I get so many question about early education resources, so I figured I’d share my favorite tools in one place. Most of these games and strategies are tools I used in the classroom when I used to teach (pre-k, kinder, 1st and 3rd grades). I’ve continued using some of these tools at home when I feel my kiddos need a bit of a boost in a certain area. I should probably mention that I’m not huge on workbooks or flashcards so you won’t see that kind of stuff on this list- I feel like my kiddos get enough of that stuff at school. Granted, those tools definitely have their place. Now that Q is older she has nightly math fact flashcard practice, and we have some skill-builder books that we use in the summer but in general- I find that my kids learn best by doing, playing, and experiencing.
Of course, ALL kids learn differently and my best advice to you is something a wise person told me a long time ago- “Reading is a lot like potty training.” Wait, hear me out on this…to paraphrase: Take your child’s lead, sense their interest level and readiness. You can introduce the idea and give adequate exposure (hopefully producing interest). But you’re going to get your best results if you wait until the child shows interest and readiness. Forcing the issue before they are interested/ready may backfire on you and mastery may not only take way longer but you could also create a general dislike for the concept.
I hope you don’t feel pressured by this list, and I certainly hope you know that, for me, these tools/games do NOT take the place of outside play, laughing, building with blocks, making tents with couch cushions, riding bikes, or any other experience-based, imaginative, free-play that our kiddos need and, in turn, are actually learning from! Let them be little!…and if you see your kiddo struggling a bit, here’s a list of a few ways you can try to support their learning in a fun & engaging way! 😉
Word Wheels Ardyn’s teacher introduced these to us this year and my little “reluctant learner” is LOVING them…with a capital L!!!!
pocket chart with sight words Q and I used to play this with her sight word cards she’d get in pre-k. We’d use a combination of: this boxed set of common sight words, her school sight words cards that got sent home from school, and then we’d make our own cards with friends & family names, uncommon words, etc. on index cards. Then we’d practice making sentences in the pocket chart with the cards. She loved it!
sight words bingo classic bingo with common sight words
boggle junior teaches word recognition and spelling!
BOB books Quin learned to read on these books. It’s just what worked for her. I feel like with Ardyn, we need a little more time with the word wheels and some fun games before moving over to these. She gets immediately turned off my anything that isn’t “fun”.
Phonics Spelling Game This was/is a favorite for both girls. I’ve shared it on my stories before. Ardyn and I just played it the other day.
Writing Made Simple Letter Kids My girls loved these cards. You basically build the capital letters by placing different shapes (made to look like kids doing acrobatics) onto an overlay on a magnetic tray. (That sounded way more complicated than it actually is!) Since this set is so hard to find, I’ve linked something similar: HERE and HERE (same concept: building letters with shapes)
This book technically is categorized as a learn to read book, but it’s great for writing practice as well. Two birds, one stone. Plus Ardyn thinks it’s fun because the subject matter is unicorns and rainbows! 😉 There’s also a workbook specific to (preschool level) writing and math
Handwriting Without Tear Magnetic screen and stamps HWT is my favorite handwriting and letter learning program! Both girls’ preschools and the school I used to teach at used this method! I suggest maybe getting a HWT workbook to go along with this set if you aren’t already familiar with it. Then maybe go download the song “Mat Man” on itunes as well!
I love this notebook for journaling because it has a space for drawing and writing on each page. My girls both use these for summer journaling!
Motor Skills: I was recently told that Ardyn needs some help with her motor skills: pencil grip, letter formation, cutting with scissors, etc. These magnetic tracing boards are some of my very favorite tools for practicing motor skills. I LOVE the letter (uppercase | lowercase) and number tracing ones, but also love the free form board, because any form of utensil holding while drawing/writing is great for strengthening those fine motor skills! They even have cursive (uppercase | lowercase) ones that Quinlin loves!!
