Characteristics and Interests of Preschool Children
Just as infant and toddler classrooms are designed to meet the special needs of very young children, preschool classrooms must take into account the social, emotional, and intellectual characteristics of 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds and the cultural backgrounds of these children. Consider the following:
- The preschool child appreciates a beautiful classroom. The preschool classroom should be inviting and attractive. If there is a choice, the walls should be painted a neutral or light pastel color, and pictures and materials should be added to provide the color. Shelves are critical. Even the best-equipped classrooms are often short of shelf space. Shelves serve the double function of dividing space into discrete areas and providing a place where toys and learning materials are accessible to children.
- The preschool child enjoys an orderly classroom. Materials should be arranged and coded so that everything in the classroom has its appropriate place. An ideal plan is to color code or picture code the shelves and materials so that it is easy to remember where everything belongs.
- The preschool child needs a variety of social experiences with large-group, small-group, and individual activities. The classroom should provide a variety of spaces for each, which may include the following:
- Large-group space: A circle on the carpet, individual mats that can be placed in a circle on a carpet, and round or trapezoid tables all facilitate large-group interaction.
- Small-group space: Interesting areas where the space is defined by lofts or corner enclosures encourage children to interact in small groups.
- Individual space: Private, "all-by-myself" time can be provided by a reading corner with large pillows or beanbag chairs, a telephone booth structure, or even a large carton with a fuzzy rug on the bottom.
- The preschool child likes to feel at home. Make the children feel that the classroom is an extension of their home and a part of their neighborhood by providing a careful selection of family photos on the walls, materials such as play foods that are familiar to them, dress-up clothes that resemble the clothes the adults they know are likely to wear, dolls that look like the children in the classroom, and rhythm instruments that are used in the ceremonies they attend.
- Preschool children need help to learn to be considerate of each other. A classroom should be arranged to make it easy for children to be considerate. Noisy areas for music, block play, and pretend play should be separated from quiet areas, such as the library corner or problem-solving areas. Shelves should be used to control the traffic flow so that children won't upset each other's work.
- Preschool children are ready to make activity selections. Whether a preschool classroom is large or small, it should be organized into learning or interest centers. Both the number and the types of interest centers depend on the size and configuration of the classroom, the objectives of the curriculum, the staffing pattern, and the ages and characteristics of the children.
- Preschool children enjoy working at tables. Tables and chairs should be placed in the art and snack area and in some of the work areas. Children may enjoy using tables for practicing writing, putting puzzles together, setting up scenes with miniature figures, and playing math or language games.
- The preschool child needs opportunities to pretend. Every preschool classroom should provide spaces and equipment for imaginative play. Housekeeping equipment, a dress-up corner, a mirror, a telephone, dolls, and dishes are basic requirements. Other items can be added to reflect the children's interests, home cultures, and favorite stories as well as the themes that the teacher has introduced.
- The preschool child must have experience with music and art. The classroom should be equipped with a CD, tape, or record player; a variety of music, including marches, folk songs, and nursery rhymes; simple musical instruments; and a place where children can sit or march in a circle. For art, there should be tables and chairs, a sink, a noncarpeted floor area, and plenty of eye-level wall space where the children's work can be attractively displayed. Easels, drying racks, and whiteboards are desirable, as well.
- Preschool children need opportunities to play with blocks and to work with a variety of construction toys. Every preschool classroom should have a block area where children can learn to construct. Block play helps children develop their imagination and creativity and, at the same time, teaches mathematical and spatial concepts. Providing miniature figures, toy animals, cars and trucks, and small balls encourages children to build pretend worlds and raceways.
- Preschool children are developing their language and communication skills. A preschool classroom should provide spaces and materials that encourage language development. Picture books, display counters, eye-level wall treatments, puppet stages, elevated platforms, mirrors, cameras, and tape recorders can all be used to encourage language development.
- Preschool children are ready and eager to learn new concepts. A preschool classroom should include spaces and materials for manipulative play, problem solving, and science exploration. The traditional preschool science and discovery corner should not be simply a display area; rather, it should provide opportunities for hands-on experiences, including the following:
- Science and discovery: pets (check with the local health department), plants, sink-and-float activities, magnet challenges, shells and rocks that can be classified, a scale, prisms, magnifying glasses, color paddles, and a sand table
- Manipulative play and problem solving: a variety of materials that encourage sorting, ordering, number skill development, and pattern making, such as number puzzles, pegboards, table blocks, picture puzzles, counting games, stacking toys, color and shape games, sequencing boards, beads, and sewing cards
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