14 pre-K activities to prepare kids for the preschool classroom (2024)

Of all the toddler milestones, going to preschool may very well be the biggest. When kids head off to school for the first time, their world opens up in ways they couldn’t possibly get at home, giving way to a brand new set of skills (and friendships!). And while school is a place to learn and grow, parents and caregivers can still do a little work beforehand to help get them used to the pre-K activities they’ll likely be doing everyday.

“Preparing your child for preschool can be the start of an exciting journey into learning,” says Elanna Yalow, vice chair and senior advisor of KinderCare. “It can also be a major transition for every member of the family. While it’s easy to focus on the physical aspect – a backpack, school clothes and so forth – it’s more important to devote attention to emotional preparation.”

“Preparing your child for preschool can be the start of an exciting journey into learning.”

—Elanna Yalow, vice chair and senior advisor, KinderCare Learning Companies

Looking for preschool preparation activities to do at home? Here are 14 parent- and expert-backed ways to give kids a leg up before heading into the pre-K classroom.

1. Have a routine

According to Tovah Klein, who holds her doctorate in clinical and developmental psychology and is director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of “How Toddlers Thrive,” a good early childhood classroom has clear routines and children learn over time what to expect. However, “the main activities that help a child when they enter preschool are the routines they have at home,” she says.

“Routines help children gain independence because they know what to do and what will happen next,” Klein continues. “For instance, they’ll learn that after book time, books need to be returned to the shelf.”

“Routines also help children gain independence because they know what to do and what will happen next. “For instance, they’ll learn that after book time, books need to be returned to the shelf.”

— Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development

While preschool is a time to really learn routines, developing good habits at home for daily activities, such as washing hands and getting dressed, will help with the transition. “Preschool-aged kids still need adult support, but being regimented prepares them for going to school and getting used to the routines they will encounter there,” Klein adds.

Good for: Building confidence and independence

2. Play school

Few kids can resist playing school, and fortunately, this age-old, make-believe game is one of the best preschool prep activities. “If the child wants to, parents and caregivers can pretend to play school, adding stuffed animals or dolls to the mix and taking turns as the teacher,” Klein says. “You can play out routines such as singing songs, having a snack or building with blocks. Also, rehearsing saying goodbye at drop-off and then reuniting at the end of day when the parent or caregiver comes back will help a child as well.”

Good for: Knowing what to expect, adapting to new situations and working through emotions through imaginary play

3. Talk it out

A simple but crucial way of getting kids ready for preschool is to talk to them. “It’s important that parents and caregivers talk with children about how they feel about their first day of school,” Yalow explains. “Ask questions and work together to solve potential issues. Most important of all is to listen and respond to the child’s needs. Your preschooler may be nervous and excited at the same time, which can feel confusing!”

While talking to kids about the “big day” is key, Klein also adds that it’s wise to not talk about it constantly — or too far in advance. “Young children have very little sense of time so waiting until the week before school starts is enough time to start talking about preschool,” Klein says. Doing it too far in advance is confusing and can lead to more worry about school, rather than looking forward to it.”

Good for: Boosting social-emotional development and secure attachment to parents and caregivers

4. Work on labeling emotions

In addition to having general conversations about preschool and getting to the bottom of kids’ worries, helping children name their emotions can be helpful, as well. “For some children, preschool will be the first time they’re interacting with other children outside of their immediate family, and there’s an emotional learning curve,” Yalow says. “The most important skills a preschooler can have are social-emotional, or what are often called ‘soft skills.’ These skills include the ability to name their emotions, as well as some basic emotional regulation strategies and the ability to play with other children.”

Good for: Developing social skills and emotional regulation

5. Flower breathe

Naming feelings is one of the first steps in emotional regulation, but it doesn’t stop there. Children also need to learn how to calm down when they feel worked up or out of sorts. One way to help with this: Flower breathing. “To help younger children with emotion regulation strategies, teach them to breathe deep,” Yalow says. “Hold up two fingers and ask them to smell the flower as they inhale [one finger] and blow out the candle as they exhale [the other].”

Yalow also adds that talking to kids about your own feelings — and how you appropriately deal with them — helps develop this skill, also. “You can say: ‘I’m sad, but I know a hug will help me feel better’ or ‘I’m mad, and that’s OK. It’s not OK to hit, but I can punch a pillow or stomp my feet to get the feelings out of my body,’” Yalow explains.

