Inside: Creating a preschool theme learning shelf is not as hard as you imagine. Read on for all the pro tips!
A theme-based learning shelf is a delightful way to invite children to learn, play and discover their world. I have created countless preschool themed learning shelves over the past 8 years and they are the highlights of our home learning days. In this blog post, I’m going to share everything you need to know about creating a themed learning shelf for your preschoolers, from how many learning activities to display, how to display materials and how to keep your children engaged with the learning shelf through activity rotation.
First up, why do we use a shelf?
The shelf itself is partly inspired by Montessori schools. I love their idea of an activity shelf, a dedicated space for learning activities and toys to instill a sense of organization and respect for belongings. Having the activity trays set out on a shelf and accessible to the children means that they get to choose their learning activity, when and how long they want to work on the activity. Having this autonomy help our children develop independence and become self-motivated learners.
Monthly Theme-based Learning Shelf
Focusing on one learning theme every month gives us enough time to 1) dive deep and fully explore a theme and 2) transit to and prepare for a new theme. Depending on my children’s interests, our themed learning activities stays on the shelf for around 2 weeks. By the third week, my children are usually done with all the themed learning activities. This is when I will clear the learning shelf and display other random learning toys, puzzles and activity books. Then I will use the last two weeks of the month to prepare for the new theme next month.
RELATED: Why do we do theme-based learning? I shared our reasons in this blog post: 5 Benefits of Theme-Based Learning
These are what we have on our learning shelf throughout a typical month.
Week 1 and 2: preschool themed learning activities and books
Week 3 and 4: Random learning toys, puzzles and books
How to create a preschool themed learning shelf
- Step 1: Gather books related to the theme
- Step 2: Batch-create the themed learning activities
- Step 3: Display the themed learning activities and books
- Step 4: Do activity rotation throughout the week
- Step 5: Extend or clear the learning shelf depending on your child’s interest
Step 1: Gather books related to the preschool theme
You can find these books from your local library and home library.
Here are some blogs that have amazing books recommendation based on themes:
Step 2: Short list and create the learning activities
I like to design/choose a variety of activities that cover these six main learning areas:
- Motor Skills
- Discovery of the World
- Arts & Creative Expression
- Social & Emotional development).
These learning areas ensure a holistic development and learning in our children and they are based on the Nurturing Early Learners (NEL) curriculum developed by the Ministry of Education Singapore. You can read more about the NEL curriculum here.
Where do I find these preschool theme learning activities?
I share many activity ideas on my blog and you can find many of our past themed learning shelves here.
Here’s an easier way to enjoy theme-based learning with your children: join my activitiy membership The Happy Learners’ Club! Every month, I put together an activity guide filled with fun, hands-on learning activities for 2 to 5yo, a printable pack and a book list based on a theme. Then I send these resources to my members. Using these resources, busy parents can now create these fun theme-based learning activities and set up a themed learning shelf easily! Click here to find out more about THLC!
After I shortlisted the preschool themed learning activities, I spend a morning to batch create 5 to 8 activities so I have enough activities for the week.
Step 3: Display the themed learning activities and books
I will first stack the books at the side of the shelf. I also like to feature one or two books by placing them forward facing. This allows my children to see the beautiful covers of these featured books and they will be more interested to pick up the books to read.
Every other day, I will rotate the featured books with the other books at the side of the shelf so children get to see all of the books during the month.
Next, I will display the learning activities on the shelf.
How many activities do we put on a learning shelf?
Based on your child’s age you will display a different number of activities. This learning shelf is for my 3yo, so I displayed 3 learning activities on the shelf to kick off the theme.
Here are two general rules of thumb when it comes to the number of learning activities on the shelf:
- Less is always better and
- the younger your child, the lesser the number of new activities on the shelf.
You can follow this ratio: 1 new activity per year of age, up to a maximum of 4 new activities. So you are looking at just 1 new activity on a learning shelf for 1yo babies, 2 for 2 years old toddlers, 3 new activities for 3 years old young preschoolers, and up to 4 new activities for older preschoolers who are 4 years old and older.
The maximum number of old and new activities we have on our shelf at any one time is around 3 to 5.
We do not want too many new activities on the shelf at the same time. Children will be distracted by all the options available and will have a hard time focusing on and finishing an activity before jumping to the next.
New Learning Activities VS Old Learning Activities
Take note that so far, I am referring to the new activities here, meaning activities that your child has not tried before. For new activities, children are most excited about them. They will also most probably need your guidance or instructions when they are working on the activities for the first time.
Once they have gone through the activities, the novelty feeling wears off. They also become familiar with how the activities work. These activities now become what I called the ‘old activities’. If the old activities are reusable, it is always a good idea to place them back on the shelf, so that your child has a chance to work on them again if they like to.
New activities keep the children excited, the old activities encourage mastery and develop their confidence.
Except on day one when everything on the shelf is new, we usually have a mix of old and new activities.
Step 4: Do activity rotation throughout the week
An activity rotation is an effective way to keep children engaged with the learning shelf longer and reduce clutter on the shelf. During the week, I will add 1 or 2 new activities every day. I will remove some of the activities that my child has completed and replace them with the new ones.
If there is an activity that my child is still working on, or one she is particularly interested in AND it is reusable, I will leave it on the shelf for a longer time.
If my child is not interested in an activity, I will remove it and introduce it again another day. Again, at any one time, we usually have 3 to 5 old and new activities on our shelf.
Step 5: Extend or clear the learning shelf depending on your child’s interest
If your child like to learn more about a theme, this is a great time to dive deeper into any topics of the theme. If your child is ready to move on to a new learning theme, you can clear the shelf.
DO MY CHILDREN DO ALL THE ACTIVITIES FROM MY SHELF?
The truth is, they don’t always find interests in all my activities. What do I do?
- I put that activity away and bring it out again another time,
- make simple changes to make the activity more engaging for my kids and set it out again,
There are far more hits than misses as I grow to understand the learning style of my children. For example, I observed that my son loves stickers and every sticker activity is a big success. My daughter on the other hand, is not a huge fan of stickers and I have to come up with other ways to engage her.
Also, I choose themes based on my children’s interests and that really help a lot in keeping them engaged and interested in the activities.
Watch this video on Youtube: How to Set Up a Preschool Themed Learning Shelf
More theme-based learning resources for you!
Our past learning shelves are archived here. Each post is a summary of all the learning activities we do for each theme and that’s a great place to get ideas.
Join over 1000 families inside our activity membership, The Happy Learners’ Club and get toddler and preschool themed activity packs send to you every month! Click here to find out more.
Check out our favorite baskets, trays and other storage solutions for a themed learning shelf!
Follow us on Pinterest! I have many pins organized on boards according to different themes.
I hope this post will inspire you to create a themed learning shelf for your children!