Understanding Preschool Child Development

Children Parallel Play

Understanding Preschool Child Development
by Ron Huxley

"Children are our most valuable natural resource."
Herbert Hoover

What is a preschooler?

Depending on how you look at him or her a preschooler can be defined or understood in many different ways. Here are some ways to help you relate to and improve your relationship with your preschool age child.

Physical Development:

The preschool child is a whirlwind of activity. They are active explorers of the world around them. In addition, they are more confident about using their bodies. They run smoothly, at moderate speeds, jump, climb and perform other "gross motor" activities fairly well.

"Fine motor" skills, i.e., using scissors, drawing, painting, and pasting are coming along but have not yet reached the level of skill of an older 5 to 7 year old child.

Cognitive Development:

Preschoolers can be described, in terms of their cognition, as "little explorer's." They are seeking to understand how the world operates and functions. They role-play mom and dad to determine gender differences and they take things apart to see how things work.

Preschoolers can remember events from day to day; they can take what they have learned from yesterday and begin to see how it applies to today and even anticipate tomorrow. They still cannot separate fantasy from reality and still live in a fairy tale, pre-operational world. Attention span is approximately 8 to 15 minutes on a good day.

Social Development:

Preschool age children are beginning to learn how to interact with their peers. At 3 and 4 years of age they engage in parallel play. Parallel play consists of children, in a group, playing with the same toys, but not with each other. They play "side-by-side" versus cooperatively together.

At 5 and 6 years of age children begin to play cooperative, e.g., throwing a ball to each other and rolling cars back and forth. At this age gender identity is also forming and children become curious about sexual differences. As friendships develop they become concerned with having "best" friends. Expressive arts, that develop gross and fine motor skills, are beneficial.

Emotional/Self Development:

At this age, preschoolers will be "like" all kinds of people from mom and dad, to the garbage man, to the policeman. The purpose behind this type of play is to understand the role of adults in their life.

Preschoolers want to please adults. They need frequent approval and reassurance from primary caregivers. They like to be observed when playing and wants parent's full attention. They may become fearful when separated from parents or caregivers but are generally easily consoled and adjust to new environments within a few minutes.

Language Development:

Language development is tied into cognitive development but is such a major part of the preschool age child, that it is addressed as a separate category.

Developmentally, three-year-old children can use complete sentences and is constantly asking questions. They can speak about 900 words and can communicate their basic needs, such as "I'm hungry" or "My foot hurts."

Four-year-old children can use complete and compound sentences. They will speak approximately 1,500 words. They like to sing, tell tall tales, brag, and will often exaggerate and call other children names.

Five-year-old children speak over 2,000 words and love to tell and listen to stories. They can focus for longer periods of time and often asks thoughtful questions.

In addition, 3-5 year old children can only understand simple, clear commands and have difficulty following multi-step directives, such as: "Clean your room."

Common Parenting Problems
with Preschool Age Children

1. Fears

2. Eating

3. Sleeping

4. Dishonesty

5. Tantrums

6. Everyday Care (dressing self, table manners, etc.)

About the Author

Ronald Huxley is a licensed child and family therapist coordinator of two hot-lines, corporate consultant, seminar speaker, and a parent in a blended family. He was the 1996 recipient of the Child Abuse Prevention-Recognition Award for Service in his community.

Ron Huxley

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