Parents of preschool children are concerned about learning
and want to provide the best for their children so that they will
be ready for “real” school. In an effort to do everything right,
parents turn to the experts and attempt to follow them even
though the experts disagree on what should be done. As a result,
the parents are confused.
I find more and more that parents are following advice on
what they believe will help the intellectual development of the
child, while the other aspects of the child’s development are
being relegated to a less important role. I believe this is done
because intellectual development can be charted, evaluated,
observed and taught. Also, parents have many commercial tools at
their disposal to help them as they interact with the children in
this realm. They can buy books for the children and read to them.
They can buy crayons and coloring books and teach them the
colors. They can buy scissors and paper to help them with
cutting. The list of things to buy is almost endless – games,
puzzles, computers. As a result, some children come to school
with these skills while others may have been neglected. The
problem becomes compounded by the fact that many schools now
conduct the kindergarten program as a downward extension of the
regular school program so that other important developmental
areas are ignored.
Besides intellectual development, we must be concerned with
the physical, emotional and social development of the child.
These areas seem vague and not as concrete as the intellectual
area. They are difficult to evaluate quantitatively, but they
are just as important. In addition, there is the danger that if
we concentrate on the academic skill aspect of the child’s
development to the exclusion of the rest, we may be asking
children to do tasks which are inappropriate for their level of
Children who are five years old should have had a great deal
of experience being physically active. They should have had
opportunities to hop, jump and later, skip. They should have
been helped to develop independence and be now able to wash,
dress and feed themselves and to use the toilet. They should
have had opportunities to play with their peers in dramatic play
where they can take on a variety of roles. They should have the
beginnings of social skills.
Children need many opportunities to interact with the
objects, materials and people in their environment. These
activities include blockbuilding, distributing materials,
measuring, weighing, planting, pouring, filling, playing in the
sand box and so on. They are concrete thinkers and need to
interact with concrete objects, not just books and pencil and
paper. Children should be encouraged to be active and not
Children benefit when given opportunities for spontaneous
play. This helps them to learn about themselves and others, to
learn how to get along with others, and to learn about reality.
Children at this age need to be given many opportunities to
explore their world. They are not empty vessels which are to be
filled by teachers with facts. They need actual, real-life
experiences first before they can deal with abstract concepts.
When a child predicts that something will happen, the adult’s
response should be: “Let’s find out.” The process of finding out
is more important at this level than the correct answer.
Young children need a rich physical environment and space in
which to explore this environment. They also need time to
integrate and practice new skills. This is best accomplished in
an atmosphere that is child-centered and not adult task-oriented.
There should be movement, activity, singing, dancing, nurturing,
exploring and finding out. Parents can best help their children
by providing such an atmosphere at home and by monitoring the
programs provided for their children in school settings.