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The Complete Guide to Preschool Lesson Plans

Preschool lesson plans provide teachers with a framework to organize their teaching methods and learning outcomes for children. Here's our guide to creating effective lesson plans that prepare your children for future learning.

The Complete Guide to Preschool Lesson Plans

The Complete Guide to Preschool Lesson Plans

Every aspect of teaching needs comprehensive planning, especially when it comes to developing engaging content and activities for young children daily. Working with children requires establishing a repertoire of lesson plans to promote their healthy growth and development. 

Preschool lesson plans help teachers prepare children with the critical skills they'll need for kindergarten and beyond. Effective lesson plans help teachers organize various teaching methods and learning outcomes for their children and also provide the framework for linking activities and themes.

Teachers can also use lesson planning as a way to analyze what’s working, discover any challenges, and then plan ways to improve. Through assessment after a lesson, teachers can identify children’s abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.

In this guide, we’ll share:

  • Preschool learning goals
  • The importance of preschool lesson plans
  • Difference between thematic calendar and emergent curriculum approach
  • A step-by-step guide to preschool lesson plans
  • How to incorporate themes in preschool lesson plans
  • Six preschool lesson plan ideas to try in your classroom

Download our free daily lesson plan template!

Preschool learning goals

Preschool is a critical time for every child’s development. It’s when children discover more about themselves, and they also learn information to prepare them for kindergarten and later schooling. As an educator, your duty is to take them through preschool and prepare them for the next stage.

Below, we look at what children need to learn in preschool.

Basic academic skills and concepts

Preschool learning standards in the U.S. are flexible and vary from one state to another. At this stage of learning, lesson plans support children in reaching certain developmental milestones in basic academic subjects like math, reading, and writing. 

Early math concepts

The foundation for mathematics begins in preschool. Children often learn basic mathematical concepts like rote counting, i.e., counting up to 10, rational counting, i.e., counting objects and assigning value, and classifying and sorting by length, weight, size, and shape. All of these skills give children a solid foundation to learn more complex math skills like addition and subtraction.

Pre-writing skills

Pre-writing skills establish the foundation for writing. Play and art activities are some ways to help preschoolers develop these skills. Other pre-writing skills to focus on include:

  • Forming patterns by drawing waves
  • Learning letter formation
  • Practicing a pencil grip
  • Crossing the midline

Pre-reading skills

Pre-reading skills such as sound and letter knowledge are vital for learning to read. Important pre-reading skills include oral language, print awareness, listening comprehension, letter knowledge, and phonological awareness.

Playing rhyming games, reading books, and using letter flashcards are some ways to reinforce pre-reading skills.

Visual and auditory perception skills

Visual and auditory perception skills are important for children to develop early on as they will assist them in learning almost any concept, such as reading and writing. Teachers can promote visual perception skills by incorporating activities like puzzles and identifying shapes, colors, and patterns.

To promote auditory perception skills, try activities like playing with musical instruments, singing songs, and reciting poems.

Motor skills

Children are also developing and strengthening their motor skills during preschool. Motor skills help facilitate movement and establish the foundation for physical development. Gross motor skills are used in actions that involve larger muscle groups found in the arms, legs, and core like running, jumping, walking, and climbing. Fine motor skills involve smaller muscle groups like those found in hands and fingers and are responsible for tasks like writing, drawing, painting, and cutting.

Specific play activities to promote gross motor skills include jumping on trampolines, tossing a ball, and walking in a line. Activities like using a pencil, building tower blocks, and molding with clay are excellent for developing fine motor skills. 

Social-emotional skills

Social-emotional skills are crucial for preschoolers as they learn to identify and manage their own emotions and interact with their peers and teachers. Activities that involve sharing or taking turns, listening to instructions, or identifying character emotions in books all help support children's social-emotional development.

Cognitive skills 

Cognitive skills are the core skills children use to think and explore. The development of these skills enables children to remember, reason, problem-solve, learn, and concentrate.

Creative expression is one of the ways teachers can promote cognitive skills. Examples of creative expression activities include art activities like painting, dancing, role-playing, and storytelling.

The importance of preschool lesson plans

Preparing preschool lesson plans shows that you’re intentional about the content and activities you want to share with your preschoolers. A preschool lesson plan helps you organize your thoughts about presenting lessons, ensuring your lesson plan includes all the essential elements, including any suitable materials, activities, and learning outcomes. 

Detailed lesson plans can also help you outline how you’ll achieve your objectives. If your lesson plan focuses on a specific learning goal, for example, teaching children how to identify the letter "A", you can build your lesson plan activities around meeting that goal. If your lesson plan format follows a weekly or monthly theme, you can ensure each activity ties back to the theme.

In addition to helping you plan what children will learn, lesson plans also allow you to reflect on how your teaching practices and methods impact children. You can assess what works and what doesn't and implement any changes to better support learning outcomes. You can also bring curriculum visibility to families and share the activities of each day to build a strong home-to-school connection. 

Using a lesson plan template is a great way to save you time during the planning process. Updating a template each time you go to plan, rather than starting from scratch, keeps you organized by providing a format that you can customize to suit your teaching style and children's needs. A tool like brightwheel's lesson plan feature allows you to customize your state's learning standards to fit your program and log observations to track children's progress. 

Difference between thematic calendar and emergent curriculum approach

There are several approaches to planning lesson plans. Every approach has its pros and cons, so none is better than the other. The best way to go about it is to choose an approach that works best for your program. 

Thematic calendar and emergent curriculum are the primary lesson planning approaches teachers may consider. Below, we explore them in detail.

Thematic calendar approach 

A thematic calendar approach is also known as a traditional curriculum approach. It’s usually organized around broad thematic areas, such as seasons, holidays, or concepts like numbers and letters. The approach is typically teacher-directed, with teachers choosing a thematic topic and centering their lesson plans and activities around that specific theme.

The thematic calendar approach attracts criticism from various education stakeholders. Some argue it’s too narrow, teacher-centered, limits critical thinking, and doesn’t help prepare children adequately. The approach also assumes that all children will be interested in the chosen theme.

Instead, education stakeholders advocate for a learner-centered curriculum that promotes critical thinking and active participation. This is where the emergent curriculum approach comes in handy.

Emergent curriculum approach

An emergent curriculum approach is a curriculum planning and teaching approach that draws inspiration and motivation from children's interests. Teachers analyze and document children’s behavior when developing emergent curriculum lesson plans. 

How can you incorporate the emergent curriculum into your lesson planning? The approach requires children’s active participation. Below are details of how to implement the approach:

  • Make time for free play: This allows children to pursue their interests, allowing teachers to discover more about their likes and dislikes, and their abilities. The rule of thumb is making time for unstructured play. This works because it presents more opportunities to see what emerges from the children in your program.
  • Organize class discussions: Ask the children questions to find out what they know about some subjects. This way, you get a better understanding of their knowledge and learning, allowing you to plan and deliver your lessons based on children’s needs and interests.
  • Be flexible: The emergent curriculum is children-focused. Teachers need to be flexible in their thinking and lesson planning approach.

A step-by-step guide to preschool lesson plans

Preschool lesson plans are essential to keeping teachers organized. They encourage professionalism, promote high-quality teaching, and help teachers evaluate learning outcomes. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to prepare preschool lesson plans.

1. Determine your learning objective

Defining learning objectives beforehand is a crucial component of lesson planning. Objectives are what you want the children to learn at the end of a lesson. These can target specific goals or domains in your curriculum, like social-emotional or cognitive skills.

The number of objectives is a critical consideration when writing your lesson plan. Remember, you’re dealing with children with short attention spans. It's okay to have only one or two objectives every lesson.

You can select objectives based on the following factors:

  • What children in this age group are typically learning or mastering
  • Education standards set by your program or state

Here’s what an example learning objective could look like: By the end of the lesson, children will be able to identify four basic shapes.

2. Choose your lesson materials

You’ll also need to know what materials you need to execute the lesson. List them down so you don’t leave important things out and be as specific as possible. Ensure your lesson materials are easy to find, safe, and age-appropriate.

3. Write down your lesson procedures

The procedures section in a lesson plan is a step-by-step overview of what’s in the lesson. It’s made up of sections such as:

  • Introduction: Detail how you will introduce the lesson to the children. Your introduction is the time to get the children excited for your lesson and prepare them for the main activity. It can be a statement, question, or visual aid.
  • Main activity: This is the main section of your lesson and will carry much of the weight. This is where you will provide information to the children, such as new vocabulary words or facts, that are related to your specific lesson, and also show them how the materials will be used. Be sure to include the step-by-step process of what you plan to do.
  • Conclusion: Bring your lesson to a close by reviewing your objectives and goals. Ask questions to see if the children accomplished what you intended them to accomplish.
  • Transition: Plan how you will transition from your lesson plan to the next activity. Ideally, transitions can be another learning opportunity tied to your lesson.

