Four Fun Ways to Help Your Preschooler Get Ready for School
Without Getting Pushy!
Tags: Preschoolers, Preschool Games, Pretend Play, Building Sets, Construction Toys
Posted: 2012-09-28 18:38:50 By: Joanne Oppenheim


You may not even realize it, but there are easy to do activities with your preschooler that will help them as they learn concepts in school. The really important key here is not to over do it.  Most three year olds are not ready for games.  Your four year old may not have the fine motor skills to do certain tasks.  There's nothing wrong with your child--we all develop these skills in time.  There's so much pressure to hurry up--that we sometimes forget that these are very young children.

The most important gifts you can give your child are opportunities for them to see themselves as capable learners.  Introducing academic skills that are beyond them only teaches them what they can't do. 

Here's some basic things you can to that will really help:

* play simple games that involve color, shape and simple matching skills such as lotto, dominoes
* use art materials such as crayons, clay, paint to develop fine motor skills needed for writing
* bring home construction toys that develop dexterity, language and math skills
* enjoy pretend props that develop language, imagination and social skills

Here are some of our favorites:



2012 Awards
Hape Farm Animals Mix and Match
(HaPe $20 Score: )

A 28-piece set of picture dominoes with colorful graphics painted on the wooden playing pieces. Turn them over and have a game of traditional dominoes with dots. This is a good game for pre-readers learning to match images before they begin matching letters. Or, for early counting skills, dominoes helps children begin to sight read sets of two, three, or more and match them. 3 & up.

SNAP: A perfect choice for knowing and naming animals as well as beginning matching skills and counting.

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Awards
eeBoo About Face
(eeBoo $15 Score: )

Assemble the strips to create an endless cast of zany faces. Created by artist Saxton Freeman uses his photos of found objects to create images that can represent eyes, noses, mouths and other features from leaves, ribbons, coins and such. There is no right or wrong. Good fun. 4 & up.

SNAP: A good talking game with objects to know and name and extend vocabulary. Use this game for solo play or taking turns adding the top, middle and bottom of faces.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012.




1995 Awards
Lego Duplo
(Lego Systems, Inc. $29.99 Score: )

You can't go wrong with chunky plastic Lego Duplo building blocks to fill and dump, snap together, and take apart are basic gear for older toddlers and preschoolers. Small sets are good for add-ons, but be sure to start with a large enough set. 1 & up. There are also themed licensed sets that can be fun additions-but are not as open ended as a basic bucket.

SNAP INFO: Open ended Duplo blocks are ideal for stacking and building, but they are also fun for classifying games. ACTIVITY: Play a sorting game by putting all the red pieces together, then the yellow pieces and so on. These are ideal for developing fine motor skills as well as language, counting and color concepts.

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 1995. Click here to purchase the product on




2011 Award
eeBoo Preschool Colors
(eeBoo $17.99 Score: )

A fun way to reinforce color concepts and words with a set of twelve puzzles. The pieces are color coded to fit together. The color word is printed on one puzzle piece that matched up with an object pictured in that color. The pieces are big and chunky enough for preschoolers to handle with ease. The objects are familiar and therefore easy enough for beginners to know and name. 3 & up.
The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

SNAP: Play a color detective game by searching for things of one color in a magazine. Put out one of the puzzle sets. Have child cut out all things she can find in that magazine that are the same color as the puzzle piece you selected. Kids can make a color book with the objects found. Label the objects for kids who are learning to read. You'll need scissors, glue, blank paper book and magazine. Declare this day as "red" day - and eat foods that are that color. On another day do green foods.

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
LEGO Fun with Vehicles
(Lego Systems, Inc. $29.99 Score: )

Kids love to build toys that work and this 525 piece set comes with mechanics and all the parts needed to build five vehicles. These are building plans for building and assortment of racing cars, tow truck, flatbed, jeep and convertible. The set includes 2 male mini-figures, wheels, tools and color-coded basic elements
This set is marked for 4+, but for those with limited dexterity, this may be a better choice for 5's and 6's. The step-by-step plans are clear, but younger kids will need help in learning how to "read" the drawings.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Awards
Learning Resources Farmer's Market Color Sorting Set
(Learning Resources $39.99 Score: )

Five plastic baskets come with fruits and veggies to sort by color. There are stick-on color labels to put on the basket and five pieces of food in each color. These are well-proportioned props for pretend stores, and kitchens that are also useful for building knowing and naming language skills as well as possible games of counting and making patterns. The set comes with 30 pieces that will find their way into all sorts of pretend play and learning games. 3 & up.

