Now is the Time to Teach Your Preschooler How to Dial Important Phone Numbers

A few months ago we were in the car traveling out of state. My preschooler is in the backseat playing on my husband’s cell phone, when we hear:

What is your emergency?

Enter curse words here. 

Hearts pounding, my husband quickly grabs the phone and tells the dispatcher that we do not have an emergency and after a few more reassurances hangs up. We give my son a little speech about calling 911 when it is not an emergency, and that’s that. 

Though his timing was poor, I appreciate that he knew how to dial 911. “911” is written on a lot of his firetruck toys, and we have watched quite a few shows that mention dialling 911 for an emergency vehicle to arrive. After our close enounter though, I realized that children are often taught the importance of dialing 911 in an emergency, but they lack the specifics of how to dial 911 in emergency situations (or how to dial any phone numbers at all). 

This situation got me thinking about what phone call skills preschoolers need. I decided that I wanted my preschooler to be able to:

  • Access the phone call area of a cell phone (not just the games!!!)
  • Dial 911
  • Understand when to dial 911
  • Dial a parent’s phone number
  • Understand when to dial a parent’s phone number

To accomplish these goals, I put together a simple practice phone for my preschooler (and toddler, too).  We have a toy cell phone that my toddler plays with, but I didn’t want it to make noise when you press a number button. I wanted the focus to be on the numbers. 

For our practice phone, I taped scrapbook paper and cardstock squares to a piece of cardboard.  

My toddler chose the pink!

Then, I wrote the numbers on the phone just as you would see on a real phone. 

The numbers are nice and big!

On the back of the phone, I included a little “unlock” button that they have to swipe to access the phone. And a “phone” button that they have to press to take you to the dialling pad numbers. 

Unlock the phone first!

It was easier back when most homes had a landline, but since we do not, we focused on dialling numbers on a mock cell phone.

Both children caught on quickly to unlocking the phone and pressing the phone button on the phone. 

Dialling 911 was not much of a challenge, either, but I wanted to make sure we addressed when to dial 911. We started this endeavor by acting out emergency situations with Little People toys. 

We acted out these two main occurrences:

  • Call 911 when there is a fire
  • Call 911 when Mommy or Daddy is on the floor and won’t wake up

This second bullet point scares the crap out of me. I always worry what the kids will do if something leaves me incapacitated! We acted out a situation where I was there and I could call 911, too. 

I stressed that Mommy or Daddy will be the one to call if they are able and that they only dial when a parent is unable. I showed them what “unable” means–i.e. I got on the floor and didn’t respond after they repeatedly shook me and yelled “Mommy!”

After your child has mastered dialling 911, move onto dialling a parent’s number. I taught my preschooler my husband’s number first, since that is who he will call if we are home and something happens to me. I want to make sure he has mastered this before I move onto any more numbers. 

I wrote the number down for him on our big white board and then he practiced.

Once he had the number mastered, I began letting him use my phone to actually dial it; we have been calling my husband every day after work to practice! 

And yes, I could just let him press the speed dial button, but it is important here that preschoolers learn the actual phone numbers. If you are able, let your child practice on multiple phones so that they get a feel for the small differences among phones (such as phones that must be unlocked with a code). 

We also discussed why we couldn’t practice dialling 911 on the real phone. Reiterate that 911 is only used for emergencies.

Have you taught your preschooler how to use the calling feature on your phone? How did you go about it? 


  1. Great idea! I am going to start working with my preschooler on this. I have been teaching him his town and state. We have a well known landlord in town and he already knows his name so I tell him if we are ever separated to tell the police officer he live in Mr. ___’s building in our town. I have really been trying to instill stranger danger bc he is a runner.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. The approach I used with the children I worked with (and what I did with my son) went something like this: 1. What precedes the running? Certain place? Time? Experience where they are prone to running? Anxiety? 2. Adding in extra gross motor play to combat the urge to run. 3. When running takes place, verbal cues don’t seem to work. They need something visual…a laminated stop sign, some other small item. If all else fails, just try and keep them to a safe place. 4. Model appropriate behavior. Wherever the running is taking place. Use pictures and actions to show what I’d expected.

        Every child is different, but these are just some ideas. This comment was almost long enough for a blog post. Lol 😋


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