Supporting Literacy Development of 3-5 Year Olds: Developmentally, Who Are Preschool Children?


Adults who work with young children need to look at the development of the whole child—physical, emotional, cognitive, and social. Training volunteers to better understand these different aspects of development can increase the overall success of their work with children. This is a great introductory activity for volunteers preparing to work in a preschool setting.


To become familiar with the characteristics of the physical, emotional, cognitive, and social development of young children


Divide participants into four small groups and assign each group to one of the categories of development: physical, emotional, cognitive, and social. In their groups, participants should brainstorm concrete examples of what the development of young children looks like for their category. Ask each group to share its responses and then reflect with the entire group on each list, forming general descriptions of each developmental category. If necessary, the information below can serve as a guide.

Physical Development: Preschool children are developing strong gross and small motor skills, and are in constant motion. They love running, jumping, climbing, and throwing a ball, as well as using their small muscles to fasten buttons, pull up zippers, use scissors, and put puzzles together.

Emotional Development: Preschool children begin to gain a sense of self and an understanding that they are part of a community made up of family, friends, and school. They are aware of how people feel about them and want to please the adults in their lives. Preschool children have strong emotions that can range from fear to exuberance. For example, they may feel exuberant one minute when they reach the top of a climbing structure, but panic the next moment when they are not sure they are able to climb back down.

Cognitive Development: Preschool children are intensely curious about their world. Language development blossoms dramatically and children are intrigued by words, rhymes, and silly songs. They are active learners who learn best from first-hand experiences. Play is children's work; observe and listen to their language and problem solving skills as they build with blocks, participate in dramatic play, and use are materials to re-define, refine, and confirm their hypotheses about the world. They are egocentric thinkers with vivid imaginations. Children this age often blur the line between fantasy and reality.

Social Development: Preschool children are working to develop the ability to share and take turns. They often demonstrate empathy toward their peers, asking, What's wrong? Their ideas about friendship reflect their egocentrism and their focus on the here and now: She's my friend because she gave me a cookie.

Key Questions and Points to Remember:

Participants should understand that the development of individual children is highly variable and that these characteristics do not occur at the same time for all children.

After this developmental information has been introduced, participants can discuss how it will impact the activities they conduct with the children in their program.

Bookmark and Share