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Article:    Creating a Learning-Rich Preschool Environment at Home



It's easy and inexpensive to create a home environment that is rich with educational opportunities for your young children. Children learn through play, and learning is best when all of a child's senses are stimulated.

~ Music ~

Music stirs emotions and, when used in positive ways, sets up a pleasing and stimulating backdrop for children's play time activities. Classical music is often a good choice for background music. There are many recordings available that are specifically designed for children, but the truth is, practically any recording that a child enjoys will suffice.

One of our favorite children's recordings is Hunk-ta-Bunk-ta Chants by Indie artist, Katherine Dines. This recording features a compilation of chants from around the world. Chants not only stir powerful emotion, they are a deliciously fun way to encourage language arts skills. The rhythm and repetition of chants helps lay the foundation for acquiring language, and even though many songs on the album include words from different languages, they nurture a child's imagination, stir poetic imagery, and "train" their minds to appreciate rhythm and syntax.

This recording presents a nice variety of chants, reflecting the use of chants to express a wide variety of emotions (love, angst, hope, sadness, and devotion), to recount stories, and as an accompaniment to play (jump-rope chants are an example). The chants on the recording are often accompanied by music, effectively encouraging children to dance and move along with the songs; while others are purely lyrical. 

Hunk-ta-Bunk-ta Chants is a powerful and fun recording that is great as a backdrop for play time. The pace is varied and the music sets up a pleasant mood as it moves from a rousing track to a gentle one. Beautiful!

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Hunk-Ta-Bunk-Ta CHANTS at (affiliate link)]

coverElectronic learning aids are simply unnecessary for families on a budget. However, for those who want to add some variety to their child's play time, Music Blocks is an impressive toy that allows children to play with music. Toddlers compose music by arranging--and rearranging--colorful blocks in the electronic toy's base. The included cartridge allows each of the musical blocks to "play" a musical phrase of a Mozart melody. Placing a block onto the base on its different sides produces the sounds of different instruments playing the same musical phrase. Experimenting with different musical phrases and various arrangements (including violin, voice, woodwinds, and more) is a lot of fun, especially when the music sounds as rich as it does with this unique toy. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Music Blocks Mozart Set at (affiliate link)]

cover A child-friendly tape recorder or CD player, such as the Tuff Stuff Tape Recorder by Fisher Price, is always fun for small children. They can tote the player around with them from room to room and record their own voices or simply sing karaoke-style into the microphone.

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Tuff Stuff Tape Recorder with Voice Warp at (affiliate link)]

See the Children's Music section for more music ideas.


~ Books ~


Books, books, and more books! When children are surrounded by books at an early age, they can't imagine life without them later on. An easy way to stock up on books is to frequent secondhand stores and garage sales. This way you can get a lot of books at a fair price. Trips to the library also add an element of excitement to books. 

Aim to own and borrow a number of imaginative picture books--those that stir emotions and feature fanciful illustrations that help inspire children's imagination. Books that have a rhythm to them, and those with fun rhymes, are great for encouraging early language arts skills. Also aim to have a number of alphabet books and early readers on hand, because you never know when children will attempt to read on their own.

Workbooks designed for older preschoolers are fantastic for promoting school readiness skills. When workbooks are introduced early and in conjunction with play, children love them! They add a nice element of structure to children's play time, and they help prepare children for school because they encourage them to follow directions. 

See our Book Reviews for our top choices in books.



~ Pencil and Paper...and Art Supplies! ~


Always have paper and writing instruments handy so that children will become comfortable with the idea of drawing at a very early age. Scribbling is satisfying, and children are always fascinated with the colorful designs they can make with markers and crayons. 

You can easily create a little art station in your home with a small table and chair or a child's desk. Keep a good stock of paper, washable markers and crayons, chubby pencils, and paints on hand--readily available for those moments when a child is inspired! Children will enjoy building their own things with glue (glue sticks are terrific) and various paper materials. Keeping a box of a variety of different supplies is sure to fuel children's imagination--scrap paper, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, cotton balls, dried beans, and other common objects from around the house. Craft supply stores have all sorts of doo-dads that will inspire kids--colorful pom-poms and feathers, foam shapes, sequins, and glitter are just some ideas.

We have found a child-sized easel as one of our better investments. Many kids will be happy with a simple double-sided easel that features a chalk board on one side and a white board on the other. Some models come with a roll of large paper that pulls down onto the surface, or a clip to hold a pad of large paper, which is great for times when children want to keep their masterpieces!

Easels are especially fun for active children, simply because they don't have to sit down to write or draw. Young kids are proud to draw and write on boards that everyone in the house can see clearly. Besides the ability to display their artwork, kids appreciate the freedom they get when they can do their work on an upright surface. Because an easel is quite large and can easily be a focal point in a room, caregivers can use it to display a "lesson" for the day--for example, they might put a large letter "B" on the board, which defines the learning theme of the day.

You may be surprised at how an easel attracts attention and motivates kids to start creating.

Our choices:

coverCrayola - Double Easel cover Double Easel


~ Imagination ~

Halloween costumes often seemed like a bit of a waste of money, that is until I started our costume box. Costumes got used over and over again, throughout the year. Any time we came across some piece of clothing or accessory that was a little unusual or fun, we'd add it to the box. I had a purse, for example, that was a little too boxy for my taste, and I turned it into a "doctor's bag". I came across a pint-sized motorcycle jacket, and that went into the box as well. Old funky necklaces, unusual hats, a clown wig, an old pair of high heels--all went into our costume box. In the end, we had one fabulous box that was pure fodder for the imagination and total fun. 



~ Toys to Build, Count, & Sort With ~


It's almost a cliché, but kids really do appreciate building blocks. These can be the basic wooden ones or colorful foam models, but whatever shape and form they come in, they are staples in a child's play room. 

There are plenty of basic (often wooden) puzzle sets that feature different shapes and sizes of pieces and blocks. We love the Shape Fitter by Plan Toys for toddlers, any wooden or foam alphabet puzzle, and Lauri foam puzzles for simple shapes. For older preschoolers, we love the ABC Puzzle Upper and Lower Case because it features both upper-and lower-case letters side-by-side. It also features peek-inside illustrations of familiar objects that begin with each letter (such as a quail for "Q" and an ice cream cone for "I". For families who want their children to learn to associate the "big" and "little" letters with each other, this puzzle is ideal. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: ABC Puzzle: Upper & Lower Case at]


Things to sort and count are absolutely great for encouraging logical thinking and early math skills. Kids can count Cheerios, sort objects by color or shape, line up their figurines in order, and so on. We had a large plastic container that was divided into smaller compartments -- originally designed for beads or something on those lines -- that we successfully used for years as a sorting tray. All sorts of interesting objects went into that tray over the years--buttons, coins, marbles, feathers, and so forth.


cover First Shape Fitter cover Lacing Beads in a Box (affiliate link)

cover See Inside ABC Puzzle (affiliate link)

cover I Spy Preschool Game (affiliate link)


coverOne of our favorite learning games for older preschoolers is Mighty Math. This set takes children through geometric puzzles that become progressively more challenging as they go along. Kids learn all about the parts that make up a whole with this game, and it's a rewarding experience! It contains circles, half-circles, rectangles, triangles, diamonds, and squares. Children build all sorts of different objects with these basic pieces. This set contains small pieces, so it's better for kids over the age of 3. 

[For more information, user reviews, or to buy: Mighty Mind Game (hardcover) at (affiliate link)]


See our article: Favorite ABC's and 123's Videos


May 2003