Dino-mite indoor activities

A message from a friend

While we’ve all been on lockdown, I’ve been deprived of the company of my small friends. Imagine my happiness when I received a message from a former student’s family. They told me that their daughter insists on playing “school” every day and she always gets the part of being the lead teacher.

Mummy and daddy are members of the class – along with her daughter’s stuffed toys – but are hoping for “promotions” after taking notes from their daughter’s teaching skills. 

“Home school”

So, after this message, I started to think about what a great idea this is to keep your preschooler entertained, and also learning, while they’re off school. Why not do as this family I mentioned above did and enjoy some indoor activities together? Allow your preschooler to be the teacher for a bit and see what fun can be had. 

I am a big fan of child-centered learning and truly believe (as I have experienced it many times) that children learn best when they take control of their learning. Dramatic play and imagination games are great tools to encourage your child’s confidence by letting them set the rules, decide on characters and by letting them lead their own learning. 

Time to be dramatic!

Dramatic play is such an easy indoor activity when have limited space, materials, resources, inspiration or even patience. This isn’t about you being a teacher, this is about keeping your preschooler occupied and stimulated, learning all the way.

Let’s start with the question “what is your preschooler interested in?” Perhaps put some toys out as cues and see which one they go to first, then start to ask them questions to coax out their enthusiasm for this topic, and soon they will be able to take the reins. Personally, I’ve never met a child who isn’t interested in dinosaurs so I’m going to use this topic as an example:

Firstly, I must ask, do you know many dinosaurs’ names? I really didn’t when I first started teaching this topic but, as they’re so interested, I find that children know loads of them already; the recent “Jurassic Park” films were a big help with this though I did have to break up a rather heated discussion between two four-year-olds about if Indoraptors were real or not…

Be silly!

Anyway, what’s great about this is that even if you don’t know the names of dinosaurs you can have loads of fun making up your own! Haylosauraus Rex has had many a preschooler of mine giggling away all morning. (My computer just tried to correct “Haylosaurus” to “allosaurus”, pfft!).

Have your preschooler make up their own names and then describe them. While doing this you are encouraging language skills by giving them the freedom and opportunity to talk, use descriptive words, form sentences, play with words and, importantly, make mistakes! (We’ll come back to this subject another time).

With this activity you have the chance to say “what a great, silly word/name”, “why not tell me more about that?” and your preschooler will be so excited to share their silliness with you! By making mistakes and playing with language and words, you build your child’s confidence and they’ll be keen to try more. 

“School skills” at home

Next ask “which dinosaur do you think was the smallest/biggest?” “do you think it was smaller/bigger than a dog/horse/elephant?”. Here you’re looking at early maths skills – comparing sizes – which is something that your preschooler would be doing in their classroom. Now let’s add some more imagination: “do you think a T-Rex would fit into our bathroom? What about a velociraptor?” Off you head to the bathroom with your preschooler to see what you both think. 

Beforehand you could have pushed any loose furniture (mirrors, washing basket etc.) to the side as if something has been squashed into your bathroom space. “What’s happened here? Why is everything pushed to the side? You don’t think…you don’t think that a dinosaur really tried to fit in here, do you?” Here you have opened up your child’s imagination which is a fantastic and endless thing.

See what organically happens next; perhaps you’ll move to your child’s bedroom, your bedroom, the living room, etc. Again you have the opportunity to compare: which space is better for the dinosaur? 

These initial indoor activities could lead to telling or writing a story together – practicing your child’s language and early literacy skills – using different art materials (should you have access to them) and encouraging your child’s creativity. Whilst building your own dinosaurs focuses on early maths and science skills.

Try your best to let your preschooler lead the discussion and come up with new ideas, there’s a good chance that they will come up with things that you’ve never even considered and – here we get a bit cliche – you’ll really learn a lot from them!

Time for independent play

Now, some of you may be sitting there saying “this all sounds very good, Hayley, but I’ve got home office/lots of chores to do/ would just like a glass of wine cup of tea, and can’t do all these activities with my child”. How does a bit of independent learning and play sound?

You could have already set your preschooler off with an arty dinosaur design activity – if they’re old enough or responsible enough to be left alone with scissors and coloured pens on your furniture – or you could set them a challenge. Preschoolers love a challenge or a race and are sure to be enthusiastic if you set them “an important task”.

Let’s say you’re making lunch, you wouldn’t want a dinosaur to be able to eat your food before you and your preschooler had a chance to, would you? Of course not! This calls for a dinosaur hunter – a job of great importance. Set your preschooler the task of keeping those dinosaurs out of the kitchen (and thus out from under your feet) while you do what needs to be done.

Without your input this may last for a few minutes or the whole time you’re occupied but you always have the phrase “look there’s a dinosaur trying to eat those biscuits” to get your child back on that dinosaur hunting track.

This can work with so many different topics and themes: vehicles, emergency services, fairy tales…the list is truly endless, as are your little one’s imaginations. 

Time to go and get those imaginations working – and don’t forget to send me pictures of those dinosaur hunts!

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