Cognitive Status of Preschoolers

   During this stage children are not as helpless as the infants and toddlers or as sophisticated as the fifth grader in their thought processes.  They are in what Piaget called as the “Preoperational stage” of development.  During this stage children show signs of developing the ability to do logical reasoning and interacting with the environment.  Piaget proposed that children in this stage show the following characteristics:

1.     Centration:  Children tend to focus on one characteristic or aspect of either a material or a situation.  They cannot look at the whole picture.  Many math and language skills require children to look at the whole picture, which preschoolers cannot normally do, thus it is not very appropriate to push reading and abstract math skills during the early stages of preoperational thought.

2.     Egocentrism:  Children tend to view things only from their point of view.  It is always “I” and “me” at this stage.  Thus it becomes important to expose children to a variety of experiences, materials, people so that they can begin to move away from being egocentric.

3.     Irreversibility:  Preoperational children can only perceive the beginning or ending stage of an event.  They cannot imagine or view the intermediate stages. 

4.     Concreteness and reasoning:  During this stage children are capable of understanding only the concrete experiences they have had.  They cannot understand abstract examples or problems.  Children at this stage also lack sophistication in their logical reasoning skills, their ability is limited only to events that are current, recent and it has to be related to them.

5.     Symbolic thought and play:  Children at this stage have the ability to symbolically represent events or objects from their experience.  This is an important milestone for the child because it is decentering them from being egocentric.  Symbolic thought and action is accomplished by two integral processes called assimilation and accommodation, where the children imbibe new information and adapt it to suit their needs and the situation.  By means of symbolic thought and action, children develop their own unique skill of adapting to new situations.  Thus it becomes important for teachers and parents to create the appropriate hands-on experience environment by means of which children can interact and learn from it. 

  What can the Teacher do?

     Research has indicated that play has effectively been used as an successful means of learning for young children.  This has been accomplished mainly because play….

-Promotes all styles of learning

-Caters to individual needs, interests, development

-Promotes learning as a meaningful and interactive process

-Play is fun for children

Keeping the above factors in mind the teachers can do the following to promote cognitive development among the preschoolers:

1.     Assess the level your children are at.  This can be done by observation and also by asking open ended questions.  Your observations and the child’s responses to your questions will help you better meet the needs of the child.

2.     You can promote children’s cognitive thinking by using scientific inquiry.  Beatty (2000) in her translation of scientific inquiry of Sprung, Froschl, and Campbell (1985) has suggested the following steps:

-         Pose a question

-         Elicit responses from the children as to what might happen

-         Discuss with them what can be done to find out if their prediction is true or not and try their suggestion

-         Observe what happens

-         Discuss with the children as to why their prediction came true or not

-         Record what happened and review what you did

3.     Have the appropriate environment and materials in your classroom that will promote a sense of curiosity and exploration among the children.  This will help the children gain a first hand knowledge about their world

4.     Develop and use materials and activities in your classroom that will promote classifying, comparing, and counting.

5.     Integrate your curriculum so that children can carry over their learning across all areas.

6.     Use teaching strategies that will encourage the children to be independent thinkers, be creative, relate prior knowledge and review what they have learned.  Your teaching strategy should take into account the individual learning style of the children.  Your role in the class should not that be of a disseminator of information but that of a facilitator, who poses questions, responds to queries, models behavior, records children’s behavior and plans accordingly.

7.     Expose children to literacy rich environment.  This will help them to assimilate knowledge and concepts.

Social/Emotional Development

       Children at this stage are going through numerous transformations and processes to gain an understanding of themselves and the world around them.  They are going to be moving away from the secure environment of the home to new relationships with their peers and the society.  Hence it becomes very important for teachers and parents to prepare the children for the successful transition into their new roles.  Some of the social/emotional characteristics of preschool children are listed below: 

Identification:  Children at this stage tend to want to imitate the adults around them, learn what is expected of them.  Children also begin to become aware of issues related to gender identity.  Children between the ages of 2-5 years are comfortable interchanging their gender roles.  However it is only after that they realize that the societal expectations for both the genders is different and they are eager to comply with it.  Children also become aware of their cultural diversity as a result of their interaction with their family and the society.  They are only cognitively aware of their cultural identity and they quite do not understand what it entails at this stage.

Initiative:  Children during the preschool years are in what Erickson calls as the “Initiative versus guilt” stage.  Children want to do things for themselves, they want to exert their individualism, they feel like they have to take care of themselves; they feel like doing the above things because they want to be like miniature adults.  If they do not do the above things they feel guilty about not adequately fulfilling their role as a child. 

Prosocial Behavior:  Preschoolers at this stage are eager to learn the rules of the society.  The appropriate behavior, control of aggression and achieving self-control can be achieved by positive disciplining.  This can also be achieved by positive interaction and modeling.

What can the Teachers do?

     Teachers need to create an individual that promotes the children to value themselves as a worthy individual with their own gender and ethnic identity.  The teachers should also create a classroom that allows children to grow and develop at their own pace.  The social/emotional development of the preschoolers may be enhanced if the teachers use some of the techniques outlined below:

1.     Show children that you care about them and their wellbeing.  This can be achieved by showing sincere affection, and interest in what the children do and achieve. 

2.     Value and foster each child’s individuality.

3.     Show children that you value each of their’s background and family’s values.  Try to integrate it in your teaching and curriculum.

4.     Provide opportunities, materials, and experiences for children to express themselves.

5.     Be open and honest with children in their questions about gender.  Provide adequate opportunities for children to involve themselves in cross-gender play.

6.     Make sure the materials and your classroom environment is not gender or culturally biased.

7.     Provide space and opportunities for children to either work independently or work with peers (to foster friendship).  Sometimes it is also appropriate to pair the extrovertish child with one who is withdrawn or shy to help the latter come out.

8.     Encourage children to express their feelings and effectively communicate. Also enlighten them about how their harsh words or actions may adversely affect others.

9.  Some researchers and educators also advocate reinforcing prosocial behavior. 

10..When dealing with children who have difficulty           exhibiting self-control, you may want to offer them choices, and point out the consequences to their actions.

11.     Some educators also recommend having problem-solving or logical consequences discussions with the children to allow them to voice their opinions about what should happen if they do not comply with classroom rules.

12.     It is very important to foster children’s self-concept at this stage, so try to have a variety of tasks in your class that will ensure success for all the children, so they feel like they are capable of successfully completing tasks.

13.     When children work with one another promote turn taking.

14.     Watch children interact with one another and decide about when and when not to intervene.  Allow children to resolve their own conflicts. 

15.     Most importantly model the type of behavior you want the children to exhibit because the children are constantly watching and learning from you.

16.     Also actively and listen and observe the children, this will provide a wealth of information for you about where the children are in terms of their social emotional development.