What Are Preschoolers Like? (page 3)
Today’s preschoolers are not like the children of previous decades. Many have already experienced one, two, or three years of child care. They have watched hundreds of hours of television. Many are technologically sophisticated. Many have experienced the trauma of family divorces or the psychological effects of abuse. Both collectively and individually, the experiential backgrounds of preschoolers are quite different from those of previous generations. These factors raise a number of imperatives for you and preschool teachers:
- Observe and assess children so that you know and understand what they know and are able to do.
- Conference and collaborate with families in order to discover their children’s unique experiences, abilities, and needs.
- Develop programs to meet the needs of today’s children, not yesterday’s children. As children change, we must change our programs for them.
Physical and Motor Development
One noticeable difference between preschoolers and infants and toddlers is that preschoolers have lost most of their baby fat and taken on a leaner, lankier look. This “slimming down” and increasing motor coordination enables preschoolers to participate with more confidence in the locomotor activities so vitally necessary during this stage of growth and development. Both girls and boys continue to grow several inches per year throughout the preschool years. The table below shows the average height and weight for preschoolers. Compare these averages with the height and weight of preschoolers you know or work with.
Preschool children are learning to use and test their bodies. The preschool years are a time for learning what they can do individually and how they can do it. Locomotion plays a large role in motor and skill development and includes such activities as moving the body through space—walking, running, hopping, jumping, rolling, dancing, climbing, and leaping. Preschoolers use these activities to investigate and explore the relationships among themselves, space, and objects in space.
Preschoolers also like to participate in fine-motor activities such as drawing, coloring, painting, cutting, and pasting. Consequently, they need programs that provide action and play, supported by proper nutrition and healthy habits of plentiful rest and good hygiene. Good preschool programs provide for these unique physical needs of preschoolers and support their learning through active involvement.
Average Height and Weight of Preschoolers
|Age||Height (inches)||Weight (pounds)||Height (inches)||Weight (pounds)|
Social and Emotional Development
A major responsibility of preschool teachers is to promote and support children’s social and emotional development. Positive social and emotional development enables children to learn better and to succeed in all of school and life activities.
During the preschool years (ages three to five), children are in Erikson’s psychosocial development stage of initiative versus guilt. During this stage, children are fully involved in locomotive activities and the enjoyment of doing things. They are very active and want to plan and be involved in activities. They want to move and be active.
You can help support children’s initiative in these ways:
- Give children freedom to explore.
- Provide projects and activities that enable children to discover and experiment.
- Encourage and support children’s attempts to plan, make things, and be involved.
During the preschool years, children are learning self-regulation, the ability to control their emotions and behaviors, to delay gratification, and to build positive social relations with each other.
Teaching self-regulation (i.e., self-control) is a major teacher task during the preschool years. The following guidelines will help you teach self-regulation to preschool children:
- Provide a variety of learning experiences. Young children are very good at creating diversion when none is available. Often teachers think they cannot provide interesting learning experiences until the children are under control, when, in fact, the real problem is that the children are out of control because there is nothing interesting to do.
- Arrange the environment to help children do their best. Make sure block building activities are accorded enough space and are protected from traffic. Avoid arrangements that invite children to run or fight, such as long corridors or large open spaces.
- Get to know each child. Establish relationships with parents, and support children’s strengths as well as their needs.
- Set clear limits for unacceptable behavior. Enforce them with rational explanations in a climate of mutual respect and caring.
- Work with children to establish a few simple group rules. Some appropriate rules are to take care of other people, take care of yourself, and take care of the classroom. Systematically teach and reinforce these rules throughout the school year.
- Use the child’s home language as often as possible. Make every effort to show children you support their culture and respect their language.
- Coach children to express their feelings verbally. Help children use either their home language or English, and solve social problems with others using words. For many children, this will mean not only providing the words and offering some possible solutions, but being there to assist when situations arise.
- Model self-control by using self-talk. “Oh, I can’t get this lid off the paint. I am feeling frustrated [take a deep breath]. Now I’ll try again.”16
Preschoolers are in the preoperational stage of intellectual development. Characteristics of the preoperational stage are (1) children grow in their ability to use symbols, including language; (2) children are not capable of operational thinking (an operation is a reversible mental action), which explains why Piaget named this stage preoperational; (3) children center on one thought or idea, often to the exclusion of other thoughts; (4) children are unable to conserve; and (5) children are egocentric.
Preoperational characteristics have particular implications for you and other early childhood professionals. You can promote children’s learning during the preoperational stage of development by following the steps presented in the Professionalism in Practice feature. As you review these steps, start to plan for how you can apply them to your classroom.
Children’s language skills grow and develop rapidly during the preschool years. Vocabulary, the number of words children know, continues to grow. Sentence length also increases and children continue to master syntax and grammar.
During the preschool years, children’s language development is diverse and comprehensive and constitutes a truly impressive range of learning. An even more impressive feature of this language acquisition is that children learn intuitively, without a great deal of instruction, the rules of language that apply to words and phrases they use. You can use many of the language practices recommended for infants and toddlers to support preschoolers’ language development. The accompanying Diversity Tie-In feature provides you with specific examples of how you can support both home language and English language learning.
16. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, Head Start Child Outcomes Framework Domain 6: Social and emotional Development, March 4, 2005; accessed February 27, 2007, at http://www.headstartinfo.org/leaders_guideeng/domain6.htm.
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