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Cognitive Development in Preschoolers (page 3)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Four-year-olds are developing their memory skills. They can, with some prompting, remember what they did last weekend. Salient events such as birthday parties, class trips, and a child breaking his or her arm on the playground can easily be remembered. The child can recall main events in a story and can retell a story with some accuracy of the sequence. Four-year-olds have difficulty remembering lists or isolated information. Learning and remembering things at this age are easier if information is presented in a context that is meaningful to the child. Learning and remembering about spiders is easier if the child can study a spider that was crawling on the playground.

At four, children are also beginning to develop a sense about what is real and what is not. This is called the appearance/reality distinction (Flavell, 1992). For example, four-year-old Kate was very frightened of the clown that was at her friend’s birthday party, and she clung to her mother’s leg. As the clown did a magic trick and made her laugh, she said to her mother, “The clown is like a real person. I love her.” Children are beginning to understand what is real and what is not real, what is a dream and what is not a dream.

Five-year-olds think about things. Lee watches the leaves fall off the trees and says that the leaves look like they are dancing. Then he asks, “Why do the leaves fall off the trees?” Five-year-olds are filled with questions about how things work, how things are made, and where things come from. This reflects their interest in understanding the world around them. Their imagination continues to develop, and their play centers around pretending. However, they begin to make distinctions between when they are pretending and when they are not. Classrooms are filled with children saying, “Look at me, I’m pretending to be a kite, or a dog, or a snake.”

Although five-year-olds are egocentric in their thinking, they are beginning to be aware of others’ feelings and points of view (Siegler, 1997). At this age, children can begin to understand that they can be happy when others are not and begin to accept that others do not have to play the exact game that they are playing. They are beginning to understand other children’s likes and dislikes. Gary said at snack time, “You can give me Sam’s graham crackers because I like them and he doesn’t.”

Five-year-olds’ reasoning is still concrete, yet they reason less from the particular to the particular (Gelman, 1999). They may reason that because their dog is friendly, all dogs are friendly. However, they are quick to understand when an adult explains that that may not be the case with all dogs. They are beginning to understand that there are general rules, yet also exceptions to the rules. Also, five-year-olds’ reasoning about concrete information, such as dogs that they see, is easier to accomplish than it is for more abstract information. Understanding that both whales and humans are mammals is a difficult concept for five-year-olds to grasp because it is difficult to demonstrate the similarities of the two in a concrete way.

Five-year-olds continue to become more sophisticated in their development and organization of concepts. With things that children are very familiar with, they can begin to see how different objects fit into different categories. Matthew has both a bunny and a turtle in his classroom. He understands that the bunny is soft and cuddly and eats carrots. The turtle lives in water, and his shell is hard. But when his teacher says that it is his turn to take the animals home for spring vacation, he understands that this means both the turtle and the bunny. He says, “Even though the bunny cannot swim, it still is an animal.” Matthew is developing criteria for his concepts and refining his concepts on the basis of each new experience. His concept of “animal” is becoming more refined as he interacts with other animals and objects and begins to construct his notion of similarities and differences among things.

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