Supports and Activities for Families

Young children learn through play and interactions with the people around them. You can help your child most by having conversations with them about what they are doing and how they are feeling. It is also important to take care of yourself! 

Please remember to take time for yourself as much as possible and to seek out supports when you need them. Children will be watching you for clues about how they should react to the pandemic, so practice your stress management techniques. Your safe, supportive relationship with your child will help your child most during this time using these Tips for Helping Your Child During the Pandemic.

We hope the list of learning activities below gives you some new ideas for activities to do with your child, but do NOT feel that they are necessary. Your child will learn just by spending time with you. Most can be done with minimal materials available. Some activities may require more supervision or adult help and some may not be as appropriate for your individual child, so use your best judgment and choose the activities that work for your family. Preschoolers often have attention for activities for no more than ten minutes at a time; plan longer adult-led activities for multiple sessions, so you have plenty of time for play!

Looking for information about kindergarten transition?

Schools will be hoping to connect with you prior to school start to learn more about your child and family and to tell you about kindergarten at their school. Click here for more.

Looking for supports around meals or food?

Schools and other organizations are offering supports to families, including meals, during this time. A list of meal and food supports is here

Sample Social-Emotional Learning Book List

 

Many books support social-emotional learning. A few options are listed below:

  • How Kind! by Mary Murphy

  • Sometimes I'm Bombaloo by Rachel Vail

  • Saturday by Oge Mora

  • Mouse Gets Mad by Linda Urban

  • Families, Families, Families by Suzanne Lang

  • Hands Are Not for Hitting by Martine Agassi

  • Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang

  • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain

  • All by Myself by Aliki

  • Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney

  • When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry by Molly Garrett

  • Counting Kisses by Karen Katz

  • The Kindness Book by Todd Parr

  • Global Babies by The Global Fund for Children

  • Stone Soup by Jon J. Muth

  • Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

  • Bear Feels Sick by Karma Wilson

  • "I Have a Little Problem," Said the Bear by Heinz Janisch

  • Pete the Cat and his Four Groovy Buttons by James Dean

  • What I Like About Me by Allia Zobel Nolan

  • I Can Do It Too! by Karen Baicker

  • Ruby Finds a Worry by Tom Percival

  • Breathe Like a Bear30 Mindful Moments for Kids to Feel Calm and Focused Anytime, Anywhere by Kira Willey

Ideas for follow-up activities for many of these books can be found at the Book Nook section of the Pyramid Model site.​

Social-Emotional Learning Activities

Young children are learning to recognize their own and other’s feelings and to communicate those and respond appropriately. They are beginning to identify their abilities and accomplishments with pride. Stable routines and consistent, nurturing caregivers help young children develop positive feelings about themselves and others.

  • As you read picture books, ask your child to think about how the characters are feeling. Encourage them to notice facial cues and to build connections with times they may have had that feeling.

  • Make a picture schedule of your daily routines to help your child learn what to expect and when. You can draw your own pictures, take photos of your child, or use these printable pictures. Helping your child understand that they will get to go outside after lunch or know that you will be home after dinner helps children feel safe and prevents challenging behaviors.

  • Create "I Love You" rituals for transition times of the day: a special bedtime song, morning greeting, goodbye ritual, etc.

  • Explain to your child in age-appropriate ways about coronavirus and why he/she can't go to school or needs to wear a mask.  A variety of "social stories" are available online. Here are a few examples:

  • Trace your child’s body or hand on a piece of paper and let them decorate it with things they like or that are important to them.

  • Make faces and have your child guess how you are pretending to feel (e.g. sad, happy, angry) or use this printable chart of different emotions. Invite your child to try to copy you and/or make the faces in a mirror.

  • Invite your child to draw a self-portrait and/or picture of your family.

  • Make and decorate masks out of paper plates or cardboard.

  • Help your child identify where in their body they feel different emotions. How does their mouth feel when they are happy? How do their shoulders feel when they are angry? How does their tummy feel when they are sad? If you have access to a printer, your child can use this body outline to draw where they feel each of the feelings.

