Ages & Stages: Preschooler Development
The preschool period in a child’s life is an exciting time. During this time, the child reaches out to the world beyond their home. For them, the world is an exciting place with many things to do, to touch, to experience, and to eat. Although the preschool child cannot read or write, or compute logical processes, the quest for knowledge overrides any developmental limitations. The preschool years set the stage for experiences, friends, and accomplishments obtained outside the home.
In comparison to earlier stages of development, the physical growth of the preschool child has slowed down considerably. Nevertheless, preschoolers usually gain two ½ to 3 inches in height each year, and 3-5 pounds in weight. The physical growth of the brain achieves about 90% of its adult size around the age of 5 years. The growth of the brain facilitates control of involuntary movements. Bold skills are refined and elaborated, and are put to new use. The basic motor abilities are present.
Large Muscle Development (Gross Motor)
- Takes longer steps when running or walking (5 years)
- Catches large ball (4-5 years)
- Skips on one foot (4-5 years)
- Hops on one foot (4-5 years)
- Many can broad jump 28 to 35 inches (5-6 years)
Small Muscle Development (Fine Motor)
- Children can draw, use scissors, and begin to color (4-6 years)
- Can get close to drawing a person (5 years)
- Can begin to read, write (5-6 years)
- Copies shapes – can draw square and triangle, probably not a diamond (5-6 years)
- Can paint with broad strokes (5-6 years)
Preschoolers are intellectually curious and actively seek to learn as much about their environment as they can. They learn to represent objects, persons, and perceptions with symbols. It is the beginning of functional language. They no longer are tied to what is physically present. Questions begin during the preschool years, first about the names of objects and activities, then about the purpose of routine. Increased questions, dreams, nightmares, and fantasy in play are all indications of advances in intellect.
During the preschool., children believe everything exists for a purpose, even themselves. As such, the child’s questions usually reflect such interest: “Mommy, why is there rain?” “Where do babies come from?” Answer such questions in terms of purpose or function. “It rains to make the trees and flowers grow.” “Babies come from mommies.” When children receive a response that suggests a function or purpose, they are usually satisfied.
Preschool children have limited concepts of things and only pay attention to a small number of characteristics. For example, if they see water poured from a short fat glass into a tall thin one, the child may say there is more water in the tall one, even though no water has been added. Preschoolers cannot easily understand relational terms such as “longer” or “smaller” unless the objects compared are very different.
Preschool children are active conversationalists. As they develop intellectually, their language usage increases.
- Vocabulary of about 900 words at three years; 2,000 words at five to six years.
- By the age of five years, children use complete sentences strung together with conjunctions.
- Although they speak clearly, children will have problems with pronunciation and stuttering. These problems are usually temporary and a normal part of development.
- They experiment with sounds, often making up rhyming words (3-6 years).
- Uses “because” “how””why” in their efforts to interpret cause and effect (4-6 years).
- Conversations tend to be one-sided (4-6 years).
- Children love to giggle with “toilet talk” i.e. words such as poo-poo, pee-pee, etc. It’s not until later years that children learn to adapt conversation to suit the company.
Preschoolers are highly social beings. They are ready to reach out and interact with other children in a more responsive fashion. A sense of self as a person; an “I” who thinks, feels, and acts is ready to interact in a more assertive way with their environment.
Initiative vs. Guilt
The social Dimension that appears during this stage is initiative, at one pole, and guilt, at the other. Children initiate activities due mainly to their gaining Mastery of their abilities. This holds true for motor, language, and play activities. Whether the child will leave this stage with a sense of initiative or sense of guilt depends to a considerable extent on how parents respond to self initiated activities. Children who are given freedom to initiate motor, language, and play activities have their sense of initiative reinforced. On the other hand children are made to feel their motor activities are bad, questions are a nuisance, and play it’s silly or stupid, guilt over self-initiated activities will develop that could persist during later life stages.
By H5, children can play cooperatively in a small group. When children aren’t available to play with, they invent imaginary companions to fill the void. Imaginary friends are fairly common beginning around age three. Children who have imaginary companions are often bright, creative, verbal, more cooperative, and more aggressive than children who do not. The existence of imaginary friends suggests that children generate the kinds of experiences they need for their own development that the environment cannot provide.
Sex Roles and Identify
Most preschoolers play with both boys and girls but by H6 prefer friends of their own sex. Girls imitate their mothers; boys try hard to act like men.
Children usually have learned to be potty trained around three years of age. However, accidents can happen and do, usually at night. Nighttime wetting is more common among boys than girls, largely due to the fact that the nervous system of boys matures more slowly. Ask the child how he thinks the problem could be solved. Some possible solutions are not drinking liquids after dinner, going to the bathroom just before bedtime, or not changing the sheets until morning. Again, the parents should remain supportive and give the child encouragement. Scolding or punishing will not solve the problem.
Although masturbation is a normal behavior, excessive masturbation can be a concern. Excessive masturbation may be the result of an unhappy, anxious child. Finding the sources of the unhappiness and anxiety, and correcting them, is the first step. Often excessive masturbation in children results from not being a part of a social group. Providing many opportunities for activities with peers, helping the child achieve feelings of competence, and parental support often ends the problem.
Fears are a natural part of growing up. During the preschool years, children often fear animals, dark, imaginary creatures, and natural events like storms, fires, thunder, and lightning. Parents who criticize a child for his fears, who are sarcastic, or even punish a child for having fears, are not helping to reduce the fears. These tactics only tend to decrease the self-confidence and self-esteem of the child. A model of confident, non fearful behavior, discussion of the fear, support, and understanding from the parent helps the child to understand the fear and eventually diminish the fear to a more manageable level.