Good for: Practicing emotional self-regulation

6. Play Simon Says

Got a kiddo who likes Simon Says? You’re in luck because it’s a great preschool prep activity. “In addition to supporting children’s imaginary play, common games such as Simon Says, freeze dance and sorting/matching games can help children develop their executive function skills, which help them plan and learn to control their emotions,” Yalow says. “These critical skills help them learn to adapt to new situations and to cope with stress.”

“In addition to supporting children’s imaginary play, common games such as Simon Says, freeze dance and sorting/matching games can help children develop their executive function skills, which help them plan and learn to control their emotions.”

—Elanna Yalow, vice chair and senior advisor, KinderCare Learning Companies

Good for: Learning self-control, managing emotions and adapting to new situations and people

7. Help with coats and backpacks

When kids play school at home, their backpacks can be half-opened and, let’s be honest, they can be in their underwear. But at real school, that’s not going to fly. So, some parents and caregivers may want to help little ones brush up on these seemingly basic skills.

“One of my biggest worries about sending my son to school was him putting on his own coat and zipping up his backpack,” says mom of one Karen Schmidt of Brooklyn, New York. “In the past, I always did it for him since it was quicker, but before school started, I made sure he knew how to do it on his own.”

Good for: Improving coordination, motor skills and organizational techniques

8. Set up playdates

“It’s important for children to spend time around their peers, interacting with supervision but minimal intervention from adults,” says Yalow. “Before school, visit a playground or set up playdates with other children of similar ages and then take a step back to let the children play together.”

“If a child isn’t ready to play with others, allow them to stay close to you until they feel ready to join the other children,” Yalow explains. Once the kids are playing together, observe their interactions and talk with them about how they felt afterwards. If they had fun, ask what they enjoyed. If disagreements or awkward moments came up, help them problem-solve ways they could address those situations next time.”

Good for: Strengthening social skills

9. Spend time apart

Most kids are predominantly with their families and/or caregivers the majority of the time before preschool, and because of this, Klein notes, it’s important to practice spending time apart. “Preparing for separation means parents and caregivers need to have some time away from the child, where they leave and come back, whether it’s going to the grocery store, for a long walk or out to dinner,” she says.

Klein adds that it’s important to let the child know you are leaving and greet them when you get back. “The going out and returning is a way for the child to see that mommy or daddy always come back,” she says. “This base of security is what the child will need to feel comfortable staying at school.”

“The going out and returning is a way for the child to see that mommy or daddy always come back. This base of security is what the child will need to feel comfortable staying at school.”

— Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development

Good for: Increasing comfort level with being away from parents or caregivers

10. Visit the school

If possible, Klein recommends kids meet the teacher and see the classroom the week before school starts. “This can help acclimate a child before starting school in a group of children,” she says. If going into the school isn’t an option, Klein advises walking or driving by the school or playing on the playground instead. “Slowly introducing the actual preschool to kids can help ease them into where they will be going,” she explains.

Good for: Familiarizing the child with the school and assuaging fear of the unknown

11. Practice taking turns

Learning to share and take turns is a skill every preschool classroom works to instill. But for some parents, a little work on the front-end makes sense. “Before sending my twins to school, I gave them one toy and tried to show them how to take turns,” says mom of three, Jaclyn Santos of Hazlet, New Jersey. “Sharing definitely isn’t their strong suit, and I can’t say they totally got the hang of it before school, but I was happy that we seemed to make a little headway.”

Good for: Honing socialization skills

12. Read books and tell stories

Forget the preschool prep sight words. One of the best ways to prepare a child for school is to read, read and then read some more. Few things are better for kids than reading, so it goes without saying that cozying up and reading lots of books is solid preschool prep. “Storytelling with your child about the events of the day and reading build both memory and language skills,” Yalow says.

Good for: Growing vocabulary and preparing for reading development

13. Put toys away

Little ones may not know the “Clean up, clean up, everybody clean up…” song just yet, but getting familiar with the routine of picking up after themselves is definitely smart. “Incorporating things like hanging up coats, putting a few toys away and sitting down at a table for a meal into routines will all help get kids ready for school,” Klein says.

Good for: Learning and following rules and developing independence

14. Work on bedtime

In the summer months, bedtimes slide. After all, those fireflies aren’t going to catch themselves. That said, it’s important to not wait until the very last minute before trying to get kids back in bed at a reasonable hour. According to the Cleveland Clinic, parents and caregivers should start implementing a “school bedtime” a week or two before preschool starts. The best way to do this is by having kids go to bed 15 minutes early each night, so the earlier bedtime isn’t so jarring. Because, after all, you can do all the preschool prep in the world, but it won’t do much good if the child is exhausted.