  • Pretend to make your child into a gingerbread baby: mix the dough by rubbing, roll out the "dough", trace their body with your hands to cut out the shape, decorate, bake and eat up with kisses. Great extensions to this activity include reading Gingerbread Baby by Jan Brett and making gingerbread cookies!  Another option is reading Pete's a Pizza by William Steig.

  • Look at baby pictures with your child and talk about how much they have grown and changed.

  • Make a list of all the things your child is good at and have them draw a picture of the thing they are most proud of.

  • Place a beanbag or stuffed animal on your child’s stomach while they are lying down and have them practice taking deep slow belly breaths to calm down. Notice what happens to the stuffed animal! For other ideas to teach breathing techniques to calm down, visit this site.

  • Set up a video call with a friend or family member to stay connected.

  • Play a mirroring game or Follow the Leader where your child copies what you do.

  • Pretend to paint your child's face with a soft cotton ball, paint brush, feather or Q-tip.

  • Start a family gratitude jar and list one thing every day that you feel thankful for (a great dinnertime conversation!).

  • Give your child simple chores around the home and praise them for helping.

  • Make a “feelings” book and have your child draw a picture or take a photo of themselves feeling different ways (excited, frustrated, disappointed). Describe a time they have felt that way.

  • Make cookies for a local food shelf or draw pictures for a nursing home (check with local agencies to see what they will accept).

  • Practice "star breathing": Spread your hand out like a star and use the index finger on your other hand to trace the outline of your star hand. Take a deep breath in as you move to the top of your thumb, breathe out as you move down between your thumb and first finger, take another breath in as you move to the top of your first finger, breathe out as you move down between your first and second finger. Trace your child's hand to help remind them to use this strategy. Repeat until you have taken five slow, deep breaths.

  • Many children may be communicating their anxiety or stress with additional challenging behaviors.during this time. There are many prevention and response resources for families struggling with child behaviors at the Pyramid Model site, including helping your child follow directions, get attention appropriately, handle anger, and problem-solve. Your child will benefit from your calm presence to help them regulate their own emotions.

Want more details or activity suggestions for social-emotional learning?  MaryJane Broughton has developed a weekly curriculum for families with ideas and books to support young children.  See more details here:

Sample Language and Literacy Learning Book List

  • The Real Mother Goose by Blanche Wright (or any other nursery rhyme collection)

  • Mary Engelbreit's Nursery and Fairy Tales Collection by Mary Engelbreit (or other fairy tale picture books)

  • Abiyoyo by Pete Seeger

  • The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak

  • We Are in a Book by Mo Willems

  • Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills

  • Bunny Cakes (Max and Ruby) by Rosemary Wells

  • Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. 

  • Max's Words by Kate Banks 

  • Albert's Alphabet by Leslie Tryon

  • A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen

  • Click, Clack, Moo, Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin

  • Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas

  • My Truck is Stuck by Kevin Lewis

  • Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn

  • It Came in the Mail by Ben Clanton

  • One Day, The End: Short, Very Short, Shorter-Than-Ever Stories by Rebecca Dotlich

  • Dr. Seuss's ABC by Dr. Seuss

  • The Word Collector by Peter Reynolds

  • Word Wizard by Cathryn Falwell

  • Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox

Language and Literacy Learning Activities 

Young children are learning to express themselves through language and beginning to understand the sounds of language like rhyme and syllables. They are learning that printed words have meaning and may be learning that sounds go with letters. Regular exposure to books, stories and conversations help children build their language and literacy skills.

  • Read and discuss books and stories. There are many simple yet powerful ways to encourage young children to have a love of books and stories 

  • Listen to audiobooks (many are available through your local library's website even if the library is closed!)

  • Draw a picture inspired by a recent book: your favorite part, a picture of the character, a connection to your life, or something you learned

  • Practice starting conversations and asking questions that do not have a right or wrong answer and which encourage your child to think or respond in new ways: "Tell me more about...", "I wonder what would happen if...", "How do you feel about...?", "What do you think...?"  For a printable list of question starters, click here.

