Meaningful work for a preschooler is not so much defined by what I put on the shelves as much as how long they have to work with it. I find that I am rotating trays far less often than when they were toddlers, because they are able to work independently for longer and expand the activity themselves. Less is more; it’s the basic items like paint sticks and blank paper that have become permanent fixtures on the shelf.
1. Balancing toy
This was a hand-me-down from a cousin.
2. Phonetic eggs
I wrote some basic CVC words on Easter eggs. The kids can twist the halves of the eggs and sound out different words. The Sharpie isn’t great though, it keeps coming off on little fingers.
I don’t know if I “failed” to introduce them to puzzles properly when they were younger, but it’s only this year that they have begun to develop a real interest in jigsaw puzzles. Seeing how quickly they mastered puzzles, I bought several secondhand puzzles in practically mint condition.
This Great Barrier Reef puzzle by Eloise Short was an exception, I bought it as a souvenir of our Australia trip and had it delivered to our Airbnb.
There’s a difference in difficulty even between two 100-piece puzzles, for example the Great Barrier Reef one below was tougher because the color shifts were gradated rather than marked, so don’t get too hung up on the number of pieces, what’s more important is the resilience and flow it fosters.
Hang on to shape or layered puzzles that your kids may have outgrown. I reintroduced this vintage Judy Instructo puzzle as a tracing activity. E traced all the puzzle pieces in a tightly-packed collage. These might even be great for colouring and storytelling as puppets or on a light table.
4. Coin rubbings
I observed that E was into tracing- grout lines on tiles, grooves in armchairs, so I set up a coin rubbing activity. I chose coins and not leaves/ bark (which we had done previously) because I thought it would also cater to the children’s interest in numbers and currencies.
5. Perler beads
A favourite since last year.
These can then be ironed (with a mini travel iron), fastened with twine and given away as decorations.
6. Good old lined notepaper
Lots of writing going on, especially for D. Much of his writing is phonetic, so it reflects the way it sounds rather than “proper” English spelling. Rather than correcting his mistakes at this point, which might demoralise him or cause him to rely on me for the correct answer, I try to write together with him too. We enjoy playing guessing games where we write on each other’s palms and backs, marking dates on our calendar and making grocery lists. There is no English enrichment class that could possibly be richer than writing English in daily life.
7. Board games
Oh, the social impulse is so strong in a 5yo! With their motor and language skills developed, they are now interested in connecting with people using those skills.
I bought a couple of board games, again all secondhand and for a few dollars each. A travel set of Snakes and Ladders, which D’s Montessori guide suggested playing with two dice so he could practise addition.
A game of Tantrix at our Airbnb in Tasmania. I think the inventor is a New Zealander. It’s similar to dominos, training one’s color and pattern recognition, but complex enough even for me to want to play several rounds with my kids.
An old-school game of Connect Four. This was the first game we introduced as it was the easiest to grasp. I haven’t found any cooperative games selling secondhand yet or I would snap them up. But many existing games can be modified to be collaborative rather than competitive. This teaches children to value teamwork rather than being top dog. For instance, the “rule” of our Snakes & Ladders is to work together to reach 100, as opposed to the traditional rule where the player who hits 100 first wins. For Connect Four, our “rule” is to connect as many fours as possible, both reds and yellows.
And a borrowed game of opposites, the Dog’s Meow, which I simplified.
We’ve also played Jenga and Mastermind (the latter is abit challenging). [Sidenote: this interest in social games heightens in the second plane of development (6-12yo). It is not uncommon for 6-12yos to spend more time discussing the rules of the game rather than playing the game itself, because they are intensely curious about social rules and how to navigate them.]
8. Recycled materials
If I’m being completely honest, the one preoccupation that my children return to day after day is… making things from scratch. How wonderful to see how strong and nimble their hands are now, that they can make whatever they envision in their imaginations. Cardboard, tissue boxes, wrapping paper: all these are treasures, to be broken down and reassembled with washi tape into tennis rackets, ATM machines with dollar bills cut from paper, hats and handmade books.
To support their crafting, the children can take their pick of staplers, twine, rubber bands, glue and washi tape/ scotch tape.
Some other activities that may be of interest: flower arranging, sewing, finger knitting, weaving on a loom, making bracelets, moulding beeswax and clay (this was at a pottery studio).
I much prefer beeswax and clay for preschoolers. It helps develop their finger strength more so than sensory dough, especially beeswax which you have to to warm in your palms before you can knead it.
So many tools at one’s disposal for handbuilding a stoneware pot, from stamps to wooden knives to toothbrushes (for adhering handles). The spoons were made by me, I usually try to find something to occupy myself so I don’t start interfering in the children’s work.
A typical afternoon…
…in our Montessori space.
You may also like: