Get the skinny on what basic life skills your preschooler needs to know from early childhood expert Deborah J. Stewart from Teach Preschool. She shares with us what things to teach a 3 year old.
When Henry started preschool, I started thinking about life skills for kids to know and wondering if Henry can do what he should be doing at this time.
As a parent, I often wonder if Henry’s on the right track. If he’s doing everything he should be doing. Or if he’s lacking in an area.
When he was younger, I’d track all the developmental charts to make sure he’s on track. But somewhere along the way, well, I stopped.
What should he be doing?
Essential Basic Life Skills for a Preschooler to Know
I asked Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed, early childhood educator and author of the blog Teach Preschool, about what life skills young kids should be doing.
To start, I asked what things she hopes to see 3 year olds doing when they enter preschool.
Deborah suggests that parents encourage independence in their child by:
- Assist their child learn how to put on or take off their own coat or jacket.
- Helping their child learn to stuff their mittens in a pocket or hat when they take it off rather than just dropping them on the floor.
- Reminding their child they know how to pull up or down their own pants.
“I always help but we want preschoolers to be self-sufficient as soon as possible,” Deborah shares.
Basically, Deborah says that “Any task a child can learn to do on his or her own that relates to taking care of his or her own body or getting dressed or putting things away in the backpack will help the child be more independent and confident in preschool.“
By the end of the school year, Deborah says a preschooler should be able to do the following basic life skills:
- Put on their own jacket, mittens, hats
- Put papers away in their backpacks
- Fold up their own clothes or blankets and put them away
- Help clean up toys and materials at clean up time
- Set their own tablespace for snack and throw away their own trash after snack
“Ultimately, by the time they enter our four-year-old program, I want the threes to be past the stage of total dependence and able to do most personal care process and organizational processes on their own,” explains Deborah.
“When we get into the four’s/Pre-K program, we want to focus on more advanced skills and not still be spending lots of time trying to find mittens or zipping up backpacks!”
Starting Small Basic Life Skills at Home for Preschool
With Deborah’s suggestions, I’ve learned to start allowing time for Henry to do things on his own.
Allowing another 5-10 minutes to get out the door each morning, so Henry can put on his own shoes.
At night before bedtime, I’ve started letting Henry dress himself in his pajamas or “pee-gay-gays” as Henry calls them.
These are loose fitting clothes that are easy practice for him.
Taking this extra time for a preschooler to master new life skills is so rewarding.
He recently started doing this entirely on his own and is very proud of himself.
He’s now starting to tackle getting dressed in the morning.
Knowing what to expect is one thing, but relaying those expectations to your child provides another challenge.
Deborah says that how she teaches the life skills to 3 year olds in her preschool can be applied at home, too!
Make Life Skills Task Expectations Super Clear
“I think the first place you start is making sure your expectations, both at home and in the classroom, are clear,” Deborah says.
“This requires breaking things down for the children step by step and teaching them what it is you are expecting them to understand.”
“My belief is if you haven’t taught the child the process then a rule can’t be understood or followed.”
For very young children, 2 – 3 year old, I start with teaching expectations first and foremost.
We practice the skills that I need them to understand.
First, Deborah will explain the life skill to the preschooler, like washing hands to make the germs disappear.
But she also breaks down the overarching skill into smaller sub-tasks:
- take one pump of soap from the bottle
- turning on the water
- rubbing hands together
- rinsing hands
- using just one paper towel to dry hands
- where to throw the towel away
- turn the water off
It’s not just saying “wash your hands” and expecting a child to do the skill.
It’s truly teaching all the tiny steps of washing hands that are second nature to adults, but brand new to kids.
This totally changed my view of teaching these basic life skills to my preschooler!
I’m so glad that I asked Deborah!
Knowing What Behaviors & Skills Are Truly Age-Appropriate
Henry has always been quite a loud child.
When he’s playing with friends, he always has the loudest motor! And at the library or in stores, I am constantly telling him to use his inside voice.
Teaching him to use this “inside voice” has been difficult for me and hard for him to understand.
I asked myself if this is a life skill appropriate for a preschooler or not, can I teach a 3 year old to be quiet?
I’m mostly okay with Henry being loud. I love his enthusiasm and excitement, but there are times when we’re expected to be quiet.
At this age, this seems to still be a common occurrence and Deborah explains why:
“Young children are still ‘all about me’ when it comes to their development, so they are not aware of how they are affecting others around them. This is a skill that needs to be taught rather than told.”
So maybe teaching and expecting my boisterous 3 year old to respect the silence of a fancy art museum or other more serious place isn’t quite appropriate just yet.
Model Ideal Life Skills to Your Preschooler
Even though Henry might not be 100% ready to use his inside voice all the time, or even at all, it won’t stop me from asking.
Or modeling what quiet looks like.
Modeling the behavior that you expect just before you expect it makes it stick in their mind.
Deborah says, “The child will probably think this is funny but it will help him remember what you expect and practice the skill of using a quiet voice.”
Along with Life Skills for preschool, learn how to teach responsibility to kids too!
This modeling approach not only teaches what you expect from the child, but it puts in a fun learning twist as well.
Tips for Teaching a 3 Year Old to Use an Inside Voice
If your child is using a loud voice to talk to you at home or in the store, stop and softly say something like,
“Are you talking to me?”
“I thought you must be talking to that lady way over there because she can hear you better than me.”
In other words, teach your child to judge the need for using a loud voice to talk to someone far away versus a casual or normal voice when standing right next to you.
But above all – be aware that you model appropriate talking tones and levels.
Modelling the life skill to a preschooler will enhance everything your are teaching especially with a 3 year old.
If you are shouting “Don’t talk so loud!” then you are not modeling the behavior you’re expecting from your child.
And that sends mixed messages.
Another approach Deborah takes is to show how the children’s’ actions are affecting others. Deborah says to try things like:
“Your loud voice is hurting my ears!”
“I can’t understand what you say when you talk so loud. So let’s try it again and use a normal voice.”
This all revolves around teaching expectations and helping young children to be successful in life.
Everything is New for Young Children
When considering teaching life skills to a 3 year old, one thing Deborah would tell parents of all preschool children is:
“Look at EVERYTHING as an opportunity to teach and to learn.”
Preschool age children are discovering their world as well as the boundaries in their world.
They need both the space to try and fail. And the support to try and succeed.
Look at every new task or interest a child explores or tries as small opportunities to teach them.
And then where possible, give them the tools they need to be independently successful in the process.
Understand that independence doesn’t mean letting a child run around wildly wrecking up the living room.
What it means is giving children the time, space, and opportunity to explore the environment or a new idea.
And then guiding that child towards the understanding, skills, and discipline he needs to be successful in both the home and classroom environment.”
My latest motto is to treat my parenting approach as a teacher would their teaching approach.
I find that all teachers are so calm and collected.
Yes, because it’s expected of them, but the children respond to this so well. Can I manage this as a parent?
What essential life skills are you working on with your preschooler? We’d love to check out your best strategies and suggestions!
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