  • Go on an “alphabet” hunt in old magazines and make an alphabet book of items beginning with different letters. 

  • Practice making letters in lots of ways: make them out of playdough, draw them on the windows, write them in shaving cream, put a piece of paper over sandpaper and draw "bumpy letters", draw with a stick in the mud, paint with water on the fence, etc.

  • Play “I Spy”.

  • Write your child’s name on a piece of cardboard and cut it up to make a name puzzle.

  • Make paper bag, sock or stick puppets and reenact a favorite story book.

  • Build a pillow or blanket fort  and “read” inside with some flashlights.

  • Trace letters on your child's back with your finger and let them guess what the letter was.

  • Play “Simon Says”.

  • Tell your child stories about your childhood.

  • Learn some new fingerplays to play with your child.

  • Create a “journal” and draw a picture and/or record your child’s words in it every day. 

  • Use natural materials (sticks, rocks, pine cones) to build the letters of the alphabet or the child’s name.

  • Narrate what you are doing as you do it and describe what your child is doing also: "Oh, you found a big stick!", "Wow! Look at how fast that car goes!", "You look so sad!"

  • Clap or stomp out syllables in words.

  • Label items in your home. 

  • Play a rhyming game where you give a word and your child rhymes with it.

  • As you read a rhyming book or nursery rhyme, pause and see if your child can fill in the missing word.

  • Play charades with your child.

  • Draw pictures or write letters to mail to friends and family or set up a "post office" box in your house and exchange letters with your child.

 

Sample Mathematics Book List

 

  • Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell 

  • The Long, Long Line by Tomoko Ohmura

  • How Many Jelly Beans? by Andrea Menotti 

  • Mouse Shapes and Mouse Count by Linda S. Walsh

  • Quack and Count by Keith Baker

  • Inch by Inch by Leo Lionni

  • 10 Minutes Till Bedtime by Peggy Rathmann

  • The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins

  • Five Creatures by Emily Jenkins 

  • Just a Little Bit by by Ann Tompert  

  • Actual Size by Steve Jenkins

  • Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow

  • Five Little Ducks by Penny Ives

  • Is That Wise, Pig? by Jan Thomas

  • The Deep, Deep Puddle by Mary Jessie Parker

  • The Long and Short of It by Cheryl Nathan 

  • A Pair of Socks by Stuart Murphy

  • Anno's Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno

  • Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews

  • 1, 2, 3 to the Zoo by Eric Carle

  • Fish Eyes by Lois Ehlert

  • Round is a Tortilla by Roseanne Thong

  • Perfect Square by Michael Hall

Mathematics Learning Activities 

Young children are learning to sort and classify objects and to count and compare groups of objects. They are also developing a sense of shapes and how they can be combined in different ways. You can help your child by comparing “more” and “less” and counting objects and groups of objects.

  • Make an All About Me book that lists regular information about your child such as age, but also gets silly: this is how many times I can spin in a circle before I fall down; this is how long I can hold my breath; this is how many Legos or pencils tall I am; this is how far I can jump, etc.  Add a few items every day!

  • Sort objects by size, type or color (e.g. put away the silverware, sort all the miscellaneous screws or beads, match socks, sort coins, find Tupperware lids, etc.).

  • Practice finding patterns in your clothing as you do your laundry.

  • Count steps as you go up them, windows or doorknobs in your house, goldfish on the plate, anything!

  • Go on a letter, number, shape or color scavenger hunt inside or out.

  • Cut a piece of string as long as your child’s hand or arm.  Challenge them to find things that are smaller or larger than their arm. 

  • Create a clapping/stomping pattern and see if your child can copy your rhythm and pattern

  • Cut up a magazine picture or piece of cardboard to make a puzzle for your child (or have them make one for you!).

  • Cook with your child (anything!). Help them measure ingredients and discuss “more” and “less” and count together!

