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Capital Area Head Start Child Development Activities for Preschoolers

Two children sit on an activity mat

Based on Pennsylvania Early Learning Standards, the Work Sampling System and the High Scope approach

Social and Emotional Development

By working and playing with other children and with adults, a child develops important social skills that will be with them throughout their life. Young children watch others, imitate them, want to play and talk and learn about themselves and others. How a child relates to adults and other children, ask for help, how they understand and express their feelings are important. Children's feelings about themselves are also very important. Children first learn about their own family. From there they learn about their school, neighborhood, the larger world, different jobs, where people live, reasons why rules are needed, and how people get along and live together.

  • Allow your child to make choices. Give your child the chance to make choices – for example, Do you want to wear the green or red shirt today? Do you want cereal or toast for breakfast? Do you want to play on the slide or on the swings?
  • Allow your child to solve problems whenever possible and safe.
  • Be supportive when your child wants to try something new. Encourage your child. Praise her for trying.
  • Talk to your child about conflicts and ways to resolve them with words.
  • Expect spills and mistakes – it's how children learn.
  • Let child play dress-up using larger clothes and shoes, make a dress up box/ basket they can reach.
  • Point out landmarks near your home while driving or walking.
  • Make a simple map of your neighborhood with your child or make a treasure map.
  • Create a scavenger hunt.
  • Help your child learn their phone number or address
  • Give your child a special job around the house. Show your child how to set the table, spread peanut butter, pour drinks.
  • Talk to your child, have lots of conversations about lots of different things!
  • Provide consistency and predictability in your daily routines
  • Sing, dance, play with your child
  • Provide opportunities for your child to play with other children – go to the park, have a friend come to play, visit with relatives who have children
  • Make sure your child attends their Head Start program on a regular basis
  • When your child is upset, ask them to identify the problem by saying things such as "Can you tell me what the problem is?"
  • Read books that talk about feelings
  • Encourage your child to take care of her own possessions
  • Show pride in family traditions
  • Makes positive statements about your child and encourage them to do the same
  • Encourage your child to independently gather their materials to take home
  • Help your child express their feelings in words (sad, angry, happy)
  • Help your child identify feelings in others – look at facial expressions
  • Praise and support your child with specific words about what they have done. For example: You knew exactly where to hang up your coat. Wow, you brushed your hair and look so neat.
  • Participate in pretend play with your child.
  • Play a game with your child that has some basic simple rules such as Simon Says, Duck duck goose, musical chairs
  • Look through pictures of family and friends with your child
  • Recognize the importance of family routines and traditions by making special "family times" at holidays
  • Create special times in your family's routines that your child can look forward to like reading a story at bedtime
  • Encourage your child to express himself
  • Read stories and talk about them
  • Answer questions
  • Help your child use words to identify her needs
  • Express your feelings in words
  • Provide cooperative activities such as cooking, making play dough, taking turns
  • Take your child for a walk around the neighborhood, point out signs and landmarks. Talk about how you get from place to place. Visit local businesses like the grocery store, post office, and bank and talk about what happens there and what the workers do.
  • Visit with family members and talk about their jobs, family memories and traditions.
  • Plan play dates with other children so your child has the opportunity for cooperative play with others
  • Look at maps together, find your city or street, draw a map
  • Talk about history – what life was like when grandparents were young, talk about what life may be like in the future
  • Look at family photos together. Talk about how the child and other family members have changed and grown
  • Create a pretend store where your child can buy and sell items
  • Play games where your child can practice self control such as the "freeze game" – stopping when music stops or other start/stop games

Approaches to Learning

All children need to feel secure, comfortable and successful about learning. Each child learns in their own way. Adults can help support them by closely watching to help discover a child's learning style. Children need to be encouraged to try new things, problem solve and to be persistent in their activities and projects.

