KidSparkz Theme-a-Pedia: 163 themes for preschool and pre-K 

ACTIVITIES and LEARNING

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WHAT WE TEACH  (Preschool Curriculum Planning)
Here are some general curriculum/activities areas that can be considered and adapted for young children from toddler through kindergarten age.
 
Read Some Great Stories
Choose books that have meaning for preschoolers because of the story line, the illustrations, the educational content, and just overall literary merit. Many can be purchased inexpensively in paperback form, and of course, borrowed from the library. While reading, allow time for the children to comment, ask questions, and to predict what might happen. Reading both fiction and nonfiction books with children is the most influential thing that you can do to pave the way for a future love and appreciation of learning. Click here for my list of best books for preschoolers.
 
Make and Create
Creative activities should provide opportunity for children to do most of the work, with emphasis on creativity, imagination and the process, rather than the appearance of the finished product. Of course, some craft skills, such as stitchery and weaving, must be taught, however, for children younger than 5, providing the materials and a few suggestions is enough to spark the creative process.  Don't forget food preparation activities.
 
Use New Words
Preschoolers are learning at least 5 to 10 new words a day. Use descriptive vocabulary that may not have been heard before. It’s usually not necessary to explain meaning; the context in which it is used will do that. Every time the new word is used, will add an extra piece of the concept in your child’s mind.
 
Letters and Reading Readiness
This is a very large and complicated curriculum area, and very dependent on the developmental level of the child.   Include activities for letter and sound recognition, comprehension, rhyming, categorizing, memorizing, sequencing, and recognition of patterns.
 
Getting Ready to Write
Activities in this curriculum area depend a great deal on the physical development of arm and hands, and the complicated connection/interaction of what the brain is understanding, the eyes are seeing, and the control of hand muscles.  Encourage activities for strengthening eye-hand co-ordination, and small muscle control - scribbling, tracing, mazes, picking up tiny items, cutting.
 
Numbers, Reasoning and Predicting
Wow, what a fun curriculum area! Games, challenges, predictions, logical assumptions all prepare a child for the larger world of mathematics.  Include activities for number recognition, organization of sets, and manipulating combinations of sets (plus, minus, simple multiplication).
 
Understanding How Things Work
This is the section about science and nature, including earth sciences, weather, physics, biology and astronomy.  Of course we are surrounded constantly by exciting things just waiting to be discovered and explored.  What is this?  How does it work?  What can I do with it? As the child's development progresses, we move step by step from the completely familiar, to the entirely unknown.
 
Sing a Song
What would I do without music?  It's my peace, my haven, and my soul. Sing, dance, chant, wiggle, clap, use rhythm and rhyme; listen to ALL kinds and styles of music often. We use songs and rhymes that have musical, traditional or educational merit.  If your eyes glaze over when you hear a particular kiddy tune or piece of doggeral, don't waste time with it.  Choose the best.
 
Play a Game
Just for fun! (and learning at the same time).  Individual games include matching, sorting.  Play group games indoors or out, don't be afraid of a little competition, and make it fun. 
 
Interacting With the Neighborhood
Getting out and about: to explore concepts in person, to meet other people in various capacities, and to experience environments and new situations to extend learning and awaken curiosity.  Grownups can do all kinds of jobs to make money to buy food and clothes and other things.  People can live in many kinds of environments.  People are the same, and different, in many ways.
 
Outdoor Play
Provide interesting and safe equipment, and then stand aside and watch as the children explore, discover and learn.
 
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Preschool Planning Guide
 
Laura M. Thurman and Karen B. DeBord
Department of Human Development and Family Studies
University of Missouri-Columbia

When planning learning for young children, there are several ideas to consider. First, it is especially important to provide activities, projects and themes suited to the age and individual needs of each child. Second, carefully think about each of the following elements while planning.
  • Age appropriateness. Consider the ages of the children in the program. A single age group (all 4-year-olds, for example) has different needs from a mixed age group of preschoolers. The curriculum should be suitable for the developmental level of each age group and should offer a range of activities. Set group goals after assessing the needs of a particular age group.
  • Individual appropriateness. Think about each individual child and focus on his or her development. Children follow similar growth patterns, but the time frame for each child differs. Individual interests, abilities and family background must be understood before you can meet the needs of each child. Goals and objectives should be set for each child.

    Learning is best when new information builds on old knowledge. Planning should center on the child, the family and the child's everyday experiences. As the child develops and grows more independent, he or she becomes less self-centered. This leads to expanding teaching plans.
  • Family and culture. Children should not be separated from their family and culture. Plan activities with respect for family differences and wishes. Involve families in program planning as much as possible, realizing that each family has a different way of contributing. Some families may choose to be very involved, and some may choose not to.
  • Teacher values. Consider what you as a teacher and caregiver believe to be important. Question your own interests, your personal philosophy and the program philosophy.
  • Transitions. A variety of factors such as the length of the day or the daily schedule affect planning. Transitions are times that occur between activities and can disrupt the flow of play. Avoid too many transitions, and give children enough time to become absorbed in their play. A skillful teacher plans carefully to ensure that transition times are smooth.
  • Curriculum. After preliminary planning, it is time to choose (or to help the children and/or parents choose) themes, projects and activities to build the total curriculum. Themes are selected that relate closely to the child's immediate world. For example, activities associated with home, family, yards and neighborhoods hold the most meaning for the youngest child. As children develop, their knowledge base and interests expand. In this same way, new or additional information can be added to the curriculum.
  • Themes can be used for a brief time (for example, "St. Patrick's Day"), but usually should last at least a week. One theme will usually lead to another; for example, "dinosaurs" may lead the children's interests to "bones," "fossils" or "creatures." The teacher's role in planning themes is to observe closely and take notes on the children's interests. Interests are determined by observing and listening to the children's discussions and play. Play cues can aid the teacher in choosing new topics. Teachers help children develop interests through planning and presenting a variety of materials, including books, pictures, activities and explorative projects.
  • Group or individual projects may be ongoing or brief. They can be very child directed mixed with teacher selected. Allowing the child to set the pace and the path of exploration will lead to new ideas and experiences. Projects can be as simple as "mud pies," or as complex as "cameras" and "photography."
  • Activities are specific strategies planned to achieve theme and developmental goals. Making volcanoes, water color painting or scarf dancing are activities. Activities are supported by materials available in the learning centers. Activities may be repeated or may be one-time occasions.
  • Group time. Planning individual times and group times is important. Individual or alone times can be provided by free choice in activities, a quiet area and rest time. Children coming together as a group is often called "group time" or "circle time." The whole group or a few smaller groups may be formed. During these planned times, all areas of development may be addressed in a social setting.

