When you’re preparing to teach preschool at home for the first time it can feel intimidating. To make sense of all the information out there you need to learn a whole new vocabulary. But don’t let that put you off! Here are the top 20 preschool terms you need to know to decode the info and teach your child with confidence.
As a parent I’m sure you spend a fair bit of time thinking about your child’s growing vocabulary. Every knew word is exciting because we know that this means the world is opening up for them. But new vocabulary isn’t just for our preschoolers.
When we decide to take on the task of teaching our preschool child at home, there is a new vocabulary for us to learn as well. Learning these terms will open up a new world for you too.
There is a lot of information on the internet about early learning and to make sense of it, and use it effectively in your home, here are the top preschool terms you need to know to teach at home with confidence.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Literacy
This is the big one that everyone is concerned about and one you probably know already. See, you’re already winning at this! At it’s most basic, literacy just refers to a person’s ability to read and write. In terms of education, literacy has a broader meaning that encompasses all of a person’s language skills, skills we use to communicate. Reading, writing, speaking and viewing are all literacy skills. When we talk about decoding, phonemes and phonics, sight words, handwriting and word recognition, we are talking about literacy skills.
With so much of the current research supporting a delay to formal academics, most of us (I hope) aren’t trying to teach our children to read and write. So you can learn all of the terms I just mentioned when you are planning your first grade year. Instead, spend the preschool years focusing on developing your child’s pre-literacy skills.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Pre-literacy
What then is pre-literacy? Pre-literacy is what we used to call readiness skills. Sometimes you will see it referred to, particularly in the later stages, as emergent reading skills.
These are the things you teach your child that lay the foundations for those literacy skills to be built upon. When you talk to your toddler and they copy the words back to you, they are developing their pre-literacy skills. When you stick magnetic letters on your fridge and point out the ‘A’ or the first letter of your child’s name, you are developing their pre-literacy skills.
The focus here isn’t on learning the alphabet or learning to read. Focus instead on developing your child’s grasp on the spoken language by talking to them, singing with them, reading or telling them stories. Phonics comes much easier if you have made individual sounds obvious to your child by telling them rhymes or singing songs with alliteration, where they get to hear the same beginning sounds repeated on different words.
Point out environmental print to them. This just means let them see letters around them in real life. You are probably doing this naturally without even noticing! Letters are everywhere in our modern world. On street signs, on your mail, in the books you read aloud. This will help your child develop print awareness, which just means that they begin to realise that the letters they see everywhere actually mean something.
Make letters available to your children (books, alphabet blocks and magnets are all common in a preschoolers life), casually point out the sounds they make, and children will acquire letter knowledge and begin to understand the alphabetic principle, that these letters represent sounds and each letter has a sound of its own.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Early Maths Skills
This is the second major area that many parents are concerned with developing. Early maths skills, sometimes called pre-numeracy or early numeracy skills, the foundations of learning maths later on. It’s funny how so many of us worry about our ability to teach our children maths when you realise that you have actually been doing it for your child’s whole life!
Children learn about numbers when we use them in daily life. Singing songs and reading books that include numbers and counting introduces your children to the concept that things can be counted and helps develop their number awareness. When they play hide ‘n’ seek with older siblings or friends, they learn to count. When you ask them if they want their sandwich cut into two or four pieces, triangles or squares, they are learning to count and becoming aware of shapes.
From counting, children learn to count on. They learn that if I have 3 cups but mum needs me to put four on the table, I need to get one more. Counting out items as you lay them out, one apples, two apples, three apples and so on helps your child develop one to one correspondence, the knowledge that each number matches with a particular amount of ‘things’. Add some numbers to your alphabet magnets, point our numbers on the letterboxes as you go for a walk, and your child will also learn numeral awareness easily too.
Other things you may like to point out in day to day life include shapes, colours and patterns. Again this all happens naturally with just a little awareness on your part and is something a lot of adults do without much thought. Can you pass me the rectangle block? Can I use your red crayon please? Look at the pretty pattern on this seashell!
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills are just the small, deliberate movements we make with our bodies. Picking up a pencil, holding spoon, using scissors are all using fine motor skills. But so too are the movements we make with our toes, our wrist, our lips and our tongue. Make sure you are spending some time helping your child to develop their fine motor skills in a way that is fun.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Gross Motor Skills
Gross motor skills are the movements we make with the large parts of our bodies. Using our arms, legs, feet or our entire bodies means we are using gross motor skills. Incorporate lots of movement into your child’s day so that they develop muscle strength, co-ordination, balance and endurance.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Scaffolding
This is one term many parents don’t come across before entering the world of home education. What is scaffolding? This term just means that you are helping a child learn by guiding them in their exploration. Sometimes this looks like asking them questions, or finding picture books in the library that match up with their current interest.
