Seemingly everyday activities help improve preschoolers' life skills.

How to Teach Preschool Children Life Skills

by Christina Schnell

Yes, preschoolers still pick their nose shamelessly and think nothing of announcing the color of their nasal discharge, but that doesn't mean all life skills are lost on them. Life skills, such as taking turns, following directions and articulating thoughts and feelings are incredibly important for preschoolers to learn. Not only for the teachers who have to watch them chew with their mouths open, but for the children themselves as they form relationships and advance in school.

Discuss what directions the children must follow before certain tasks, such as sitting down for snack or getting ready for recess. The tasks themselves are secondary to following directions correctly. Create a chart for the first few days that uses symbols alongside the appropriate words. For example, before lunch everyone must: return their toys to the shelf, wash their hands with soap and water, get their utensils/cup or lunch from their cubby and sit down at the table. Include pictorial depictions of each step and remind the children to reference the chart, or ask a teacher for clarification, when preparing for lunch. Compliment the students who correctly completed each of the steps and reiterate the tasks they performed well. For example, "I really liked the way Ryan and Julianna returned their blocks to the shelf, washed their hands with soap and water, dried their hands with a paper towel, collected their cups and sat down quietly at the table.

Organize activities that create natural opportunities for practicing and correcting life skills. Cooking, for example, requires preschoolers to take turns, follow directions and, using courteous language. Always explain a life skill before correcting the children as they're cooking. For example, explain, "now we're going to take turns stirring the mixture in the bowl. When your neighbor's turn is over, please wait until I tell you it's okay to take the spoon instead of grabbing it from your friend." If you see children persist in grabbing and jostling, simply remind the offending party that, "Taking turns nicely means not grabbing the spoon Brandon. Please return the spoon to Brandon and wait until I call your name for a turn at stirring." Other life skill opportunities in cooking include using "please" and "thank you," and not putting their fingers inside the bowl .

Instruct individual students during free-play about a specific life skill, as the need arises. When you notice two quarreling kids, take that opportunity to arbitrate the dispute by asking each child to say how she feels and why she's upset. Encourage the students to listen to each other and suggest possible resolutions. If an individual child interrupts you when you're speaking with another student or teacher, ask the child what she needs to say when she wants to talk to someone who's already doing something. Ask her to rewind the scenario and approach you again using, "excuse me" instead of interrupting. Praise her for using the correct approach and reply, "Thank you for asking so nicely! Let me just finish helping Samantha button her coat and then I will help you."

Items you will need

  • Task reminder chart


  • Model appropriate life skills when interacting with the other students and teachers. Accentuate your use of courteous phrases and words so that the kids learn by example.
  • Suggest activities for your preschoolers to do at home with their parents to further develop their life skills.


  • Never scold a child in front of others for not using the appropriate life skills. Shame is a very powerful emotion for preschoolers and embarrassment about forgetting to say, "excuse me" could lead him to lose confidence in other areas. Correct his behavior privately and away from other students.

About the Author

Christina Bednarz Schnell began writing full-time in 2010. Her areas of expertise include child development and behavior, medical conditions and pet health. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in international relations.

Photo Credits

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