Oh, the pressure of modern preschool. You didn’t get on that waiting list the moment you started thinking about having kids? Too late! Maybe it’s not that bad, but that’s how it feels. But actually, with or without nursery school there are plenty of ways to keep those tiny minds happy and engaged. From structured classes to open ended play-based experiences, LA has it all. Here is our list of essential pre-preschool activities.

kidsapcepuppetphoto: LeTania Kirkland Smith

Explore Inside and Out at Kidspace Museum
We all know that Kidspace is a family favorite play space, but they also offer classes for the tot set. This hub of all things kid hosts baby and me classes (that are offered from ages 12-30 months) Toddler Time, Music, Movement and Math classes and Little Sprouts Garden. They even have Music, Motion and Math en español, if you’re looking to immerse your child early on.  If you don’t have time to commit to a class the museum itself is a great learning opportunity. Be sure to check out the newly revamped indoor space, which has been renamed the Storyteller Studio. Kids jump right into activities at any time with opportunities to paint, create a sock puppet (and bring it to life), dress up for the stage or find a cozy nook for tinkering. Afterwards, be sure to head outside to check out the Arroyo Adventure or the Physics Forest. Kidspace has play and learning down.

Kidspace Children’s Museum
480 N. Arroyo Blvd.
Online: kidspacemuseum.org

zimmerphoto: Stef Sung

A Little Bit of Everything at Zimmer Children’s Museum
If you’ve read your preschool literature, you’ve undoubtedly come across the phrase play-based learning and the Zimmer is LA’s epicenter for it. Visiting the museum and playing in its variety of themed rooms is a great start. The space has a little bit of everything from the Mann Theater where your toddler can stage a performance to the Discovery Airport where they can enact piloting dreams. The Zimmer has carefully crafted their themed rooms to encourage play and learning as well as “big idea” themes like philanthropy, diversity, compassion and community. The Zimmer doesn’t stop there. The museum hosts public programs that are free with admission that range from sing alongs, Culture Club, Shadow Play and Open Art Studio. The museum also offers a number of classes the require registration and offer more structured instruction, like preschool prep classes, Toddler Town for school readiness and language immersion programs. Check their website for details.

Zimmer Children’s Museum
6505 Wilshire Blvd.
Miracle Mile
Online: zimmermuseum.org

Descanso_0032photo: Meghan Rose

Outdoor Learning at Descanso Gardens
Descanso Gardens is an outdoor wonderland. Here, young naturalists can roam (mostly) free and absorb the beautiful gardens that take them on a virtual trip around the world. Roses, native plants, the Japanese Garden and more are a perfect opportunity for play and learning. The Gardens also offer a couple of program included with admission. Little Owls Reading Nest is offered every Tuesday and is a nature-themed story time for ages 2 & up. Every first Saturday of the month is Little Explorers Nature Walk where explorers 2-5 can experience the gardens hands on with activities and crafts. Check their website for details.

Descanso Gardens
1418 Descanso Dr.
La Canada
Online: descansogardens.org

awesomeplaygroundphoto: LeTania Kirkland Smith

Join the Academy at the Awesome Playground
The indoor playground can be a winning choice on those days when you need to keep it mellow and contained, but it’s also another opportunity for early learning. Awesome Playground in Highland Park created the Awesome Academy where they offer Preschool Preparation classes to help you and your little learner along with that next step into independence. If independence seems scary and classes are too structured, the Academy also offers Messy Art Tuesdays and Sing with Sylvie to get the family singing, moving and engaging with sound and movement. Check their website for details.

Awesome Playground
5158 York Blvd.
Highland Park
Online: theawesomeplayground.com

booksandcookiesphoto: LeTania Kirkland Smith

Books and Cookies for Classes, Treats & Play
If you’re closer to the Westside or looking for a one day destination outing, Books and Cookies may be the place for you. This spot is a bookstore, treat stop and indoor playground all in one. There is plenty of fun to be had in this sweet little storefront in Santa Monica. Books and Cookies offers open play as well as more structured classes including Musical Story Time, Sensory Play Time and Movers and Shakers. There are also music classes hosted by local artists that include Drumming and Music, Moo Moo Musica (a bilingual music class) and Music with Thiago, a Brazilian themed class held in English, Portuguese, Spanish and French. Check their website for more details.

Books and Cookies
2309 Main St.
Santa Monica
Online: booksandcookiesla.com

flowerpickingphoto: Purple Twig

Purple Twig All Year Long
There are lots of way to prep for preschool, and for hands on kids (and parents) art exploration is a great one. Learning to follow directions and practice manual dexterity goes a long way toward settling in at school. Purple Twig in Eagle Rock has created kids art classes and open workshops that keep all ages in mind. With Art Exploration for the 2-3 set and classes like “Little Architects” and “Things that Fly” for the 4-5 year-olds they have toddlers and young learners covered. Little artists can take part in sensory play by working with a variety of recycled materials, learn to focus their attention by and by and work up to more focused and complicated art projects as they progress. And if you can’t quite commit to a multi-week class, Purple Twig also hosts Open Art Studios on Saturdays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. for ages 2-9, with parents.  Make their learning a family event and get some beautiful handmade art out of it. If you’re thinking ahead, Purple Twig also has one of our favorite summer camps for kids of all ages!

Purple Twig
2038 Colorado Blvd.
Eagle Rock
Online: purpletwig.com

tinkergarten_exploringphoto: LeTania Kirkland Smith

Explore the Outdoor Classroom with Tinkergarten
No classroom required; with Tinkergarten your little explorers are asked to step outside into nature, the biggest classroom of all. These guided classes are specifically designed for ages 18 months-5 years and kids are asked to tinker around outside to explore nature, build community, confidence and empathy. Tinkergarten is inspired by Waldorf, Montessori and Reggio Emilia educational philosophies but has a vibe all its own. Classes are held throughout the LA area (and beyond) and another plus is that classes are led largely by local parents and teachers who were inspired by the notion and took part in the Tinkergarten training. Check their website for locations and teacher training information.

Online: tinkergarten.com

central-libraryphoto: LeTania Kirkland Smith

Your Local Library: An Amazing (and Free!) Resource
The best things in life are indeed free. The Los Angeles Public Library is an amazing resource and has lots of interactive experiences for the young set. There Toddler and Preschool story times happening across the city nearly every day in addition to crafting opportunities, LEGO workshops and board game days. All of these options are perfect ways to build community, socialize your littles, get them working in groups and facilitate learning academic concepts. Plus, you’re at the library, so you can check out great new books to read aloud and picture books that make pre-readers feel like big kids.

Check the LAPL website and search their calendar for preschool and kids scheduling and special events.  And if you want to make an event of your outing, make a pilgrimage to the amazing Central Library downtown, or to one of our favorite libraries for kids.

Online: lapl.org

What are your favorite learning adventures with your not quite ready for school tot?  Let us know in the comment section!

—LeTania Kirkland Smith