  • Ask open ended questions such as: what if, why, how
  • Encourage your child to plan activities
  • Provide interesting play/learning materials to encourage problem solving (puzzle, tape, glue, etc)
  • Show that learning is fun
  • Provide a variety of materials and experiences that appeal to a variety of the child's senses and to their learning style. Consider things they can see, hear, feel, taste, smell.
  • Encourage the child to express their interests and develop projects. If they are interested in a subject, find books, materials, toys that relate to that subject.
  • Tell or read stories about people who use their imagination and creativity or invent things.
  • Take pictures of them in action. Label the pictures.
  • Talk with your child about their progress or skills
  • Talk about your child's new accomplishments, ideas, and play with other adults so your child knows you are enjoying the time you spend with her as well as feels confident in her new knowledge and skills.
  • Encourage your child to be persistent with tasks/activities. Give specific feedback. (You brushed your teeth on the top and bottom today and they are shining! You worked so hard to put all your books/toys on the shelf just like they were before you started playing. It looks so nice and neat.)
  • Use open ended questions to encourage your child to sort and classify things (I wonder where that brown sock's match is? What kind of animal is that? I wonder what sleeps under the ground?)
  • Use open ended questions to encourage your child to problem solve (How can we get to school if the bus doesn't come? What do we need to pack for Grandma's house? Why won't that ball stay still?)
  • Read stories and ask "what if" questions. (What if the animal gets sleepy? What will happen if the boy can't find his way home?)
  • Ask "why" about dangerous situations (Why do you think we look both ways before we cross the street? Why should children give matches to an adult?)
  • Accept that your child may be more or less willing to try new experiences than other children you know. Each child is unique.
  • Provide new materials in your home to stimulate your child and stretch their thinking. They can be recyclable things such as empty boxes, junk mail envelopes and other safe materials.
  • Find books at the library, borrow them from school or buy your child books about things that interest them. Read them together. Allow your child to explore them on their own. Create a special resource area in your home for books and other materials, collections, etc.
  • Encourage your child to be aware of computers and other technology and what these things can do.
  • Don't allow computers or video games to take the place of real life exploration and creative play with real objects which is the keystone of young children's learning.
  • Encourage your child to solve problems whenever possible and safe.

Language Development

From the time children are born their ability to learn language is amazing. They listen, make sounds and begin to speak. Young children needs lots of experiences with language in their everyday life and in their play. They need to talk with you and to have you listen carefully. Language development involves listening to and understanding speech, using new words, and knowing that letters make sounds in words.

  • Talk with your child often – it is one of the best activities to support early language and literacy. Use language during your everyday activities – the drive to work, bath time, meal time, doing dishes, etc. It's easy to talk to your child, it can be done anywhere and it's fun to learn what your child is thinking or to share your thoughts and ideas!
  • Model good listening by giving the child a chance to think and respond to you.
  • Repeat rhymes, songs, finger plays with your child. Make up songs and rhymes with your child.
  • Help your child review the sequence of a short story or something that has happened – First we got in the car and then what happened next? And then what happened?
  • Introduce new words to your child and use them in various ways, talk about what they mean
  • Talk about what sounds the different letters make
  • Collect things that make noise (keys, whistle, crumpled paper, clock, toy). Have your child close his eyes and guess what is making the noise. Let him create the game for you to guess too.
  • When reading a rhyming book, stop before the rhyming word and give your child the chance to guess what comes next
  • Play "I Spy" with letter sounds. Say, "I spy something on the table that makes a mmmm sound (milk)." See if they can guess the word you're thinking of.


Literacy involves children knowing about and enjoying books, knowing that letters and words have meaning, using letter names, understanding that writing things has a purpose and beginning to write by using letter like shapes, symbols or actual letters.

