This is a new series I just discovered that is geared for children ages 2 and up. It's really neat. Regular coloring books (and activities such as connect the dots, etc.) are a little too advanced for my 2 1/2 year old. She simply doesn't have the fine motor control to actually color in a shape. These books start with the most basic of the basics: holding a crayon of one color and making squiggles. Why would I need a book to help me teach my daughter that? Well, these have actual colored pictures for inspiration. For example, page number 1 shows three little monkeys swinging on a swing set (just like my own three little monkeys!). There is a big white patch in the grass. The task: make green squiggles in the white patch, making more grass! We had a great time filling in all kinds of things--brown squiggles for earthworms, ladybugs and butterflies drawn by yours truly, etc. Another early picture shows a hot dog--the child adds red squiggles for ketchup, yellow for mustard, and so forth. I don't mind drawing things for my daughter (she doesn't judge my artwork), but I run out of ideas. These mostly-filled-in pages help generate more ideas. On the plate with the hot dog, I drew other things we might eat with the hot dog (asking my daughter for suggestions): peas, watermelon, chocolate chip cookies,.... She had a hilarious time "picking them up" and "eating them." The pages get more advanced, moving to coloring in an entire shape with one color, drawing patterns, and, finally, tracing letters and numbers.
There are other books in this series--all designed to teach skills that children will need for kindergarten/first grade. I'm not really looking at it as school prep; instead, it's providing some great activities we can do together when the Mommy brain has simply run dry in the idea realm. The other titles include things like I Can Cut, I Can Trace, I Can Draw, I Can Paste, and I Can Fold. You can search for them online (use the title and the series title--Big Skills for Little Hands). I found them at Sam's for well below retail ($7.50 as opposed to $14).