Tips and Tools

Here are some of our favorite tips and tools for helping you help your preschooler to develop his/her natural competence in all areas of development. These positive ideas build on a young child’s own strengths.


Stoplight for Peace. Print out an image of a stoplight. On or next to the red light, write: “STOP. Take a big breath.” On or next to the yellow light, write: “LOOK at each other. LISTEN to each other.” On or next to the green light, write: “Figure out a solution. GO.” Teach your children how to use the Stoplight for Peace, and then send them there to resolve their disputes, stepping out of it as much as possible yourself!

Puppets. Have 2 puppets act out a dispute with each other. They can fight about wanting the same toy, or they can call each other bad names, or they can push each other, or whatever your children’s current issue is. Have your children think of ideas for how theypuppets can solve their problem. (Yes, it works! Here’s a story from our classroom to inspire you: When we had our puppets argue about what to do–one puppet wanted to play with dolls and the other wanted to draw–our kids came up with some great ideas for them! One child said they could draw pictures of the dolls. A second child added: “Yeah, and  then they can cut them out and play with paper dolls!” Like we say–aren’t preschoolers amazing?)

Sign language. Please see our Links page for a link to sites for standard ASL signs that are very effective with young children, such as those for “sit down”, “more”, “I’m sorry”, “toilet”, “wait”, “hungry”, “sleepy”, “happy”, and “please” and “thank you.”

Feelings Wheel. Download and print out a Feelings Wheel (on the Downloads page) for your child to use to express how s/he is feeling.

Good Choices Book. Download (from our Downloads page) and print this booklet that helps your children come up with ideas for how to resolve conflicts.

Visual cues. Picture Schedule. Mount a small bulletin board at your child’s eye level. Create a picture schedule for the day, titled something like “Jason’s Day Today.” Put up a few pictures you have taken of things like the grocery store, the school, the park, Grandma’s house, etc. If it would help your child with everyday tasks, you can add photos of things like getting dressed before going anywhere, for example.

Job Chart. Vary the jobs each day, to keep it interesting. Preschoolers love doing jobs, and will be thrilled to check it each day to see what they are going to do–set the table, sort socks in the laundry basket, take in the mail, give the dog water and food, etc. Use photos of the job along with the words to increase literacy. If you have more than one child, show a job assignment for each child.

Use your camera. Here are many ways you can use your camera to enhance the life of your child:

*Books about Feelings Take pictures of your child being happy, sad, angry, proud, excited, scared and so on. Some you can snap naturally, and some you can have your child/children pose for. “Show me really mad!”

*“I Can” book to promote self-esteem. Pictures of your child building a tall tower with blocks, doing the monkey pars, painting a picture, zipping her own jacket, etc. Your child may have ideas on other photos to add as she develops new skills she is proud of.

*Missing my mommy/daddy photos (to take with child when he’s going to be away from you). You can also take some stay-in-touch photos of far-flung friends and relatives.

*Daily LivingMake a chart of photos of your child’s outerwear (especially useful in winter in cold climates) showing the order he puts things on: First snowpants, then jacket, then hat, then boots, then mittens. Post this chart on the inside of the closet door for easy reference. Make a chart showing the order of your bedtime routine: bath, then put on pajamas, then brush teeth, then storytime, then into bed. Just refer your child to the chart, rather than having to nag her every evening.

*On the Go Pictures. Make a flip book on a ring for use in the car. Child finds items to spot as you are driving, or riding on the bus: stop sign, a blue car, Target, a truck, etc. Make a “Find It” game for items to spot in grocery store.

*Toys and Games: Make people blocks (tape photos of child and family members onto blocks to use with block play.) Make a Memory game: print double photos of things and people in your child’s life. Lay them out, about 16-24, and each player flips over two to find matches. No match, turn the pictures back upside down. When your child is ready for an extra challenge, you can make the pictures more similar to each other–for example, photos of your pet lying down and sitting up. Rhyming game: finding pairs that rhyme, using photos from the child’s life, such as “cat” and “hat” or “chair” and “bear.”)