Ultimately, your lesson procedures should follow your program’s specific curriculum or teaching approach and be tailored to the specific abilities and needs of your preschoolers.

4. Assessment 

This is arguably the most important part of lesson planning. At the end of the lesson, you'll want to assess if you've achieved your desired outcomes. The best way to find out if your lesson was a success or not is to evaluate what the children learned. Observe your children’s progress, ask questions, and see if there were any learning challenges or confusion during your lesson.

Refer back to your main learning objective and determine if the children met any specific goals or made improvements in any skill area. 

5. Reflection

The final part of your lesson plan will focus on reflection or self-evaluation. You can evaluate yourself based on your objectives and children’s responses. After you teach your lesson, take time to note what went well and any areas for improvement. This will help you with future planning as you make any necessary changes to your materials or procedures.

How to incorporate themes in preschool lesson plans

Using themes in your lesson plans is a creative way to combine different subjects together under one overall concept. Depending on your program, you can choose to incorporate monthly or weekly themes. Here are some other things to consider when incorporating themes in your preschool lesson plans:

    • Involve children in the planning process. It's important that your themes reflect the interests of your children so you can better engage them in the learning process. Take the time to observe their likes and dislikes and ask questions to discover what resonates with them.
    • Choose concrete themes. It is important to choose themes that children have access to and will understand. For example, if your center is located near the ocean, it might make sense to incorporate a beach theme into your lessons since the children will likely have experience visiting the beach. If your children don’t have access to or tangible experience with a particular theme, it might be harder for them to understand and engage with the subject.
  • Draw inspiration from your natural environment or local community. Plan your themes around things that are happening around you. For instance, you can use the seasons as inspiration to teach about the changes in weather, or if your local community is celebrating a specific event, you can teach activities that are relevant to that.
  •  Keep ideas broad. Choose a general theme so you will have enough books, songs, visuals, and activities to integrate as you plan your lesson.

Themes are a great way to provide cohesive organization when you are planning lessons and activities. They can be a fun way to engage your children and provide memorable learning experiences.

Six preschool lesson plan ideas to try

Children get excited when presented with new things to explore, and using themed lessons will allow you to get creative and simplify concepts using practical means. Theme teaching is also a great way to combine different subjects and skills in a single lesson. 

While there are countless themes to choose from, below are six preschool lesson plan ideas to get you started.

1. Seasons

You can plan your preschool lessons around seasons, such as summer or winter, as a way to teach concepts related to the changes in the weather or natural environment. For example, an autumn theme can incorporate art activities using leaves and nature walks that highlight the changing colors on trees.

2. Animals

There are endless possibilities to choose from with an animal theme. Be sure to focus on animals that your children are most interested in. Children can learn about animal movements, the sounds they make, and the environments they typically live in. You can also incorporate a field trip to a local zoo.

3. Colors

You can do a one-month-long color theme plan or introduce different colors daily. You can also integrate color themes with other themes like seasons. For example, you can introduce the color white when teaching about winter. You can easily incorporate a color theme into art and sensory activities, read color books, or have the children count or sort items by color.

4. Shapes

The primary shapes you can introduce children to are circles, squares, rectangles, ovals, and triangles. You can help children identify different shapes by using 2D and 3D materials and props. You can also incorporate art activities by having children draw or paint different shapes.

5. Bugs and insects

This theme can help children learn about common bugs and insects like butterflies, spiders, and bees. Use this theme to teach about the different characteristics of bugs and the roles they play in nature. 

6. Nature

The nature theme is broad and you can also incorporate plants and flowers. Make the theme relatable by focusing on your local region’s natural environment such as the forest, ocean, or desert. The nature theme is excellent for teaching children how nature works. For example, you can teach them about different types of trees and how they’re habitats for some animals. You can also incorporate the seasons theme by teaching them how leaves change during the seasons. 

Final thoughts

Lesson plans require a great deal of preparation and creativity. A solid lesson plan will incorporate key elements such as learning objectives, relevant materials, developmentally appropriate activities, and assessment methods. 

Incorporate themes to teach children fundamental skills or see what emerges from their interests. Allow space for flexibility and reflection, ensuring that your children are making progress towards their learning goals.

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