Sunday, February 04, 2007

Language-related activities for preschoolers

Ideas from The Preschooler's Busy Book: 365 Creative Games and Activities to Keep your 3- to 6-Year-Old Busy by Trish Kuffner, with language emphasis suggestions and variations by me.

1.  What's missing?: "Test your preschooler's memory skills by placing a few toys or household objects in front of her. Allow her to study them, then have her close her eyes while you remove one object. See if she can tell you which object is missing" (p. 29).

Language emphasis: Have the child name every item in the second language (L2) before changing the arrangement. Remove the object whose name you want the child to practice. You can target different categories of vocabulary like furniture (using dollhouse furniture), animals (with stuffed animals), kitchen vocabulary (with silverware, pans, etc.), food (with real or fake food), and so on. For children learning the names of colors, provide several versions of the same item in different colors so that the must name the color of the missing object.

Variations: Show the child a picture of something, then a second picture with some of the objects removed or changed. The child must identify which elements are missing or different. Find or draw (or use clip art) to make pictures that target certain vocabulary categories (zoo animals, nature words, and so forth) to elicit the words you want the child to practice in the L2. You can show one picture at a time for older kids or the pictures side by side for younger ones. You can also use a felt board or other toys for a 3-D picture that kids can manipulate.

2. Flour drawing: "Lightly sprinkle the surface of a cookie sheet with flour. Show your child how to draw in it with his finger. Or draw a letter, number, or shape in the flour with your finger and have him draw the same next to yours" (p. 58).

Language emphasis: First have the child in the flour draw the letter, number, or object you call out (because the child should have a chance to show he understands the word in the L2 before you require him to say it himself). Then have him say the word in the L2 as he draws. When the child knows his letters, ask him to spell out words in the L2 while drawing them in the flour. Depending on how well the child knows his numbers, ask him to write by twos, threes, and fives.

Variations: The child can point his finger and draw in the air, on his arm, on your back. Draw on each other's backs and try to guess what letter or number it is. Draw on an Etch-a-sketch. Paint with water on a blank sheet of paper or sidewalk. Kuffner also suggests forming letters out of play-dough.

3. Beep!: "Choose a familiar story, song, or rhyme that your child has heard often. Read or recite the story, song, or rhyme, but substitute wrong words or names in obvious places. For example: 'Old MacDonald had a car' or "Mary had a little dog.' Have your child listen for the incorrect words and say 'Beep!' when he hears one" (p. 105).

Language emphasis: Well, this one is already focused on language!

Variation: Focus on numbers. While counting in the target language, insert the wrong number so your child can correct you. With older kids, take turns counting, but say that for every multiple of three, four, five, or whatever, the speaker must say "Beep!" instead of the number.

And to conclude, a couple of other ideas that occurred to me while thinking about what works for preschoolers learning another language:

Hand puppets: Use hand puppets (people or animals) to practice greetings, meetings, and leave-takings in the target language.

Fingerplays: Learn or invent your own fingerplays to accompany poems, nursery rhymes, and children's songs. Use these hand motions to illustrate the main ideas of each line.

Cooking class: Teach your child vocabulary in the target language while helping her prepare a dish. Recycle vocabulary and common commands the next time you cook together. If she can read in the target language, type up the steps (or just the names of ingredients) in random order and have her put them in logical order; you can also use pictures of the foods to do this with pre-readers. As you cook together, ask her questions in the target language about what she expects to happen, eg, "Do we put the syrup in the pan or on the pancakes?"

Does anyone have other preschool-friendly activities to suggest?


  1. These are great suggestions, thanks. Now if you can come up with a list for infants... ;)

  2. Well, Estela, wouldn't you say that just about everything you do around a baby involves exposing him to language?! But seriously, good question. Anyone want to volunteer to make a list of language-friendly activities for babies?

  3. This is GREAT! I'm going to include a link from my blog if that is ok. The hardest part of keeping language alive is finding activities that get language going!

  4. Corey, you're welcome to share! And hopefully, the more people that read these ideas, the more new ones they'll suggest too! Anyone else?