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Turn Daily Routines With Your Preschooler Into Development Springboards

Sophie Pickles

Written by Sophie Pickles

7 min read

Mum and child sitting on the floor playing with a wooden toy

It can be so easy to worry that we aren’t doing enough with our preschoolers. Between daily household tasks, working (often at home), siblings and trying to take care of ourselves, it can be hard to find the time and it's easy to make ourselves feel guilty. 

Fear not! The mere fact that you’re reading this article however, means that in actuality, you are doing a brilliant job. 

Take a look at our top tips below. Building play and learning into your daily routine is easy when you know how - you may even realise that you are doing a lot of these things already! 

Waking up

The first and last 5 minutes of the day are the most important time we will spend with our children. This is the time to build their confidence and self-esteem and set them up for a happy and productive day, whether at home or in preschool. 

Spend the first 5 minutes of the day with a hug. Share your dreams from the night before and offer to let them share theirs. Try to give them your undivided attention for this time if you can. Talking in this way is not only brilliant for improving wellbeing, but it’s a fantastic way to encourage greater language development too.

Breakfast time

Encourage independent life skills at breakfast time by allowing your child to serve themselves. I know, you’re thinking ‘the morning is already enough of a rush without added milk on the floor and cereal in every crevice!’ but hear me out. 

Teaching our children to master life skills like serving themselves will actually save us time in the long run! Not only that but it teaches our children autonomy, self-care and problem solving skills. Montessori enthusiasts call this ‘practical life’ and with good reason! 

Top tips: 

    • Put bowls, plates and cutlery into a low cupboard or drawer for easy access. 
    • Decant your milk into a bottle with an easy pour spout. 
    • Put self-serve food items on the table (blueberries in a punnet for example).
    • Teach your child the life skill you want them to master and then ask them to have a turn. 

Meal times are also great opportunities for maths and language development. Talk to your child about their day, or what is going to happen. Ask them if they would like to share their thoughts with you. Encourage maths by counting out food items and talk about halves and quarters as you help them to cut their food.

Toddler wearing a white top and blue handkerchief around his neck holding some chopped peppers in the kitchen

Free play

As an Early Years development expert, I know that letting your child choose how they would like to play with their toys will bring about the deepest levels of learning. That’s because, in order to access the best kind of learning - the brain-growth, neurons-firing kind of learning - children have to enjoy what they are doing. 

Early Years pioneer, Dr Ferre Laevers  found that when children enjoy their play (and this occurs most often when they choose what to do), they will have greater levels of wellbeing and involvement, which in turn leads to more meaningful learning. 

This doesn’t mean that you have to sit and supervise while your child plays, but you may find that playing alongside them or joining in with their game for 5 or 10 minutes will not only bring them great joy, but will mean that they stay engaged in the activity for longer, meaning you have more time to do the jobs on your list! 

Little boy wearing a grey outfit, playing with toy cars beside a green plastic box

Quiet Time

Quiet time is the new nap time! That’s right - having a preschooler doesn’t have to mean an end to that peaceful midday slot where you can get everything done.  In our house, we treat quiet time in very much the same way as nap time. My 3 year old plays independently in his room, with the door closed, for an hour from 1 - 2pm. Spending time alone not only means that I can have a rest, but that he can too (he often falls asleep)! 

Quiet, independent play is such an important skill for children to learn. It helps them to build critical thinking and problem solving skills and surprisingly, even promotes better language development. 

Top tips: 

  • Make sure that your child’s room is a safe space. Large furniture pieces should be bolted to the wall and there should be no choking hazards or other dangers. 
  • Make sure that your child knows that they can call out for you if they need to. 
  • Establish a regular quiet time routine, just as you did for nap times. 
  • Using a timer or Gro clock can help your child to understand how much time has passed. 
  • Ensure that your child has access to appropriate toys, puzzles or books. You might like to create a ‘quiet time basket’ that is pulled out for this occasion. 

Afternoon Activity

The afternoon slot is notoriously challenging for preschoolers and parents alike! Having a change of scene or introducing a new way to play is often a welcome distraction and a brilliant opportunity for new learning. 

Avoid trying to create ‘Instagram worthy’ activities and instead focus on the things you know your child is interested in. Quickly cutting a hole in a cardboard box to make a postbox or setting up a car ramp from the sofa to the floor will make the play last longer and increase the opportunities for learning. 

Why don’t you try: 

  • Baking biscuits using a simple recipe that your preschooler can follow. 
  • Taping toilet roll tubes to the door to make a Marble Run-style ball drop (scrunched up tin foil works well as a ball).
  • Adding water to chia seeds and chilling for 15 minutes to make taste-safe slime. 
  • Pulling out pots and pans from the cupboard to make a ‘kitchen cupboard orchestra’. 
  • Taping lengths of cardboard together to make an extra long ramp. Rest on the stairs or against the sofa and roll down balls or cars. 
  • Going for a walk in nature to spot signs of the seasons. 

Mum playing with her preschooler and a rubber duck who is having a bath

Bath Time 

Water play is loved by every preschooler I’ve ever met and bath time is the perfect opportunity to play without too much mess stress. Give your child some cups or jugs so that they can practise scooping and pouring. This is a fantastic skill, not only to build coordination and motor strength, but also an understanding of mathematical concepts like capacity. Changing the water by adding bubbles, experimenting with fizzing bath bombs or adding a splash of food colouring (it won’t stain skin) are also fun ways to level-up bath time. 

Getting Changed 

Getting changed can quickly turn into a battle at any time of day, but pre-bedtime is often the most challenging, as our children are tired and emotions are running high. Try lightening the mood by giving your child choices as they get changed:

“Would you like to wear the red pjs or green pjs tonight?”

“Would you like to put your top or trousers on first?”

This will appeal to their sense of independence and allow them to feel in control of the situation (as well as teaching them important decision making skills!). 

Turn getting dressed into a game by playing peekaboo with the different body parts as you pull them through the clothes, or make it a race to see how quickly they can pull on their pjs. Allowing your child the opportunity to practise getting dressed themselves is really important, and pyjamas are often much easier to manipulate than everyday clothes. 

Father taking the time to talk to his children about how they feel

Bedtime

Remember those important 5 minutes at the start and end of every day? Use this one-on-one time to invite your child to talk about what they have enjoyed most about their day or to recall special events. 

Reading stories together is also an incredibly beneficial activity. Not only will it improve your child’s vocabulary and imagination but it will provide them with an important opportunity to decompress and relax at the end of a busy day. What’s more, it provides the perfect bonding experience between you and your precious preschooler. 

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