Is your child interested in construction? Maybe you can borrow a library book on construction vehicles or take them to see the house being built around the corner? You might like to create a construction world for them to play with that has toy trucks, some dirt and sticks to move around. The opportunities are endless.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Developmentally Appropriate
When we talk about something being developmentally appropriate we are really asking is this what my child is ready for and capable of? Is this the behaviour I would expect from a 3 year old? Is this an activity I would expect my 5 year old to be able to do and enjoy?
Deciding if something is developmentally appropriate is a judgement call we make based on research in child development (all those parenting blogs and books I just know you are reading) and also in our experience of children. You don’t want to make things too hard and have your child frustrated. That’s not fun for anyone. You also don’t want to make it too easy because that is just as frustrating for children.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Explicit Instruction
If you are directly teaching your child something in a deliberate and systematic way, you are giving them explicit instruction. This is what we do when we set up an activity that we want to be done in a particular way for a particular purpose. You would use explicit instruction when you are wanting to present something to your child that they wouldn’t discover themselves, when there may be gaps or misunderstanding if they are left to disccover something on their own, or when they are having difficulty grasping an idea and we sit with them to give a direct lesson.
Explicit instruction doesn’t have to mean boring. It doesn’t have to mean bookwork or worksheets. It should be direct, engaging and lead to success. We all use this method of teaching at times even if we don’t realise it. We use explicit instruction when we demonstrate how to set the table, how to tie shoelaces or when we teach our child how to sound out a word.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Hands on Learning
Hands on learning is simply when you learn by doing rather than listening/seeing/reading about how to do something. We could just call it learning by doing! Make sure there are plenty of opportunities for hands on learning in your home.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Social-Emotional Development
Children develop in lots of different ways; physically, intellectually, socially and emotionally. When we talk about a child’s social-emotional development we are talking about their ability to understand their emotions and the emotions of others. Self esteem, empathy, mindfulness, conflict resolution and self-regulation all fall into this category.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Social Skills
You didn’t expect to read a post about home education without a mention of socialisation did you 😉 Social skills refers to learning how to communicate with other people. We do this with language, gesture, facial expressions and body language. Children develop their social skills through interacting with others. Crazy concept, right.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Cognitive Development and Sills
Here we are talking about the learning skills that children develop. Their memory, attention, thinking and understanding are all cognitive skills that develop with time and experience. Boardgames, memory games, reading together, puzzles, riddles and rhymes are all activities you can do with your child to help them along.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Adaptive Skills
Adaptive skills is one you probably haven’t heard of, but I will bet you have given it a of thought over the years. This is the technical term for a child learning to look after themselves. Learning to eat, drink, go to the toilet and dress themselves are all adaptive skills. Don’t forget to teach your child how to tie their shoelaces!
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Methodology
There are lots of different styles you can choose from when it comes to teaching your child. Popular homeschool styles include Waldorf, Charlotte Mason, Montessori-inspired and play-based. Each style has its own way of doing things. People call this the method or sometimes they use the term methodology (which really means the study of methods, but hey, let’s not be too picky). Deciding to teach your child at home during their preschool years means you can choose the methodology that suits them and you best.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Pedagogy
A lot of people get methodology and pedagogy confused (and they are confusing!). Pedagogy is a broader term that encompasses what is taught, how it’s taught and why it is done that way. It’s the thinking behind the method.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Play-based Learning
This one is familiar to you, I’m sure. Wanting to make sure your child experiences a childhood full of play-based learning is a common reason parents choose home education in the earlier years. Essentially, play-based learning is just learning about the world and the way it works through play. There are lots of different types of play though!
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Constructive Play
Constructive play is play where children manipulate materials. Immediately we think of blocks and maybe magnatiles, building things, but this type of play also includes playing with loose parts, playing with sand and playdough, making things. Experimenting with writing materials is included here too.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Exploratory Play
This is just what it sounds like, exploring the world. There are so many sounds, tastes, textures to experience! Just like when your child was a baby and they would drop their spoon on the floor purely to see what would happen, preschool kids need the chance to exercise their curiosity and explore the world. What is this, what does it do, how do I make it work are all questions that can be answered during their play.
Preschool Terms You Need to Know: Co-operative Play
Playing together, learning to work together, take turns and solve problems is all part of co-operative play. Some people wonder how children learn this outside of a school or kindergarten environment but there is plenty of opportunity. Playing with siblings and cousins, going to playgroup (if you are only planning to home educate during the preschool years you may want to look for a playgroup associated with your school of choice), homeschool groups, playing with the kids at your local neighbourhood park; these are all opportunities for your child to experience co-operative play.
Knowing these terms will help you to make sense of the truly enormous volume of information out there.
I use some of these terms to make sure I create a balanced and well-rounded circle time for my preschool age daughter.
Now that you have the terminology down, what is your next challenge in planning to teach preschool at home?