You’ll see a lot of free play opportunities in my daily routine with Laynie. Under age 5, free play is more beneficial to development and learning than anything mom-driven or teacher-driven anyway. Until a child is about 5 years old, it’s perfectly acceptable to allow plenty of unscheduled, unguided play time.
At this age, learning occurs through natural play, and through a mom’s recognition of a great learning opportunity and taking advantage of it. If Laynie is playing with playdough, I’ll ask her if she can form a ball (I’ll even call it a sphere!). If she’s coloring with crayons, I ask her what color she’s holding, or tell her to try to write a green letter L. If she’s building a castle with blocks, I’ll say, “We need four blocks on this side, help me count…” etc. If Laynie’s playing dress-up with a fireman’s hat, I’ll pretend with her, but also guiding her into a conversation about what a fireman does. If she’s playing with her dollhouse alone, I’ll sit back and just watch as she entertains herself and at the same time expands her creativity and independence. If she’s playing with a friend, I’ll sit back and watch her learn how to share and cooperate (with some guidance on how to be polite if necessary).
During “free play” times, I am usually right by her side, but she leads the activities. It is during these times that I am allowing her imagination to grow. She learns how to problem solve, manipulate objects with ever-improving dexterity, create, and become more independent. Most importantly, she’s guiding her own learning, and not even aware of it. Although sometimes, I’ll pick a toy or a game that I feel like using for a learning experience, and I’ll say “How about this?” and usually she’ll say, “Ok!” One of these days, soon enough, I will be providing a set schedule of academic learning opportunities. But for now, she’s happy, she doesn’t even know that she’s learning, and she knows just as much, if not more, than most kids her age do!
Here’s my daily schedule that I typically follow with Laynie. We don’t follow it exactly, every single day, but you get the idea. The times are not written because we never end up doing things at the exact same time every day, and sometimes things are out of order, but it’s close. This schedule keeps us busy from about 8:00 in the morning until about 5:00. I also keep children in my home during the day, so being on a set schedule keeps us all happy.
Breakfast, get dressed, brush hair, etc.
“School” time (Usually a brief 15-30 minutes or so, and can include many things, right now we’re working through Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, and sometimes doing a page out of some simple preschool workbooks I bought at Walgreens. In addition, I sometimes have a weekly theme that I follow, and I’ll find daily activities to do together around that theme.)
Outside play (or indoor movement, depending on weather)
“Art” (sometimes a cool craft, other times Playdough, other times just coloring in a coloring book or chopping paper into small bits with scissors, sometimes a theme craft)
More Free play
TV time (usually Super Why, Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, or a favorite show on Noggin that I’ve DVR’ed)
Prayer before lunchtime (“God our Father, God our Father, we thank you…”)
“Music” (we sing, dance, and play toy instruments along with children’s music CD’s)
Free play and/or theme activity
“Pre-Reading” activities (We read lots and lots of books, do finger plays, sing songs, quote nursery rhymes or Bible verses)
Prayer (“Now I lay me down to sleep…”)
Naptime (2-3 hours, yes, she still takes a good nap usually!)
Free play and/or theme activity
Outside play (or free play indoors, depending on the weather)