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Growing and learning with preschoolers

Grow; learn; play; help; water; home; shop; car; bus; learning; development; preschoolers; young; child; playgroup; group; playing;

Children are natural learners. They learn best when they are happy and when they have interesting things to do and safe places to do them. The first and most important learning experiences happen in the family.


Parents of young children want their children to get the best start they can in learning so they will do well at school and have successful lives. Often parents of very young children wonder what they can do to help their children get ready for their school time.

Learning does not just belong to school or formal lessons. Children learn very quickly in the earliest years and in many ways. They do not need to be "taught" to learn, (in fact too much "teaching" too early may put them off). They are learning from everything they do. However there are lots of things you can do to encourage and help your young learners.

This information may help parents and families by giving some ideas about things children enjoy, and by suggesting activities which you may enjoy sharing with your children. This is only a starting point. You know your child best, so use your own ideas about what your child can do and enjoys.

The Raising Children Network has a lot of very interesting information about preschoolers too. 

How children learn

Children are natural learners. They learn best when they are happy and when they have interesting things to do and safe places to do them.

The first and most important learning experiences happen in the family. Children learn from what they see, hear and do in the family and the wider community.

Parents and family members are in the best position to know what their children can do and what they enjoy. Children learn from:

  • watching
  • listening
  • asking
  • trying new things
  • and, very importantly, practising the skills they have learned.

Children do best where they feel loved and safe. Parents and families will be doing the best that they can for their children's learning by spending time with them and encouraging them to try new things.

Follow your children's lead when it comes to play. Do what interests them, when they are interested. Don't push them to do things when they don't want to. Play is most valuable to children when it is led by the child. If children are sick or tired or unhappy or not interested they may not be able to play and learn well.

Helping at home

While you are carrying out your everyday tasks at home let your children help you do things that they can manage and talk about what you are doing together. Don't expect young children to always want to do these things, there are many times when children enjoy making up their own games.

Food Preparation
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Preschoolers learn by trying and doing and asking.
Preschoolers can:

  • spread sandwich fillings on bread or crispbreads - cream cheese, butter, honey
  • sprinkle other toppings on bread such as sultanas or grated cheese
  • use biscuit cutters to make interesting shaped sandwiches
  • choose vegetables for salad or soup
  • cut or grate vegetables under supervision
  • look through recipe books to find different types of meals
  • help to plan meals (eg choose what they would like to eat sometimes).

Make cakes

  • Measure and pour ingredients into a bowl.
  • Help to get the ingredients together. This helps them to learn that what is on the label tells you what is in the packet.
  • Beat eggs.
  • Make icing or whip cream to decorate a cake.

Make pizzas

  • Make small pizzas for individual family members with different toppings, eg slices of tomato, cheese, spring onion etc.
  • Freeze different types of fruit for a treat to have when all the work is done. Peeled bananas, apples and slices of pineapple make delicious frozen ice blocks. Talk about what has happened to the fruit when it freezes.

Washing and Cleaning
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Preschoolers can:

  • sort the clothes into piles of dark and light colours
  • put the socks into pairs
  • measure the soap powder/liquid and pour it into the washing machine
  • use a bucket of soapy water to wash some small items, eg dolls clothes (always supervise young children with water)
  • count out pegs or give you pegs that match the colour of the piece of washing
  • use a damp cloth to wipe surfaces
  • wash the car with a soapy sponge
  • use a window washer to wash windows and mirrors
  • put toys in a toybox, arranging them to fit
  • put pieces of toys back in the right boxes
  • dry plastic dishes, cups etc and put them away in the cupboard
  • dry knives, forks and spoons and put them in their right places.

Playing outside

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PreSchoolers can:

  • feed pets and clean out cages/pens with help
  • feed chooks and collect eggs
  • wash the car (with help!)
  • rake up leaves
  • draw on paths with chalk
  • paint on paths, walls or fences with water
  • kick a big ball with you
  • plant some bulbs or seeds
  • make cubby or tree houses. Old cardboard boxes make good cubbies. You may have materials such as floorboards to make a stronger cubby or tree house
  • jump over cracks in the pavement, or into puddles
  • count the number of steps ...to the tree, to the post box, to the shop, to the fence post or gate
  • play "I'm thinking of something of something which is....(red, tall, on the road, etc)"
  • walk on their toes, heels, backwards, sideways, with giant steps, with tiny steps.

Playing with water

Always supervise your child when playing with or near water.

In the bath
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  • Have some toys which float and sink in the bath.
  • Make bubbles.
  • Play in a paddle pool with supervision.
  • Fill and empty different jugs and pots.
  • Use an old paint brush and container of water to "paint" the house, fence, path etc.
  • Help water the garden.