  • Take trips to the library to borrow books. Read books while sitting in the library. Take books along in the car or the doctor's office to read or make wait time interesting.
  • Make a cozy area in your home for a quiet area/ reading space. A large cardboard box and pillows work.
  • Read story books, poetry, fairy tales, science, humor, alphabet books. Ask your child to pick books to read. Look at the book's cover and ask your child to guess what the story is about. Talk about the parts of the book, the cover, pages, author, illustrator. Talk about the pictures. Ask your child questions while you read a book. Use different voices for the characters in books or act out a story or book
  • When reading use your finger to point out that you are reading from left to right and top to bottom
  • Point out capital letters, writing vs. printing, question marks, periods, commas
  • Point out familiar words (stop signs, McDonald's, etc.)
  • Point out letters, numbers, words, especially ones that mean something to your child
  • Makes books with your child about things that are important to her
  • Make cards with your child for holidays, special events, to thank someone or just to say hello.
  • Encourage your child to scribble, draw, write. Give them pencils, markers, crayons, junk mail envelopes, paper, stickers, tape, memo pads, and other writing materials.
  • Ask the child to tell you what their writing says
  • Provide activities to develop finger strength and control (cutting, play dough, stringing objects)
  • Provide opportunities for children to form letter like shapes or actual letters if they are able. They could use pipe cleaner, yarn, play dough, shaving cream on a tray
  • Label things in your house that are meaningful to your child. Let them help make the label or decide what to label. You can make place cards for the table.
  • Take trips in your community and talk about new words and ideas inspired by the places you see. The "fire siren" in the fire house. The "shelving" and "check out desk" at the library. The "manager" at McDonald's.


Young children learn math by playing and working with real objects. They learn about size, quantity, patterns, measurement, time, space and shapes as they play with objects.

  • Gather a small group of objects. Have your child close their eyes. Remove one and ask your child what's missing. They love to do this back to you as well!
  • Ask open ended questions such as: I wonder how many cups it will take to fill this pitcher. How did you get that block to stay there? Why do you think…?
  • Cook with your child. Choose simple, safe cooking experiences. Talk with your child while you cook and encourage your child to talk about it with other family members.
  • Keep a family calendar and talk about what happened on a certain date, what is happening the next day or the next week. Mark special days.
  • Do laundry together, sorting socks by color, matching pairs of socks, etc.
  • Sort groceries with your child by where they are kept in your house, i.e. refrigerator, freezer, cupboard,
  • Cut your child's sandwiches into shapes: squares, rectangles and triangles
  • Find and identify shapes in or around your house with your child
  • Use color names in everyday conversations, i.e. "Let's put on your blue shirt.", "eat your yellow corn."
  • Use words that compare in everyday speech, i.e. big/little, short/long, etc.
  • Using bowls, measuring spoons, dolls, trucks, etc., have your child line them up by size
  • Have child set the table, placing one spoon, fork, plate, for each person.
  • Look for objects to count every day. i.e. the number of steps in the house, the number of peas on child's plate, the number of houses you walk by. Find opportunities to count throughout your daily routine
  • Parents should count even if your child doesn't, won't or can't
  • Say counting rhymes and songs like One Two Buckle My Shoe, 5 Little Ducks
  • Use body part names while getting dressed or taking a bath. Sing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, Toes", pointing to and naming each body part
  • Use words that describe position of objects, i.e. in, on, under, beside, etc.
  • Review the day's activities with your child at bedtime
  • In the morning, talk about what your child did yesterday and what he will do today
  • Look for patterns and point them out to your child. They may have a pattern on their clothing, there may be a pattern on the walls, ceiling, music and dance may follow a pattern.
  • Talk with your child about what is alike and what is different
  • Help your child count down to a special day, holiday or birthday


Children use all their senses, as well as trial and error, to observe, explore, experiment, investigate, compare, classify, predict, question and look for answers as they play with objects. Science involves the properties of things (soft, hard, wet, dry), studying nature and living things, thinking about how things change and move, gathering information and making conclusions.