  • Put numbers on the bottom of paper cups and hide a penny under one.  Give your child simple number clues to help them find the penny (e.g. it’s one more than 3).

  • Write numbers on paper or use chalk to write them outside and play hopscotch on them. Clap and say the number as you jump on it!

  • Draw a very simple picture and describe it to your child to see if they can copy it without seeing it (I drew a small red circle on top of a blue square.).  Let them have a turn drawing and describing when you are done!

  • Make your own tangram puzzles using cardboard pieces.

  • Use toothpicks or dry spaghetti and marshmallows, gumdrops, jellybeans, or raisins to build 2D and 3D shapes.

  • Guess how many steps it will take to cross a room. See if you were right! 

  • Play Go Fish or Uno or another simple card game.

  • Label socks, small balls or beanbags with the numbers. Throw them in numerical order into a basket.

  • Make a Memory game with letters, numbers, or shapes for your child to match.

  • Write the numbers on small slips of paper. Have your child choose one and find that many small toys (or choose that many goldfish or blueberries for snack).

  • Create groups of objects and count to compare them to other groups (e.g. 4 pairs of Mommy’s socks and 6 pairs of mine, so I have more!).

  • Dye dry pasta with a bit of food coloring and make a patterned necklace.

Sample Approaches to Learning Book List

 

A few options for books to support problem-solving, perseverance, and curiosity about the world:

  • Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

  • Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

  • Boxitects by Kim Smith

  • Rattletrap Car by Phyllis Root and Jill Barton 

  • What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom 

  • The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

  • The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson

  • Dreaming Up: A Celebration of Building by Christy Hale

  • Same, Same, But Different by Jenny Sue Kostecki-Shaw 

  • Rosie Revere, Engineer (and others) by Andrea Beaty 

  • A Year at a Farm by Nicholas Harris 

  • What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins

  • If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen

  • If... by Sarah Perry

  • Going Places by Paul A. Reynolds 

  • Max the Brave by Ed Vere

  • Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina 

  • Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Burton

  • Izzy Gizmo by Pip Jones

  • Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña

Approaches to Learning, Science, and Social Studies Learning 

Young children are learning about how the world around them works through curiosity, problem-solving and experimentation and perseverance with a task.  They learn the properties of objects (such as this sinks, this floats) and how their world is organized through play and experimentation.  We can help children learn to notice and observe as they play by asking them questions about what they see and helping them think about “what would happen if…?” or “why does…?”.

  • Fill up a container with water and let your child play “sink or float” or add soap and washcloths to “wash” cars or plastic baby dolls or dishes.

  • Go on a nature scavenger hunt or look for signs of spring outside.

  • Make a “guessing bag” and let your child feel what is inside but not see it. Have them tell you what they think it is. Let them have a turn to trick you!

  • Clean coins with vinegar, salt and an old toothbrush.

  • Play a “what’s missing” memory game: show your child a tray of items and let them memorize them, then remove one when they aren’t looking to see if they can guess what’s missing.  Let them have a turn too!

  • Set up a treasure hunt for your child and use “hot” and “cold” clues or draw a map to direct them to the treasure.

  • Make newspaper hats and paper airplanes.

  • Build a ramp out of cardboard and duct tape for Matchbox cars or small balls to roll down.

  • Plant seeds (indoor or out) and watch them for changes.

  • Create a marble run with wrapping paper tubes.

  • Build a tower of natural materials that can support a brick or bowl of water.

  • Make thank you signs for essential workers and/or use sidewalk chalk to draw pictures outside.

  • Build a bridge that can support a Matchbox car between two chairs using just newspapers and masking tape.

  • Blow bubbles (you can make your own bubble solution!)

  • Draw an imaginary town for your child’s matchbox cars on a large sheet of paper or use painters tape and boxes to make roads and buildings for your town.

