In preschool, children first learn “how to learn.” They begin to form their attitudes toward school and to see themselves as learners. Strong preschool experiences will help a child think, “I am a good learner. I can find problems to solve. I can master a difficult task.” These experiences show preschool children the power that learning holds.
Learning through Play
If you want to know how your preschooler learns at school, just think about the way she learns at home. When your child helps you measure ingredients for her favorite cookie recipe, she’s getting a math lesson. When he makes sand castles at the beach and then watches the wave wash them away, he’s learning earth science — although he’s probably not ready to understand the term “erosion.”
In school, preschoolers learn through play in the same ways, with the guidance of their teachers. They experiment with the properties of matter at the sand and water tables. They learn phonics when they sing songs together. They master important physics concepts like balance and stability as they build blocks at the block center.
One Skill at a Time
Most preschoolers are not developmentally ready to keep more than one concept in their heads at a time. Take counting, for example. At first, numbers that a child counts in a sing-song manner are just a sequence of words. Then all of a sudden the words become useful as the child learns to match them to an amount by counting fingers. The numbers have now been matched to a meaning.
Forming Pictures in their Heads
“Preschoolers also learn about their world by forming visual pictures — or little movies in their heads,” notes Diane Levin, Ph.D. “Each thought they’re thinking is like a frame of the movie. They construct these visual movies in their minds as they play. One movie could be about how to make the blocks fit together, another about how to make the blocks into something else. More movies might be about how to work with other kids to create what they want to do and how to solve the problems that can arise. These mental movies help them get familiar with a process and figure out a situation.”
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