Seasoned or experienced, it seems teachers are always looking for the most comprehensive list of what preschoolers should know. We hope this post fills you with inspiration and a go-getter attitude as you impart knowledge and love into your preschoolers’ hearts.
Teaching 3 and 4 year olds is a very special job and only certain special people have the unique abilities to teach our littlest learners. There are ways to prepare preschoolers beforehand. We have a post about what 2 year olds should know and 5 Key Things Preschool Teachers Want You to Know Before Starting Preschool.
What Preschoolers Should Know
Teaching preschoolers is such fun with their messy hands and never-ending energy. It’s also a lot of effort, dedication, and plenty of quick-thinking as you put out fires and teach ALL the skills.
I remember my first day as a preschool teacher as clearly as I remember the birth of my children. I’d been a Kindergarten teacher for 5 years and felt fully prepared for this next transition, but I was completely wrong (and definitely out of my element)! I remember the fast-paced speed of the day, the effort to keep them all engaged and together, teaching ALL the routines, and frankly, the feeling of being overwhelmed.
The academics, the social skills, the conflict resolution. How to put the tops back on the glue sticks and the playdough containers. Flush the toilet, use an inside voice, and raise your hand to share. I felt like I needed to teach every skill right away and instead of enjoying those first few weeks, I felt more like a teacher with a checklist and I knew that was a huge problem.
I wish I would have written this post years ago for me to happen upon then. It would have helped me reset my thinking to cherish those truly important first moments (and feelings) in my classroom.
The Most Important Things for a Preschooler to Know (and Feel)
“I am in preschool.
I am not built to: sit still, keep my hands to myself, take turns, be patient, stand in line, keep quiet all of the time.
I need: motion, novelty, adventure, and to engage the world with my whole body.
LET ME PLAY.
(Trust me, I’m learning). “-Jeff Johnson, Explorations Early Learning
This stage is about developing a young child’s sense of worth. Building their confidence, helping them to see their true talents and magical characteristics. Academics should be fun and playful with a true dedication to be hands-on (and messy if possible)!
So without further ado, here are the most important things a preschooler should know:
A preschooler should know that their teacher cares and adores them. Mistake after mistake, they will be given another opportunity with love, grace, and support.
A preschooler should know that they are safe and to trust their instincts – those gut feelings are there to guide us through life and should be taken seriously.
A preschooler should know that to be silly is to truly enjoy life.
A preschooler should enjoy being dramatic, creative, and chatter about anything their heart desires. It is better to be seen AND heard.
A preschooler should know that their day can and will experience many emotions. Those emotions need not sum up the day as a whole. Learning to cope, share, and get to the other side of those big feelings is a huge part of their work.
A preschooler should explore their interests freely and with support from their teacher.
A preschooler should know that time outside is never wasted. It is an opportunity to explore nature and discover the wonder of the natural world.
What Teachers of Preschoolers Should Remember
First things first, remember that each day is a new day. For both you and your students. So allow the weight of the previous days to fall away and allow for a fresh start.
Remind yourself that you are only human. Teaching and nurturing 12-18+ students is not for the faint of heart and will often leave you tired and exhausted. Please remind yourself to breathe and take time for you.
Remind yourself that your students do not care one bit about your singing voice, but they absolutely adore singing and dancing. Join the wild side and throw your cares away as you belt out, “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.” We’ve got a ton of great song lists for you to use, including circle time songs, songs that teach, action and dance songs, and more! Grab our handy printable below so you always have a great song at your fingertips.
Remind yourself that the ones who need you the most will find ways to push you to your limit. Push back with love and patience and find your connection with each other. It will truly make a difference in that child’s life.
Remind yourself when the day is long, and you feel you have little energy left, to pick up a book and read to your preschoolers. Whether it be new and shiny or a worn student favorite, it will be a few moments well spent.
For a great read, see our favorite picks of best preschool books. Grab our printable list so you can always have another great book on hand!
The Power of Play
And last but certainly not least, remind yourself that play is THE work of childhood. Free play, dramatic play, focused play, nature play, you name it. Create opportunities for your preschoolers to make choices, change their mind, and do it all over again. They are learning SO much from it.
One of the best ways to help 3’s and 4’s meet milestones is through play, art, stories, and hands-on activities. These are so beneficial to build curious little learners.
We have fantastic lesson plans for preschoolers that teach lots of skills simultaneously while still focusing on the love of learning and play.
From colors to farm, space to transportation, we have made it easy and exciting to play and learn! You will be amazed at how the simple materials in these activities offer endless fun and excitement. Grab the preschool lesson plans in our store!
Milestones for Preschoolers
The areas below are a great start to helping your preschoolers learn some new skills in a totally age-appropriate way! These are the foundations for what a 3 year old and 4 year year old should know.
Language Skills for Preschoolers
- Help your preschoolers build language by encouraging them to describe and compare objects. Use adjectives to describe texture, smell, taste, etc. Use comparing words such as, big, small, tall, heavy, etc.
- Build vocabulary by reading lots of books and talking about everyday things. A huge predictor of reading success is exposure to new words and encouraging children to ask questions as they read.
- Practice giving two and three step directions to your preschooler, such as, “Please put your backpack up, grab your pencil box, and come sit with us at the table”. Praise your preschoolers for a job well done or give a gentle reminder to complete the last step.
Literacy Skills for Preschoolers
- Model rhyming words by sharing, “Bat and hat rhyme. They have the same ending sounds: at. Dig and hat do not rhyme. They have different ending sounds – ig and at.” Ask your preschooler to identify if two words rhyme and share how they know.
- Practice their name by first helping the child identify their name in print. Then begin working on identifying the first few letters and begin writing practice. Our tactile name book is perfect practice for this.
- Encourage preschoolers to share what happened in a story by retelling. Invite them to predict what will happen next in the story and use story clues to help them build their own ideas.
Math Skills for Preschoolers
- Turn everything into a fun counting game! Whether it is blocks, paintbrushes, or how many steps to get to the playground, preschoolers love to count and it’s so beneficial for their number sense to orally count with an adult.
- Let little fingers use manipulatives in lots of different ways. Allow them to explore with counting blocks, teddy bear counters, beads, play dough, and macaroni! Use ten frame mats to build one to one correspondence to to 10 and develop subitizing skills. Use those same manipulatives to sort by color and size!
- Learning patterns in preschool is a fun and engaging skill that helps build visual discrimination and challenges children. Use pattern blocks, teddy bear counters, or even nature inspired materials to help your preschoolers think outside the box!
Social-Emotional Skills for Preschoolers
- Help your preschoolers name their feelings and invite them to share what makes them feel that way.
- Encourage your preschoolers to express how they feel when they are having conflict. Invite them to use an I-Message, “I feel mad because you took my crayon.”
- Invite children to play with each other and develop their own rules and guidelines for play. Encourage equity and turn-taking.
Motor Skills for Preschoolers
- Give 3 and 4 year olds practice stringing beads and cutting with scissors, with guidance.
- Encourage your preschooler to throw a ball and catch it close to body.
- Give preschoolers the opportunity completes a simple puzzle with 7-15 pieces.
- Allow opportunities for children to run, skip, jump, hop, and steer a tricycle.
Potty training is a very common milestone for three and four-year-olds to continue to master. If this is someone you would like your students or children to be more proficient with, we’ve created Peaceful Potty Training, to guide you along the way. Every child is ready for underwear at different ages, and this course will help no matter the age! Don’t miss our tips on how to know when to start potty training.