  • Ask your child questions such as: How did you…? Why do you think…?
  • Ask your child to explain their thinking.
  • Encourage your child to draw, write or tell a story about their thoughts and discoveries
  • Have your child help you with gardening outside
  • Provide working toys such as a cash register, wind up toy, bicycle and talk about how they work
  • Put up a thermometer outside or inside and discuss the temperature
  • Fly a kite or watch a pinwheel and talk about how and why they move
  • Talk about where foods come from (milk from cows, peas from plants, apples from trees, etc.)
  • Take a walk, talk about things you see and how they change. You may want to collect natural objects (pine cones, twigs, stones, nests, feathers, seed pods). You can make a special box to save them in with your child. Your child could bring them into school to share.
  • Experiment with ice cubes with your child. Have him fill the tray and check to see how long they take to freeze. How long do they take to melt? What could you do with ice?
  • If you have plants or pets let your child help care for them. Talk about what the plant/animal needs.
  • Talk about the temperature each day. What kind of clothing will your child need to wear?
  • Talk about how things move. Take a trip to a local airport, train or bus station.
  • In the bathtub talk about what sinks and floats. Ask your child to predict what each object will do.
  • Buy as gifts or let your child play with old road maps, flashlights, old telephones, graph paper, rulers, tape measures, the bath scale, timers, old watches or clocks, real or pretend money
  • Talk with your child about the environment – use words such as recycle, litter, conservation
  • Provide empty boxes, tubes, and other containers for your child to experiment with, create or construct, or collect things

Creative Arts

The arts include dancing, music, dramatic play and art. It is important that children have opportunities to use and enjoy the arts. Current research shows a direct connection between the arts and higher levels of thinking and learning.

  • Provide writing materials – paper, crayons, markers, pencils, chalk
  • Provide blocks, empty milk cartons, canned goods, empty plastic containers, legos or boxes that your child can use to build and create
  • Allow your child to keep his/her "buildings" on display. (Block buildings are just as important as drawings or paintings
  • Add additional props like a sheet, plastic cars, small rocks, cardboard tubes, etc.
  • Large brushes and buckets of water can be used to "paint" sidewalks or concrete buildings
  • Encourage your child to draw something she has experienced. (something she saw on a walk or ride to the store or on a visit to a friend or relative's house)
  • Encourage your child to tell you about his pictures and talk about his artwork. Write down exactly what they say on their pictures.
  • Display your child's work (refrigerator doors are a great place)
  • Participate in your child's play by having your child tell you how you can help or pretend something with your child, act out a story
  • Participate in child's pretend play. Ex: You be the clerk while the child is the shopper. You are the baby and the child is the babysitter.
  • Ask open ended questions to help extend their pretend play such as: Why are you going to the zoo? I wonder what you will make for dinner. When will the train arrive? What will we do if it's late?
  • Make Fun Dough: 1 _ cup flour, _ cup salt, _ cups water. Mix ingredients together. Slowly add more water if needed. Knead to form a workable dough. Use cookie cutters, popsicle sticks, rolling pins, etc. Add food coloring to the water for different colors of dough.
  • Provide opportunities and materials, such as old clothing, scarves, tablecloths, sheets, shoes, hats, etc. to play with
  • Allow your child to play with safe, real objects, such as pots and pans, boxes of food, towels or sheets
  • Allow children to have pretend friends
  • Make puppets with anything in the home (socks, pot holder mitts)
  • Provide various experiences such as outings, walks, library, stories, etc.
  • Talk to your child about real and pretend and help them to understand the difference between the two
  • Give your child the chance to listen to different kinds of music (polka, jazz, folk songs, dance, ballet, pop, classical, nursery rhymes, etc.)
  • Sing action songs, "If You're Happy and You Know It", "The Wheels on the Bus," "Clap, Clap, Clap Your Hands" or recorded music
  • Sing songs that stimulate response, "Pop! Goes the Weasel", "Down By the Station", "Skip To My Lou", "Jingle Bells"
  • Sing any of the above songs or "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star", "Open Shut Them", "I Have Hands that Can Clap, Clap, Clap"
  • Sing "Eentsy, Weentsy Spider", "Where is Thumbkin", "This Little Piggy", with high or low voices or your own rhythm
  • Make a drum from an oatmeal box
  • Play "Ring Around the Rosey", "London Bridge", the "Hokey Pokey" or "The Farmer in the Dell" or "Simon Says"
  • Make up simple songs with your child

