Considerations for the Preschool Learner

Children have a natural proclivity to learn, experiment, and explore. Our preschool learners thrive in environments that nurture and extend the boundaries of learning in which children already actively engage. It is crucial that the environment supports the development of the whole child (Bransford, J.D., Brown, A.L., & Cocking, R.R., 1999).

An extensive body of research from the Committee on Early Childhood Pedagogy (National Academy Press, 2001) has shown that:

  • Teaching and learning will be most effective if they engage and build on a child’s existing knowledge.
  • Key concepts involved in each content domain (e.g., representational systems in early literacy, the concepts of quantity in mathematics, causation in the physical world) must go hand-in-hand with information and skill acquisition (e.g., identifying numbers and letters and acquiring information about the natural world).
  • Metacognitive skill development allows children to learn and solve problems more effectively. Curricula that encourages children to reflect, predict, question, and hypothesize set them on course for effective, engaged learning.

Although preschool-aged children develop in a similar manner, this does not imply that they all do so at the same rate. Variations in cultural and social contexts influence development of their cognitive, social, physical and motor skills. Research has shown that children enter Kindergarten at varying degrees of knowledge and skills and this difference has implications for schools. Studies have shown that early preschool educational experiences have a positive effect on school learning and success (Siraj-Blatchford, I., 1998). Quality preschool programs provide rich-language experiences and facilitate social, emotional and physical development that enrich a preschool learners’ capabilities and prepares them for Kindergarten (Watkins, C. & Mortimer, P., 1999).

The Committee on Early Childhood Pedagogy (National Academy of Sciences) found that no single curriculum or pedagogical approach was better than another. Well-planned, quality early childhood programs in which curriculum aims are specified and integrated across domains tend to facilitate more learning and help preschool learners to be better prepared for the complex demands of formal schooling (Bowman, B., Donovan, S., & Burns, M.S., 2001). These findings include:

  • Children who have a broad base of experience in domain-specific knowledge move more rapidly in acquiring more complex skills.
  • More extensive language development – such as rich vocabulary and listening comprehension – is related to early literacy learning.
  • Children are better prepared for school when early learning programs expose them to a variety of classroom structures, thought processes, and discourse patterns.
  • Providing preschools with a mix of whole class, small group, and individual interactions with teachers and peers
  • Providing preschoolers with the discourse patterns associated with school, and mental strategies such as categorizing, memorizing, reasoning, and metacognition.

Preschoolers require responsive interpersonal relationships with teachers that nurture their dispositions to learn as their abilities emerge. Teachers need to be cognizant on how individual children approach learning and how best to support their interaction during this process.