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3 and 4-year-old children are often referred to as preschoolers. Preschool children want to become more independent and do things for themselves. They are enthusiastic about learning and acquire their knowledge through experiences and playing. Their motor, social, emotional, cognitive, and language skills all developing, as they try to gain inner control. Preschoolers want to establish themselves as individuals and can more easily express their needs since they have a greater grasp of language.
The preschooler’s body is continuing to lose baby fat and gain muscle. Their arms and legs are becoming more slender and their upper body more narrow and tapered. Some children grow taller so much more quickly than they gain weight and muscle, that they may begin to look somewhat skinny and fragile. This doesn’t mean that they are unhealthy or that anything is wrong; some children just fill out gradually as their muscles develop. Most preschoolers grow about 2 to 3 inches in height and gain about 5 pounds each year. Also boys tend to be slightly larger than girls (Berk, 2008).
A child’s face also will mature during this time. The length of their skull will increase a little, and the lower jaw becomes more pronounced. At the same time, the upper jaw will widen to make room for their permanent teeth. Because of this growth, their face actually will become larger and their features appear more distinct.
Children are playful by nature. Their earliest experiences of exploring with their senses lead them to play, by themselves at first and then eventually with others. Usually between 4 and 5 years old, preschoolers discover that they share similar interests and seek out kids who are like themselves. They discuss, negotiate and come up with ways to create elaborate play scenes; take turns; and work together toward mutual goals. Children’s play can be divided into 4 categories, some of which overlap.
Dramatic play is fantasy-directed play like dressing up in costumes, pretending to be different characters, using toys to represent characters in stories, and creating imaginary settings. Some examples of manipulative play are using small toys like blocks or Legos to build objects, putting together puzzles, and making bead necklaces. Physical play uses the whole body in activities with bikes, balls, jump ropes, hoops, and play structures. In creative play children use art materials such as paint, clay, markers, pencils, glue, etc.
Preschoolers improve their mobility skills through a variety of motor activities involving the entire body. Gross-motor development includes locomotor dexterity, which requires balance and movement, and upper-body and arm skills.
Examples of locomotor skills are jumping, hopping, running, and climbing. Toddlers can climb up one step at a time, but preschoolers can use alternating feet to climb stairs. Most preschoolers progress from riding a tricycle to a bicycle, and some older preschoolers are able to roller-skate. Two basic upper-body and arm skills developed during the preschool years are throwing and catching a ball.
Preschool children gain more precision in fine-motor development between 3 and 5 years old. They attain more control of finger movement, which lets them become capable of using small materials that require grasping and control. According to the National network for child care some milestones in gross and motor skills in preschoolers include hopping on one foot, galloping, beginning to skip, pumping themselves on a swing, zipping, snapping and unbuttoning, cutting, lacing and making representational pictures like house, people or flowers (Malley, 1991).
During the preschool years children are in the preoperational stage. Throughout this stage children think in terms of concrete materials, believe that everyone thinks as they think, are perceptually bound and make judgments based primarily on how things look (Morrison, 2009). In the preoperational stage, children are very heavily influenced by their perceptions and do not fully grasp the concept of conversation. Children who have trouble with conservation have trouble understanding that the quantity of something can stay the same regardless of physical transformations. One example of this is if a child is shown 2 identical cups filled with the same amount of beans, and then you pour the beans into 2 different size cups, a child will think that one cup has more beans, not understanding that the same number of beans is in each cup.
Another characteristic of the preoperational stage is egocentrism, which is “the failure to distinguish the symbolic viewpoints of other’s from one’s own” (Berk, 2008 pg325). Children also have trouble with logic and abstract thinking during this stage, because so much of their knowledge is based on their perception. Being in the preoperational stage comes with some key changes in thinking and cognitive development. In addition to acquiring language, children also start to discover fantasy and imagination. With developing language skills comes the awareness of that something can be represented even though it is not seen. For example, the word “balloon” describes a balloon, just like the image of a balloon does, even if the balloon itself isn’t actually visible. Children also start to use their imagination by pretending that objects are other things, transforming sticks into swords, big boxes into houses, and dirt into a racetrack.
Preschoolers sometimes have imaginary friends. They have a tendency to brag and can be bossy towards their peers. They have a desire to feel important and worthwhile. At times they can be aggressive but enjoy being with other children and want to make friends. They like to pretend to be important adults such as a teacher, parent, doctor, shop owner or police officer. They want and seek out praise for their achievements.
“Social experience, along with cognitive development, contributes to gains in emotional understanding” (Berk, 2008 pg 370).Emotional understanding is a child’s ability to express his or her emotions appropriately, to correctly understand other people’s emotions, and to understand the outcomes of certain emotions. Children with high levels of emotional understanding can cope with their own or other people’s emotions in a way that creates positive social interactions. Preschoolers usually start to develop self-conscious emotions as they start evaluating themselves, instead of simply reacting to peers or adults evaluations. For example, a toddler may be perfectly happy coloring all over themselves from head to toe with markers, but won’t experience guilt or shame until someone expresses their displeasure at the situation. A preschooler may still enjoy drawing on themselves, but as soon as they see a parent coming, shame and guilt may surface as a result of considering their appearance. A child may also now experience a sense of pride when Mom or Dad says, “You did a great job cleaning up your mess.”
