By David Pino
How to Teach Things to Preschool Children
As adults, we often think of play in terms of fun and relaxation, or we trivialize it as a waste of time because it doesn't seem to accomplish anything. However, play is a primary way for young children to learn. Through play, young children learn about social relationships, social skills, self-control, the physical environment, thinking, and language. Allowing preschooler’s time to play, guiding some play activities, and providing them with different objects, people, and situations to interact with promotes learning and future school success.
Play helps young children test out their ideas about the world, build the skills necessary for critical thinking, learn to solve problems, and it helps them feel good about their ability to learn. Self-directed, pretend play helps develop abstract thinking and to view situations from another person's perspective. These are all skills necessary for school and life success.
This translates to: Young children learn by observation and doing. Therefore, if you want to teach something to a preschooler, give her the opportunity to observe, experiment, and replicate.
Young children are motivated by their own interests. You can use these interests to direct their learning by choosing appropriate activities for them.
Learning about social skills is often underrated. However, without appropriate social skills elementary aged children have a difficult time adjusting to classroom routines, following directions, and interacting with peers in school. Teaching social skills begins at home. Children observe parents, siblings, and other people who come into contact with them. They imitate these observed behaviors, and the behaviors are often transferred to their pretend play. When children take turns playing with toys, negotiate the rules to games, or try to enforce the rules, they are learning about social skills.
When young children say that their friend or toy feels a certain way they are developing perspective taking by seeing events from another person's point of view. This is important as it helps develop empathy and understanding.
Other social skills that are often observed during young children's play activities include saying "please" and "thank you," asking for help, listening appropriately, offering assistance, and sharing. These skills can be taught through everyday activities and reinforced when they are observed. Often, these concepts are introduced or observed in children's literature. Pointing them out when reading to children further reinforces their development.
During play, preschool aged children use their language to tell stories and understand the stories that other children tell. This is important for the development of reading and writing skills in elementary school. Language skills can be taught by offering children opportunities to tell stories about their experiences and play activities, to take part in make believe play, and to listen to stories. An excellent place to teach social skills and practice language skills is around the dinner table. Dinner is typically a social event and it provides a very good arena to practice and teach skills to young children.
Playtime with peers is not going to be without conflict. Young children learn problem solving and conflict resolution during these situations which helps with the development of thinking skills. Pretend play allows for children to develop abstract thinking skills. When they use different objects to represent another item, such as a pot for a drum, then they are learning that one object can represent something else. This is the beginnings of abstract thinking. It will serve them well later on when they are taught that letters represent sounds and numbers represent quantity.
I didn't touch upon physical or sensory learning but they are also important types of activities for teaching children. What is important it that young children are offered as many age appropriate real life experiences as possible in order to learn new skills. Young children need to try things, to observe, and practice, and experiment with other children and their environment. In order to teach them things, you need to let them play.
David Pino school psychologist has worked in education for the last 20 years. He has significant experience and expertise with learning disabilities, psychological evaluations, behavior, and special education.
He is currently serving as an educational advocate to assist families with the special education process.
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