touch that, leave that alone, NO!" Or we can create kid-friendly homes where new joy is discovered by children and parents alike. Home can be a safe, rich learning sanctuary.
I used to set up learning centers when my kids were little. Each corner of the room had a little area with a "theme" just waiting for them to discover. We had an art center, play dough center, building block area, kitchen set, crafts, grocery store, office and dress-up.
Creative centers in your home can be contrived, or they can be as natural as a drawer full of plastic containers in the kitchen for your children to "play with" while Mom works. Having lots of kid supplies can be a life saver when you are at a loss for what to give a child who has empty hands but is busy minded!
In the art center area we kept crayons and paper, watercolors and brushes. An old shower curtain works to protect the floor and let them experiment with paints. Put an old snap shirt on them backwards and voila! …you have a smock. Of course, you have to supervise if they are at the crayon tasting age, but even at the older ages Mom is still needed to be close enough to "ooh and ahh" over their creations.
Make an office corner with unused reply envelopes, scrap paper, rubber stamps, stickers and a hole punch. Make a mailbox together and have fun putting notes to each other in it.
Pipe cleaners are great for kids to manipulate and shape. We've made many creations out of these inexpensive "tools." Kids need to create things. If they are getting into mischief, you can instead get them busy creating shapes, letters, ornaments, dolls or animals out of pipe cleaners. All turn to extraordinary learning opportunities.
A music center is another great idea. Your local library will have books on making homemade instruments – or you can find ideas online. If you have real instruments, show them to your kids! Let them explore.
Recently my four year old nephew discovered the piano and spotted the hammers and strings. He was fascinated by watching the cause and effect of his fingers making music.
In the play-dough center, make sure you have a place for rolling out the dough, as well as cookie cutters, rolling pins, spatulas and such. If you have a little kitchen set or play oven, they can "bake" their creations. We had alphabet cookie cutters or you can help them roll and assemble their own letters. Even if they aren't yet old enough to understand the idea of letters or numbers this activity serves as great early exposure. Spell out the names of family members, pets, etc. It all adds up!
You can design a joyous learning environment for your little ones. Let them get their hands moving, help them discover their world and start with little corners of your home filled with fun things to explore. Your imagination and encouragement will go a long way when it comes to your preschooler's hands-on education!
Nancy Baetz is a mom of four who has been homeschooling for 17 years. She is the author of two e-books and recently produced her first video. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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