Preschool is a time when children start to develop friendships with their peers and this is essential for positive social and emotional development. Preschoolers think of a friend as someone they have fun with and are willing to share their belongings with. “Preschoolers give twice as much reinforcement-greeting praise and compliance-to children they identify as friendsâ€¦they are more cooperative and emotionally expressive-talking, laughing, and looking at each other more than nonfriends do”(Berk, 2008 pg 376).While preschoolers understand the uniqueness of friendship their concept of it is still immature. They can be ‘best friends’ with a peer one day and not like them at all the next. Parents can influence their child’s early peer relationships both directly and indirectly, by giving their child more frequent social experiences, discouraging teasing, being emotionally positive and demonstrating cooperative play.
Social experiences are critical in the development of a preschooler’s moral understanding. Disagreements with siblings or peers over toys, taking turns or ideas give children their first concepts of fairness and justice. Children also learn by observing how their parents react when then have broken a rule and the way they talk about moral issues. Children who are advanced in moral understanding usually have parents who can adapt the way they communicate with their child about honesty, arguments and sharing in a way the child can easily understand.
During preschool children have a massive increase in language development. This escalation in language skills represents the development of cognitive abilities. Children become more complex thinkers and these changes are exhibited in their language. Preschoolers are curious about language and rely progressively more on language to make their wants and needs known to adults and peers.
Preschoolers can learn an average of 5 new words a day increasing their vocabulary from 200 words at age 2 to 10,000 words by age 6 (Berk, 2008 pg 356). To build their vocabulary so quickly, children use the fast mapping process where they connect a new word with a primary concept shortly after being introduced to the new word. There are different theories on how children acquire their vocabulary. Some theorists believe that children are naturally predisposed to distinguish word meaning using mutual exclusivity, which is a child’s assumption that words refer to entirely separate categories (Berk, 2008). These theorists also believe that syntactic bootstrapping, which is the discovery of word meanings by observation of how words are use in the structure of a sentence, plays a major part in language development (Berk, 2008). Another theory is that word learning is controlled by the same cognitive strategies that children apply to nonlinguistic information. “These strategies become more effective as children’s information processing, communication skills, vocabulary size, knowledge of categories and mastery of syntax improve” (Berk, 2008 pg 357).
Generally preschoolers can use simple sentences that follow a subject-verb-object order. Once they have mastered three word sentences they start to make small additions and changes in words that allows them to express word meanings in different ways and more efficiently. As with vocabulary development there are different theories on grammatical development; from the use of semantic bootstrapping (using word meanings to figure out grammatical rules), to the belief that children master grammar through direct observation, and including the idea that they have a special language making capacity for assessing the language they hear and develops the discovery of grammatical regularities.
Preschool children have typically well developed conversation skills. They use gestures and objects to assist them in conveying their meaning. By 4 years old a child can adapt their conversation to fit the age, sex, and social status of the person they’re talking to. Their conversations tend to be less mature in highly demanding situations (like while on the telephone) where they cannot see the other person or use conversational aids (Berk, 2008).
There are several ways in which parents and teachers can enhance all the developmental skills of a preschooler. Some activities that enhance physical and motor skills are dancing, swinging, sandbox play, throwing, playing with play dough and finger puppets, putting puzzles together, drawing, and stringing and lacing activities. “Through directed and undirected play, children are naturally able to practice and learn both gross and fine motor skills and coordination” (Snuggs, 2008).
Enhancing cognitive development is about strengthening and exercising a child’s thinking skills, not just giving them information. Activities like hide and seek (using variations of counting), Simon Says, I Spy and board games like Memory, Connect Four and Tic Tac Toe are all beneficial ways to enhance a preschooler’s cognitive development.
Planning activities in which the children have to work and plan together, helps build their social skills. Providing an opportunity for different personalities to interact, plan and work together, preschool children will learn the skills of compromise and sharing, while developing their social and emotional skills. A class play is an ideal group activity for the children to participate in. The most important thing we can do to ensure healthy social and emotional development is to be a positive role model. By being trustworthy, caring, and patient role models, we can help children develop a positive attitude. By showing respect to our children we help them learn to show respect for others.
In order to enhance positive language development in preschoolers it is important to be patient while they are talking and give them time to express themselves. A few activities that can help further their development are having them draw a picture and make up a story about it, singing songs and using word play and letters to build the children’s phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge and vocabulary.
I believe that each preschooler is a unique individual who needs a secure, caring, and stimulating environment where they can grow and develop emotionally, intellectually, physically, and socially. Parents and teachers should adapt to the needs of each child so that they can feel capable and successful.
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