SNAP GAME: Put three veggies in a row. Have/help child name them. Have child turn away a you remove one. Can he tell which one is missing? Try it another way. Have child turn away while you add a fourth piece. Can he tell the name of piece added?

SNAP GAME: For kids working on beginning sounds put down three or four of the foods and say, I'm thinking of something that starts with the same sound as bird, bug, bobby...if that doesn't do it add another clue it rhymes with Hannah....did they find the banana?

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2010 Award
LeapFrog Leapster Explorer
(LeapFrog $69.99 Score: )

If you're on the go, the Leapster Explorer is an electronic play platform that will engage your child.  (Assuming that your child has not taken charge of the games on your smart phone!)  We preface all reviews of such toys as fun rather than toys that will teach your child skills.  Much like the workbooks that we grew up with, these types of toys are great for reinforcing what your child already has learned.  They are meant to give fun, interactive opportunities to practice skills- and on this level this device can be very satisfying. On the otherhand, if your four year old feels overwhelmed by the games- chances are he has stumbled into material that is designed for older kids.  The Disney licenses also appeal to kids - whether they're playing a game with Buzz Lightyear or one of the Disney Princesses (no matter where you come down on these characters, they do appeal to this demographic).  One of our favorite aspects of the Explorer is the music...where you can explore harmony with the four different characters that sing familiar tunes. By removing the spot light on one of the characters, that voice is silenced.  Fun for exploring how music is layered.  The games are varied--some working on abc's, math and logical thinking.  There are also eBooks for downloading.  As with all of the new LeapFrog games-there is an opportunity for tracking your child's progress on line.  We wonder how many parents bother with this aspect- but it's there. You can customize the content with downloads to meet your child's individual needs. 

Age: Preschool, Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2010. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
Primary Science Mix and Measure Set
(Learning Resources $29.99 Score: )

Learning about measurement equivalencies comes built into this clever set of measuring tools. For starters you want to give kids a chance to explore how many cups it takes to fill the bigger containers and to discover that the tall and short two-cup containers are the same. The 12-piece set includes measuring spoons and 1/4, 1/2, and 1 cup measures, 2-cup and 4 cup beakers. A small scale is included along with some clever activity cards to use with your child. These science activities are recipes for creating bubble solution, puffy paint, clay, trail mix, slime stencils, mystery goo and other more basic measuring experiments. The well made materials and activity cards add up to a wealth of entertaining parent and child explorations that make early connections to science. 4 & up.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Award
Hit the Hat
(International Playthings $19.99 Score: )

There's a lot of pre-reading involved in this triple attribute game. Players use three dice to determine the color, pattern and shape of the hat they must find. Players use the suction cupped mallets to find the hat with those three attributes. The first to hit six hats and take 6 hats is the winner. It is possible that on your turn the hat you match is already taken. That's part of the big lesson - you win some and you loose some. This is marked for 4 & up. We'd say the three attributes at once may be a little challenging for young fours, but this is a fun way for pre-readers to sharpen their skills at seeing several attributes at a time. There are 35 hats, 4 slammers and three dice.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on




2012 Awards
Little Hare Puppet
(Folkmanis $12.95 Score: )

This small hand puppet will not overwhelm the hand of a small child. It looks amazingly lifelike - not the usual pastel Easter bunny. A lot more like the ones in the garden that nibble, nibble. Also in the same collection, a Little Raccoon and a Little Chipmunk that would make good companions in scale and authentic looks. For extra dramatic moments, add the swampy green Little Alligator, a scruffy looking jungle Little Lion or for woodland adventure add the Little Bear.

SNAP Adaption: for kids who cannot manipulate hand puppets, put them on top of cans or plastic bottles that can be slid around a table top. This group of puppets is made smaller than many and may be easier to use on the hand or over containers.

Age: Preschool. Award Year: 2012. Click here to purchase the product on


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