At the shops

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  • Look at and talk about different types of shops and what we buy in them.
  • Look at and talk about signs, eg stop signs, walk signs, parking signs etc.
  • Talk about safety at the shops, waiting for the bus, and in carparks.
  • Choose shopping items together.
  • Encourage your child to read labels and to find things that are on your list. He may need help at first.
  • Count the fruit or vegetables as you both put them in a bag or ask your child to choose you a yellow apple or a red apple (if you want them).
  • At the checkout let your child unload some of the items from the trolley.
  • Sometimes allow your child to pay for an item and talk about paying money for things.
  • Give your child a bag of shopping to carry.

Developing imagination

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Preschoolers have very good imaginations - you need to provide the "props". (Let your preschooler include you in the game; let her choose who you will be, shopper, police officer, handsome prince, wicked witch etc.)

  • Empty boxes and packets for playing shops.
  • Large cardboard boxes for making cars, boats or houses.
  • Clothes, hats, shoes, handbags for dressing up (boys and men's clothes too).
  • Cardboard or paper, chalk, textas or pencils and sticky tape for making labels and signs.
  • Plastic bowls, an old saucepan, cups and spoons for playing 'house'.
  • Plastic garden and shed tools.
  • A picnic rug and hamper.
  • A broom to use for a horse or witch's broom.
  • Building blocks for making buildings, vehicles, roads, robots, spaceships etc.

Make some puppets

  • Draw or sew a face onto an old sock. Put your hand inside to give the puppet life.
  • Draw or glue a face onto a paper plate. Stick the plate onto a ruler or stick.
  • Draw a face onto your fingers and use them as puppets.
  • Use soft toys as puppets.
  • Draw a face onto a paper bag. Add some wool for hair. Stuff it with newspaper and tie at the "neck" with wool.
  • Use the puppets to act out stories and to make up stories. Puppets make delightful "friends" for children and allow children an opportunity to practise talking in different ways and different voices and being different people or animals.
  • Act out a favourite story, song or nursery rhyme
  • Join in with your child in pretending to be a different person or animal
  • Watch a TV show together and then act it out or be one of the people in the show. The shows made especially for young children often have ideas about this, eg stories that can be acted out.

Going places

In the car
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There are lots of interesting things you can do while travelling with preschoolers.

  • Look at a map before you leave and trace the way you will be going with your finger.
  • Watch out for places along the way "There is the church that we saw on the map".
  • Count the cars, horses, bridges, etc along the way. Guess how many you will see before the next town.
  • Sing some favourite songs.
  • Make up some new verses for favourite songs.
  • Play guessing games like "I'm thinking of an animal which is large and grey".
  • If it is a long car trip, plan to stop at a playground or park along the way.
  • Have some toys and books within easy reach.

On the bus or train

  • Check the bus number or the sign on the front of the bus that tells you where it is going.
  • Look at the numbers of the stops or names of the stations.
  • Let your child buy the ticket and click it in the ticket machine if possible.
  • Talk about the safe way to sit and move on buses and trains.
  • Talk about how the bell works.
  • Look for animals, buildings, trees, windmills, other trains or buses.
  • Count how many times the bus or train stops.
  • Ask your child to tell you a story.
  • Look for familiar things that tell you when you are nearly home

Preparing for kindy, child care or starting school

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Before going to kindy, child care or starting reception it is a good idea if you help your child to settle in better by teaching her :

  • To dress herself
  • How to take her shoes off and how to put them back on the right feet
  • How to recognize her name
  • How to put away her toys
  • How to share with others
  • How to look after pencils, crayons and how to put them away again
  • How to put rubbish in the bin
  • How to sit and listen and take her turn
  • How to 'read the pictures' in a story you are reading with her and talk about what might happen next.
  • How to hold a pencil or crayon

Put her name on everything and get her to find things with her name on.


South Australia

"Growing and Learning in the Family" booklet, available from the Curriculum Corporation, by telephoning (free call) 1800 337 405. It can be used by parents and family members to encourage children in play activities which will help them to think and learn, and find out new things about the world they live in.

For more information and ideas about playing with your child in South Australia, you could contact your local:

  • Child and Youth Health service
  • Local kindergarten
  • Playgroup SA Inc (formerly known as the Playgroup Association of South Australia has books about ideas for play - Phone: 1800 171 882
  • Kindergym
  • Public library.
  • Department of Education and Child Development - Great Start
    Support for parents in building their child's literacy and numeracy skills through everyday activities.

Your local kindergarten will usually have information about other resources in your area such as toy library, playgroup, kindergym. Even if your child is not going to kindergarten yet, the staff will be happy to help you with ideas about resources in your area. Your local council or library will also have good ideas about local resource, groups etc.


Today's Issues (2000) "How do children spend their time? Children's activities, school achievement, and well-being" in Today's Issues (11), Aug, 2000

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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