Child Development in the Preschool Years
Cognitive, Emotional, Social, and Physical Growth in Early Childhood
Development in the preschool years is characterized through a variety of cognitive, emotional, social, and physical changes. Although not entirely proficient or sophisticated in any of these areas, the young child is very capable of gaining new skills.
As a toddler moves into the preschool age range (starting roughly be age three), cognitive development becomes more representational and includes metacognitive growth (awareness of one's own thoughts), magical belief, and the increased ability to understand and use symbols.
There are multiple ways or methods to foster cognitive development during the preschool years. Some simple ideas include:
- Provide opportunities for dramatic play such as dress up, play kitchen, or puppet theater.
- Read books together.
- Ask the child to read the symbols (pictures or illustrations) in picture books and create a story based on what is viewed.
- After going on an outing, field trip, or vacation ask the child to draw a picture of what he or she remembers.
Emotional development during the preschool years encompasses self-concept, self-regulation, and a better understanding of emotions and how to express them.
To help foster emotional development in young children, look for activities that allow the child to take control over, and name, his or her actions and feelings. It is important to promote a positive, healthy self-image. Praise the child for self-regulation tasks such as using words to express negative emotions instead of hitting or biting.
Some ideas to help promote emotional development include:
- Create an emotion chart or poster by taking pictures of faces that express a variety of emotions (i.e., happy, sad, mad).
- Ask the child to create a self portrait.
- Create a family or class project (examples include group collage, group painting, or sculpture). Place all materials to be used in the center of the table or work area, and ask everyone to share.
- Be a model. Remember that your child is watching you. If you get angry, keep yourself under control. Talk to your child about what happened, and how you dealt with the situation.
- Discuss emotions with your child. If your child sees another child get angry, have a tantrum, or seem sad, ask your child why she thinks that this happened.
Cognitive and emotional growth play a large role in the young child's social development. Children of preschool age can be found making true friends and engaging in cooperative play.
The following suggestions may help to promote positive social development:
- Join a play group or a class.
- Schedule playdates for your child. Make sure to start taking your child's friend choices into consideration. Instead of choosing the playdate based on the parent, ask your child who he or she would like to spend time with.
- For children age four and over, join a non-competitive sport. Look for leagues with parent coaches and a no score keeping policy.
Physical development at this age includes an increase in the coordination of gross motor movements and more specialized fine motor abilities. This leads the child to develop new skills in athletics and artistic domains (e.g., throwing, cutting with scissors, drawing).
To foster physical (both gross and fine motor) development try to engage the child in activities that involve both large and small movements:
- Play catch.
- Try t-ball.
- Have your own race or set up an obstacle course.
- Engage in art activities such as drawing with crayons, painting with different sizes of brushes, cutting with scissors, and using a pencil.
As the young child changes from a toddler into a preschooler it is important to understand and promote positive growth through multiple domains. This includes cognitive, emotional, social, and physical development.