Physical Health and Development

Young children develop important physical abilities which are supported by active indoor and outdoor play. Children need chances to exercise all their muscles (their large muscles like arms and legs and their small muscles like their fingers and hands). It is especially important to know that physical movement helps brain development and learning, and young children need to move and handle actual things to learn. Children need health and safety experiences to learn about personal health and safety and promote healthy lifestyles. They need to learn how to take care of themselves and rely on themselves.

  • Provide paper, play dough, etc your child can tear into small pieces, fold or handle with their hands and fingers
  • Provide pegs and pegboards, beads, puzzles or items such as keys, silverware, books with pages to turn, plastic jars with lids to take off and put on
  • Have your child trace around plastic lids, boxes, cups, etc.
  • Encourage your child to help with preparing food, such as spreading butter or jelly on bread, pouring drinks, dishing their own food, washing fruits or vegetables
  • Use various body movements with your child – bend, wiggle, shake, stomp, push, jump, catch, tiptoe, gallop, walk backwards, run, balance, swing, skip
  • Exercise together
  • Create an obstacle course with your child so they can crawl in, go under, over, around, through, etc
  • Help your child ride a bicycle with training wheels or a tricycle or other riding toy. Provide pull toys such as a wagon.
  • Encourage movement, playing ball, pretending to be jumping, or singing song like "Bend and Stretch", "Head and Shoulder", pretend games of grasshoppers, leap frog, popcorn, Jack Be Nimble, play kick ball.
  • Play a game of follow the leader using various movements, walk forward, backward, tip toe, etc.
  • Pretend to be a ball, roll over with head tucked under, climb ladder, boxes, steps, or hills
  • Take a trip to the playground or slide down a snowy hill
  • Play games pretending to be the wind, blown leaves, clouds or chasing balloons. Play games of pretend that jump off, over, onto (frogs, kangaroos); play follow the leader
  • Pretend to be a tight rope walker (can use 2X4 or masking tape on the floor); or walk on curb or painted line
  • Try balloon play, bean bag or light weight beach ball toss accompanied by music
  • Sing, march, jump, run, walk or dance to music
  • Encourage and allow your child to dress and undress himself
  • Provide dolls with clothing for your child to practice dressing.
  • Have your child brush her teeth at the same time every day
  • Encourage your child to comb or brush their own hair
  • Brush your teeth together so your child can imitate you
  • Wash your hands with your child before preparing food, eating meals or after playing outdoors
  • Have tissues where your child can reach them
  • Have an easy to reach hook for a child to hang up their own coat or clothes. Set up your home so your child can be as independent as is safe and possible.
  • Practice tying shoes together
  • Your child will let you know when they are ready for toilet training. It is best not to rush your child; it will be easier for everyone. Read story books or tell stories related to toilet training.
  • Show your child how to set the table.
  • Provide simple bath toys that are non breakable and encourage pouring
  • Allow child to use butter knife with large handle to cut soft foods at the table with supervision.
  • Encourage child to pass dishes to others.
  • Have your child help with one daily household chore
  • Keep rag/sponge in easy-to-reach place. Have all family members be responsible for cleaning their own places.
  • Have a special place, box or shelf for toys.
  • Show child how to buckle and unbuckle seatbelt.
  • Teach your child how to make a phone call without adult help
  • When you walk with your child, review safety rules. Show him how to cross the street, look both ways
  • Plan and practice handling an emergency with your child, including calling 911
  • Encourage your child to dress and undress himself and have an easy-to-reach place for them to put their own clothes.
Susquehanna Service Dogs Cookbook


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