Early childhood is an essential stage of a child’s development. Children aged 3 through 5 learn a wide range of physical, cognitive, social, and emotional skills. Play is an important process through which children learn and should be used in instruction.
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Children aged 3-5 experience rapid physical development. Younger children usually cannot move purposefully; at the age of 3-5, they learn to walk smoothly and hold their balance. They develop “the locomotor movement of running, jumping, and leaping, or the manipulative movements of throwing, catching, kicking, and trapping” (Spodek & Saracho, 2013, pp. 106-107). Instruction should help children develop these skills. Children also grow physically; large muscles (e.g., in arms and legs) develop before small ones (e.g., in fingers); the body develops from top to down.
As for cognitive development, 3-5-year-olds absorb vast amounts of information and attempt to make sense of the surrounding world. This accompanies the rapid development of the brain. At this age, children also quickly learn to use language. While at the age of two children are only able to produce short sentences (2-4 words) with the subject and predicate, these sentences become much more complicated by the age of 5. By this age, children will usually have learned approximately 10,000 words. Thus, one of the important focuses of teaching preschoolers is language instruction.
At the age of 3 through 5, children develop a concept of themselves; they learn to describe themselves using different characteristics, but do not yet form a complete self-portrait. Preschoolers develop new social skills; they play with peers and engage in stable friendships. They can describe the reasons why they like their friends (Spodek & Saracho, 2013, p. 24). This develops into even stronger relationships later (Lerner, Bornstein, & Leventhal, 2015, pp. 186-188). Teachers may find it useful to help children engage in social interactions.
As for emotional development, babies can experience only the simplest emotions such as anger, fear, etc., whereas with time their spectrum of emotions increases rapidly. 2-year-olds can feel sympathy towards others, can love and be responsive, etc.; 3-year-olds can show affection for their siblings and attachment to their friends (Neaum, 2010). Children aged 4 to 5 start reflecting on emotions and paying attention to controlling them to comply with various social expectations. It is useful to help children learn to control their emotions; the developing emotional needs need to be taken into account in instruction.
Play is crucial to a child’s development. When children participate in active physical games, it provides them with data and examples on which to build their new motor skills. Pretend play helps build cognitive and social skills, and might “constitute a bridge between the social world and the more individualistic experience of cognitive skills” (Spodek & Saracho, 2013, p. 10). The stage of a child’s development affects the complexity of games they can play, whereas the play allows a child to master various skills and behaviors which are required for transition to the next stage of development. Because engaging in play is one of the main ways a child learns about the surrounding world, games are often used as a means of instruction for young children.
Children can have different learning styles, the main ones being auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic; instruction should be adjusted to the learning style, allowing the child to express themselves verbally, pictorially, or through physical objects, respectively. Cultural heritage should also be taken into account; for instance, family life may differ from culture to culture, which means that social games emulating family life ought to be adjusted accordingly. Also, by the age of approximately 2, children become aware of their gender identity; it is important to take that into account while instructing them as well, but it is also essential not to impose hard gender stereotypes on them.
To sum up, 3-5-year-olds develop a wide range of various skills. Preschoolers use play to simulate numerous experiences, which helps them to learn about the world. Instruction of such children should take into account their needs and can use play as a powerful teaching instrument.
Lerner, R. M., Bornstein, M. H., & Leventhal, T. (Eds.). (2015). Handbook of child psychology and developmental science. Volume 4: Ecological settings and processes. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
Neaum, S. (2010). Child development for early childhood studies [Google Books version]. Web.
Spodek, B., & Saracho, O. N. (Eds.). (2013). Handbook of research on the education of young children (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.