Starting preschool is a big milestone in a child's life, and marking the event with special activities is key. Whether you're a classroom teacher, childcare provider, or parent, there are many great back-to-school activities for preschoolers that you can try during those initial days and weeks of learning.
Social Skill Boosting Activities
The preschool years are a time to play, make friends, learn how to take turns, share, tune into the feelings of others, and realize that school is an enjoyable and exciting place to be. These activities can be done during the opening school days and throughout the year. They aim to help little ones feel comfortable and safe with the people in their new environment.
Find That Feeling
Preschoolers begin to learn the basics of empathy by identifying their own feelings and the feelings of others. In the initial days and weeks of preschool, talk to kids about common feelings like happy, excited, scared, and angry. In the game Find That Feeling, kids learn to identify and recognize feelings in a tangible way.
- Large construction paper cutouts of faces. One face should have a large smile, another with tears and a frown, a third face should exude excitement, a fourth face should show anger, and a fifth face should show fear.
- A large space to set the faces down on the floor and for preschoolers to sit near the faces.
- Fashion large faces (explained in the materials section) using cardboard, large construction paper and/or board paper, and a black marker.
- Set the faces on the floor for children to see.
- Discuss what feeling each face shows.
- The teacher gives a simple scenario. The children take turns identifying the feeling they might have if they were in the scenario by standing on the cut-out face. Scenarios might include instances like:
- You fall and scrape your knee. How do you feel?
- Mom brings home ice cream. How do you feel?
- It's the first day of school. How do you feel?
- You meet a new friend at school. How do you feel?
- Kids can (and should) have different feelings regarding the scenarios. Discuss how people can have very different feelings and how that is okay.
- Read a book that helps teach kids about their feelings.
- Do a feeling temperature check with children each day. At each student's seat, have laminated paper with the same smiley faces on it that were used in the game. When they arrive, they circle the face that matches how they feel that day with a dry erase marker, or they can simply place a small object on the face that corresponds to their feeling.
The Together Tower
Learning to work with other people is an essential skill that preschoolers should work on throughout their pre-academic years. This skill can be worked on right out of the gate during the incoming days and weeks of preschool. While the goal of this activity is to work together to create a tower from a picture, it is also an excellent exercise for motor skills practice and pattern practice.
- Laminated cards showing different block towers
- A pile of blocks that students can use to recreate the towers they see on the card
- A flat space to build the towers
- Divide preschoolers into pairs. Each pair of learners gets a few laminated cards with pictures of block towers on them, as well as a pile of blocks.
- The pairs have to work in teams to build the tower that they see on the cards. Towers can range from simple stacks of two to three blocks of the same shape and size, to more complex towers using more blocks and differently shaped blocks.
- Use the materials later on in the year in center-based activities. Kids at the Together Tower center can work on motor skills, shape differentiation, identification, and teamwork skills.
Literacy-Based Back-to-School Activities
Preschool is a place where kids begin to develop pre-literacy skills and start enjoying stories and literature. These activities are literacy-based and perfect activities to build into those initial school days.
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Letter Climb
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom is a popular alphabet book that is ideal for children of this age. The read is a fun one that is easy and engaging for young children. The story places heavy emphasis on letter identification, an essential skill that preschoolers need to learn as they become emerging readers. The activity highlights the letter of a child's first name as the start of letter identification skills.
- The book Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
- A handout depicting a coconut tree on it for each child
- Name card for each child
- Sticker page of alphabet letters or a page of alphabet letters for each child
- Read the book as a whole group.
- Pass out name cards to children.
- Pass out the coconut tree page to children.
- Have kids color their coconut trees.
- Pass out sticker sheets or letter sheets. If using letter sheets, tell kids to color the letters of their name and cut them out.
- Kids paste the letters of their name onto their coconut tree.
- Consider using BOTH sticker sheets and cut-out letter sheets. Kids who lag in fine motor skills can more easily peel the stickers off the backing, and kids with strong fine motor skills can color the letters of their name and cut them out.
Finger Paint Names
Preschoolers love to paint, especially when it involves their tiny hands. This activity involves paint, fine motor skills, and plenty of creativity and color, as well as key letter identification skills.
- Large white paper
- Finger paints
- Name cards
- On large pieces of paper, write children's first names down lightly in pencil.
- Pass out finger paints and wet wipes to every child.
- Pass out name cards to each child so they can see their names both on their white paper and on their name card. This aids in name and letter identification skills.
- Demonstrate dipping a finger in the paint and dotting the lines of the names written on the white sheets of paper with paint.
- Allow kids to trace or dot their names with the finger paint.
- Allow the paint to dry and hang the finished products around your classroom.
- If you have students who can easily perform this activity, extend it by also working on tracing last names or simple consonant-vowel-consonant words.
Back-to-School Activities Centered Around Math
Your child isn't ready for fractions and multiplication quite yet, but they can definitely tackle primary math skills like counting, sorting, and patterns.
Using the classroom calendar is a popular math-centric activity for kids in preschool and elementary school. Calendars can be used for a wide array of mathematical and practical life skill activities.
- Counting the Days - Every day, review the calendar. Put an "x" on each calendar day that kids have been in school. Together, count the days, starting at 1. Children might only be able to count to three, five, or 10, but hearing numbers counted up every day is an excellent means to have them begin to learn how to count higher.
- Days of the Week - Use the calendar to introduce the days of the week through song or hand gestures.
Young children begin to grasp the concept of patterns early on. Introduce pattern play by using colored manipulatives.
- Sort items by color. Put the blue bears in the blue bucket, red bears in the red bucket, and so on.
- Follow a Pattern - Together, create a simple A-B pattern in small groups with children. Large groups can be intimidating until children become used to new people in the environment, so try to utilize small groups for some initial school day activities. Use manipulatives to make red, green, red, green patterns, and see if kids can predict the next color. An extension of this would be to make an A-B-B pattern (red, green, green) or a pattern using three colors of manipulatives, not only two colors.
Simple shapes are often introduced in preschool. Work some shape activities into the first weeks of preschool.
- Shape Seats - Use colored masking tape to create circles, triangles, rectangles, and squares on the floor. Ask students to sit in the green triangle or the red circle when coming to the whole group. Kids learn to identify both colors and shapes through this simple directive.
- Shape Partners - Use shapes to help students get to know one another and learn basic shapes. Each child gets a card with a colored shape on it. They then have to "hunt" for their shape partner. Essentially, they find the other child with the same colored shape as they have. Once the partners are paired, give them a task to do together, such as look at a picture book or do a puzzle. Because children are set out on their own to find their partner, this activity might be best performed with older preschoolers or pre-kindergarteners.
Instill Enthusiasm in Preschoolers
No matter which ideas you choose to use, actively celebrating going back to school will help instill enthusiasm in the youngest students. Preschoolers will love the excitement of trying new activities, crafts, and games that focus on developing essential skills during this important period in their lives.