Good for: Building physical, mental and emotional health

14 pre-K activities to prepare kids for the preschool classroom (2024)


How do you prepare a pre K classroom? ›

Everything You Should Have in Your Preschool Classroom

Ensure that your classroom is set up in a way that is both inviting and stimulating for children. All materials should be within reach and easy to access. Everything should be clearly labeled and organized as well.

How children in a preschool classroom learn best through? ›

Research tells us preschool-age children learn best in environments where they can have secure relationships with caring and responsive adults, where they feel safe, and where they feel free to explore and learn. A well-arranged environment can help you meet preschool-age children's needs during play and routines.

How do preschool activities help child development? ›

Preschoolers want to learn how things work, and they learn best through play. Preschoolers at play are solving problems, creating, experimenting, thinking and learning all the time. Spending time playing with your child is especially good for your child's cognitive development.

How do you engage preschoolers in activities? ›

6 Ways to Keep Your Preschooler Active and Engaged at Home
  1. Provide opportunities for reading and learning. ...
  2. Create a cosy space for your child to hang out. ...
  3. Let your child choose what they want to do. ...
  4. Make use of short activities that offer lots of repetition. ...
  5. Provide basic art tools and supplies.
22 Nov 2022

How do you prepare your classroom? ›

Suggestions for Preparing the Classroom
  1. Cleanliness. Ensure that the area is clean. ...
  2. Temperature. If possible, make sure the room is not too hot or too cold. ...
  3. Lighting. Ensure that the room has adequate lighting. ...
  4. Personal Touches. ...
  5. Lesson Materials. ...
  6. Seating. ...
  7. Space.

What should a pre k classroom look like? ›

A good preschool classroom includes a block area, a dramatic play area, a science area, a library, and an arts area. At the beginning of each day, during what's called free play time, children decide which area to play in.

Which is the best method to teach a preschool child? ›

The Play Way Method

Teachers in good preschools use play as an important tool to groom and educate children. Of course, introducing the little ones to innovative games and blending them with basic learning work like magic. For example, certain games motivate kids to learn new alphabets, colours, numbers, and more.

What is the key to success for preschool children? ›

Communication Skills

Your child's ability to ask questions, express their feelings and convey their needs, both through spoken words and through body language are of utmost importance to their ability to succeed socially and academically.

What are 3 strategies you can use in a preschool class to help children learn about safety? ›

6 preschool classroom safety tips
  • Child Safety means keeping dangerous supplies out of reach. ...
  • Design the room properly. ...
  • Keep the classroom clean: ...
  • Practice emergency plans. ...
  • Classroom Supervision. ...
  • Keep communication flowing.
12 Jun 2020

Why are preschool activities important? ›

Educational preschool activities allow children to develop the ability to think rationally, stay curious, and overcome problems. Children understand how to digest new information and relate it to past experiences through the preschool activities, which enhances a child's cognitive skills.

What are the 5 learning activities? ›

  • Content Focus.
  • Interactivity Focus.
  • Critical Thinking.
  • Production.
  • Problem Solving.
  • Reflection.

Why is it important to do activities with children? ›

Play improves the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and young people. Through play, children learn about the world and themselves. They also learn skills they need for study, work and relationships such as: confidence.

How do you plan an activity? ›

Keep planning and organizing work activities simple in order maximize effectiveness.
  1. Determine Specific Tasks. Brainstorm all required tasks throughout the day. ...
  2. Prioritize and Sequence Tasks. Group tasks together. ...
  3. Set Realistic Timetables. ...
  4. Remove Potential Distractions.

What is the first thing to teach a preschooler? ›

The first thing to teach preschoolers is counting and letters.

What activities engage children? ›

Spending time and doing things with your child helps to build your relationship. You can spend time together as part of everyday activities, or you can make special time for play, games and other activities. Try sharing activities like preparing food, reading, playing word games, going to the park and more.

What happens in a pre K classroom? ›

Children will learn, in fun and engaging ways, about the early concepts of reading, math, and language. They are often exposed to earth science, art, music, and simple history.

What should I teach first in pre K? ›

The first thing to teach preschoolers is counting and letters. These skills are foundational to all knowledge they'll acquire through the year; it is best to start here. You can enroll your child in online learning platforms where they can learn at their own pace for secondary assistance.

What to expect in a Prek classroom? ›

Preschool classrooms are often organized by centers or areas that are divided by different subjects and types of play. For example, a typical preschool classroom may have the following centers: reading, arts and crafts, water/sand table, building and math toys, and an area for pretend play.


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