  • Set up a pretend “post office” for your child with junk mail, paper, pencils, stickers and/or rubber stamps or set up a “restaurant” and let your child make menus, set a table, and use tablecloths or flowers for decoration. Think of other locations your child might enjoy pretending, such as the grocery store, vet, astronaut, doctor, circus, office, etc. Add some writing tools and other props to help them play!

  • Challenge your child to use recycling to build a boat that can actually float in the bathtub or sink.

  • Take something apart with screw drivers (adult supervision recommended).

  • Catch or watch a bug.

  • Use a flashlight and a mirror to learn about shadows and light.

  • Create a "dress up" box with old Halloween costumes and clothes or props of yours that you don't need (hats, shoes, jewelry, clipboards and old phones are great!).

  • Make crayon rubbings of items you find outside such as leaves or bark.

  • Make something out of a box: a boat, a rocket ship, a puppet theater, a car, a doll bed, a car garage.  Your imagination is the only limit!

Sample Creative Expression 
Book List
  • Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney

  • Art by Patrick McDonnell

  • Not a Box by Antoinette Portis

  • What If... by Samantha Berger

  • Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg

  • Ish by Peter H Reynolds 

  • Shadow by Suzy Lee

  • The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt 

  • Pretend by Jennifer Plecas 

  • Mix It Up by Herve Tullet

  • Clap Your Hands by Lorinda Bryan Cauley 

  • From Head to Toe by Eric Carle

  • You Are a Lion! and Other Fun Yoga Poses by Tae-Eun Yoo

  • Wiggle! by Doreen Cronin

  • Play this Book by Jessica Young

  • Look!, Look!, Look! by Nancy E. Wallace

  • Violet's Music by Angela Johnson

  • Little Blue and Little Yellow by Leo Lionni

Creative Expression, Movement and Arts Learning Activities 

Young children are learning to control and understand their bodies in new and different ways as they build their strength, muscle control, and coordination. They are also learning ways to experience and create music and art as a way of expressing themselves. Children need the opportunity to have different sensory experiences and to move their bodies in many different ways both inside and out.

  • Get into the woods to climb, run, jump and balance.

  • Set up a laundry basket and play “basketball” in the house.

  • Listen to music and draw a picture of how it makes you feel.

  • Use props such as scarves to dance with.

  • Use empty bottles and a ball to play “bowling”.

  • Lay out open-ended art materials such as markers or crayons, scissors, glue, ribbon, pompoms, old magazines, colored and plain paper and see what your child can create with them.

  • Make playdough or oobleck (lots of recipes available online: here is a video of a local teacher making playdough).

  • Make “maracas” with your child using water bottles, plastic Easter eggs or another small container and dry beans or beads.

  • Hammer nails into scrap wood. Stretch rubber bands around the nails to make art!

  • Create an indoor obstacle course.

  • Have a “Freeze Dance” party.

  • Make “sewing cards” out of cardboard shapes and an old shoelace or yarn with tape on one end.

  • Make necklaces using beads or macaroni or cut up straws.

  • Rip paper or cardboard.

  • Turn on music and have a dance party!

  • Make paperclip chains.

  • Pick a light object (cotton ball, scrap of paper) and see if your child can blow it across the room or a table. Add obstacles for a bigger challenge.

  • Go on a listening walk or go outside and listen and see how many sounds you can hear.

  • Use just your nose to push a small ball or plastic Easter egg across a room (have a race!).

  • Use a spray bottle to “clean” the baseboards, porch, fence, or other outdoor space.

  • Practice mixing paint to see the new colors you can create.

  • Look at examples of artwork in children's books or online and discuss the shapes and colors you can see. The book Look!, Look!, Look! by Nancy E. Wallace offers a nice introduction to the idea of shapes and colors in artwork although it is long and best read in several sittings. 

Wanting to learn more?  Check out the Vermont Early Learning Standards (VELS) Family Resources page!  The VELS guide our work with young children, explaining what children typically learn and can do at different ages.  Remember, you are your child's most important support and every interaction, conversation and playtime you share will help them learn. 

 
 
 
 
 

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