Wooden Puzzles Seems obvious, but these wooden puzzles were household favorites for learning ABCs & 123s as toddlers…plus, in my opinion so much better than a flashcard because it also teacher motor skills and hand-eye coordination
MagnaTiles Teaches early Geometry skills…kids will have NO idea they’re learning. All three of my kids love their magnatiles. 😉
Go Fish You’d be surprised how early you can play Go Fish with little ones. It’s the perfect game to introduce numbers. We used to play with our wooden puzzle numbers nearby as manipulatives in case we got stuck on a number!
Super Genius Addition For kiddos starting addition, such a fun game! Q loves it!
Motor Math Game Ages 4+, teaches +/- in a fun, fast-paced car race game
Pizza Math Several games in one- teaches early math skills, patterns, grouping, critical thinking, hand-eye coordination
Super Sorting Set Helps with matching, patterning, classifying, sorting, counting.
Rainbow Fraction Tiles OR Fraction Tower Cubes (for those little lego lovers!) These tools are great for younger kids just to play with (they’ll be inadvertently learning) and great for older kids who may need some visual/hands-on help with fractions! I bought these for Q recently who is in the middle of a “parts & whole” unit at school and she loves using these to help with her homework.
Wooden Puzzles Like I mentioned above- we LOVE these puzzles. And we took the numbers off the puzzle and used them in so many different ways. I found it so helpful for the kids to have a 3-D number they could hold, trace, examine and manipulate in their hands. Really cements learning for those visual/tactile learners. (Same goes for the letters)
Telling Time: I love this fun “What Time is it?” Game for ages 5-9, a fun way for kiddos who are learning time telling to practice. Also, I’ve had one of these Big Time learning clocks in my classroom for as long as I can remember. I LOVE that the hour hand moves AS you move the minute hand, to show true-to-life clock settings, I do wish however that the hour marker said “00” instead of “60”. If you want a two-for-one deal, I LOVE this Time Telling kit which includes a smaller version of the Big Time learning clock plus interactive tools for playing time-telling games!
EDUCATIONAL “SCREEN TIME” TOOLS:
Osmo Genius Kit for ipad |Tiggly for ipad We aren’t huge on screen time in our house, but when they kids are on ipads, it needs to be educational. We got these sets for the girls for Christmas last year and they are great!
You don’t NEED all the fancy expensive games to help your child get a jump start on learning. Here are some totally free ideas that you can do with things you probably already have lying around the house.
- Get a baking sheet and some magnetic letters- boom a homemade magnetic learning game
- Draw out the letters of the alphabet on some paper. Give your kids some play dough and have them “roll the dough” and then place it over the letters you’ve drawn out to form the letters and/or numbers
- Get kitchen tongs, a muffin/cupcake pan or an ice tray and a bowl of colored pom poms. Have your kid use the tongs to sort the poms by color or number or size. Fine motor skills, counting, and sorting/categorizing skills!
- Get a baking sheet with a taller lip around the edge. Pour some kinetic sand or shaving cream inside. Have your child draw the letters in the sand/cream.
- Fill a giant ziplock with several colors of paint. Tape it shut, then tape it to the counter/table. Have kids mix the paint colors and “draw” out letters/numbers inside.
- Get your wooden puzzle (linked above). Dump all the letters or numbers into a plastic bin filled with sand, water beads or any other sensory material. Have your child go fishing for letters/numbers. Once they dig one out, they need to place it in it’s correct spot on the puzzle.
- Go on a nature walk: talk about the animals, people, trees and cars you see. Talk about sounds, colors, shapes, and letter sounds
- Get a piece of cardboard and write all the capital letters around the sides. Then get large clothespins and write the lower case letters on them. Have you child match upper and lowercase letters by clipping the clothes pin onto the correct letter.
- Grab some letter cookies (Trader Joes has them) and print out (or just write) the ABCs on a piece of paper and have your kids match the letters. If they match correctly, or better yet- can name the letter sound, they get to eat the cookie!
Pinterest is FILLED with great ideas. Just search “Early Learning Activities”
(some may require membership and/or school registration so contact your school and ask if they have a log-in you can use!)
Kiddle (kid safe search engine)
Happy Learning, Friends! Let me know if you have any questions!
For a full list of creative games and free activities to keep your kids busy during this crazy time, see THIS POST!