    Songs, finger plays, dramatics, science, math and physical activities can be used during group time. Begin with simple songs and finger plays with groups of children. More complex group activities will be planned as more familiarity with the group occurs. Group times should fit into the whole curriculum and support themes and projects. Plan group opportunities for inside and outside, and for loud and quiet activities.
  • Physical environment. Whatever is planned must be flexible and changeable, depending on the needs of the children and opportunities unseen during initial planning. The most complex part of planning the physical environment is coordinating the learning centers. Learning centers are often permanent areas in the room, with materials that change according to changing themes. An environment that encourages flexibility and spontaneity for children's play is essential. Examples of learning centers, suggestions for materials and role playing ideas include:
    • Dramatic play Dramatic play allows children to construct social and emotional knowledge, role play, and understand other's perspectives.
      • Ideas: Housekeeping; restaurant; grocery store; bakery; flower shop; automobile repair.
    • Prop boxes Prop boxes are excellent for sparking creative play and imaginations. To make a prop box, begin with an empty copier or computer paper box with a lid. Cover the box with contact paper and label it with an appropriate title.
      • Ideas: Office/business box; dress up box; sports shop box; grocery store box; hair salon box; repair shop box; veterinarian box; school box. Think of any kind of situation that might inspire dramatic play for which a prop box could be collected.
      • After selecting certain titles, notify staff members and parents about the prop box project and ask for donations. Shop at local rummage or garage sales or at thrift stores. You may get some bargains - many people are willing to donate or reduce the cost of items for projects like this! Contact local businesses for any contributions - hair salons might have empty shampoo bottles, old haircut capes, etc. Remember to send a note of thanks to any business donors with pictures of the children using a particular box. Post or publish pictures in the parent's newsletters showing the "results" of the collection project.
      • Put one prop box out at a time. When the children begin to lose interest in a particular prop box, try some mixing and matching. Introduce different items and take cues from the children. Their enthusiasm will give direction for new ideas and collections. If a prop box isn't used or seems boring after a while, store it away for a time. A new theme or classroom project might spark interest and different uses for the same box.
    • Block area For maximum use and creativity with dramatic play, the block area works well placed nearby. Like the dramatic area, blocks are extremely valuable for learning about size, quantity, space, length and shape.
      • Ideas: Train station; store; caves; cities and towns; camping.
    • Science Science leads to learning about the child's physical "self" as well as environmental awareness, plants, animals and the world.
      • Ideas: Sea life; insects; machines; tool shop; measuring, pouring, mixing; recycling.
    • Writing area Pre-writing activities serve to help children to build knowledge in all areas of language development, including speaking, writing and pre-reading skills.
      • Ideas: Post office; restaurant; books; valentines; writing individual stories.
    • Book area Book areas encourage children to learn all aspects of printed language, including learning about authors, illustrators or artists, and the value and joy of reading.
      • Books should be chosen according to past and current themes and projects. This area should be cozy, comfortable, well lit, and may be decorated and rearranged according to themes.
      • Sensitivity should be given to gender equality, culture, personal abilities, and race or ethnic background in the story line and pictures in books.
    • Art area Art areas enable children to explore color, form and texture through self-expression and creativity.
      • Ideas: Brushes, paints, markers; molding clay, play dough, rolling pins, child-sized scissors; collage materials; shaving cream; yarn, fabric, tape, glue.
Be creative and imaginative in designing learning centers and materials for each. Other centers could include music, creative expression, manipulatives and puzzles, math and number areas, and the outdoors. Learning experiences happen anywhere a child is encouraged to explore.

When you are planning specific activities, remember to include the development of the whole child. A single activity may involve several aspects of development (thinking, feeling, moving). Teachers must plan for learning to occur in all facets of the child's development.
 
A webbed guide to planning
Begin planning by brainstorming, using the radius planning sheet provided in Figure 1. Referred to as a "webbing sheet," this tool will help teachers relate to and plan for all areas of development using a central theme. A project may be a theme in itself, or it may be contained within a theme. The planning sheet is used to organize each day in the week and may be posted for both the teacher's and parent's benefit.
 
In summary
Quality learning experiences for children are enhanced by a well-planned curriculum. Select activities, projects and themes that are appropriate for the age and development of the children in the program. Appreciate and acknowledge the family differences and cultural heritage of each child. Never discourage one gender or age from a particular theme area or activity. Promote and plan activities that encourage the development of the whole child, including physical, mental, emotional and social aspects. Take joy in observing each child's learning experiences and progress.
 
Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care - NNCC.
Thurman, L. & DeBord, K. (1995-1996). Preschool Planning Guide.
University Extension, University of Missouri-Columbia.
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