*Books/Literacy: There are so many personalized books you can make, keeping in mind that children are very me-oriented, so any book about them is fascinating! Some you can print out at home, and maybe some special ones have printed at a professional website like Shutterfly. You can create: Story books about trips and vacations. Books about family members. Foreign language vocabulary books with photos of common objects. Story books about things child has done. Story books about places child likes to go. Story book about the seasons at child’s house. Book about child’s pet. Rhyming photo book. Look how I’m growing: pic of child at birth, and on each birthday. Holiday books. Sports book. ABC book (if your child knows some letter sounds, she can help you think of and find things  that start with each letter which you can photograph.) You can even let your child create her own book, using your phone to take pictures herself that can be put into the book, then writing her own words for it!

*Art: Imaginary me: Photo of child’s head cut out and pasted onto a piece of paper–he can make himself into anything–a monster, a knight, a fairy, a superhero, whatever. Photo of child sleeping–child illustrates what she is dreaming about. Print black and white photos, and use them in many ways–photo of your child, which child colors (variations: colors self/background/whole thing/create set with one b & w and one colored), seasons–child can color in the garden in the summer, trees in the fall, etc., photo of house which child can color. Cut out photos of child’s family and friends, paste onto paper and child draws the illustrations around the photos: whatever child imagines (at the beach, at the park, in a castle, flying through the air…)

And remember, you can preserve children’s art through photos, esp. transitory art such as sidewalk chalk drawing. These make great screen savers!

*Gifts: Bookmarks with child’s whole body photo, saying “I love you!” Personalized thank you notes child can write. “Why I Love Grandma” Book. Set of personalized cards, printed on cardstock.


Use fewer words. Kids tend to tune out adults talking at them, especially when we go on at length (and we’re all guilty of that). When you want your child to do something, or to respond to something, keep it short and sweet, and make sure you have their attention first.

Use more visual and sound signals. For transitions and routines, do what teachers do:

  • Flick the lights
  • Use an auditory signal to indicate that it’s time to leave (we use a train whistle)
  • Ring a bell to call the family to dinner
  • Clap your hands in an interesting rhythm
  • Sing a song (such as, “It’s time to clean up, it’s time to clean up, high ho the derry oh, it’s time to clean up!”)

Routines. Young children thrive when things in their ever-expanding world are understandable and predictable. Establish routines for bedtime, for dropping off at school or other places, and so on.

Express positive expectations for your child. When they say “I can’t do it”, whether it’s drawing a certain thing in a picture, or zipping a jacket, or building a sand castle… express confidence that your child can try, rather than just stepping in and doing things for him. If a task is still frustrating, you can help your child get started: attach the zipper at the bottom and then let your child finish zipping, for example. If your child is frustrated because she is trying to match her vision of how her older siblings or parents do something, you can remind her that when her brother was her age, he was just learning to do these things too. You can help her get started, and work through the task step by step. And remember, have patience.

Foster independence. Pay attention to what your child frequently asks for help with, and see if you can make it easier for him to do something himself. For example, put some cups at an accessible level so he can get himself a glass of water.

Use written reminders. This is for your child to be able to see that you are respecting and remembering things you have agreed to with him. You can use Post-It notes to write down items you said you would get at the grocery store, or reminders for what you promised your child for a future date, and so on.

Clean-Up Help. Break clean-up tasks into smaller components. Asking a child to clean up a playroom full of toys strewn about is overwhelming. Instead, suggest she first put the blocks into the block bucket, and then move on to the next thing. Use separate containers for various toys, rather than one big toybox. Much more manageable!

You don’t have to be the Answer Person. When your child asks you a question, or expresses an interest in something that they are wondering about, instead of just jumping in with the answer, ask, “What do you think? How could we find out? What do you notice?” Children are highly motivated to construct their own learning, to discover the world for themselves. Foster that! The main objective is for your children to discover the world, to explore and to learn to think, not to get at the “correct” answer.