During a child’s first 5 years, development happens at a pace that exceeds any other phase of life. The brain undergoes its most dramatic growth so that children eventually become curious and creative thinkers for life. There is no strict timetable and there is a wide range for what’s considered normal. Our job is to relate to a child where she is developmentally.
I was reminded of this when my son was a young preschooler (I had been working in the preschool world for years—I should have known!). The family room had been transformed into a train depot—little wooden train cars, tracks, and figures spread about the room. I peeked in from the kitchen and told him, “Buddy, you need to get those toys out of the middle of the room. Someone is going to trip and fall.” After waiting a reasonable amount of time, I checked on the clean-up progress to find him sitting in the midst of the pieces, just looking around. When I asked why everything was still in the same place, he patiently replied, “Mama, where’s the middle?” Wow, lesson learned by Mom that day!
The “middle” is an abstract concept and I was dealing with a very concrete thinker. Cognitive milestones will impact the types of activities we plan, how we communicate with each child, even how long (or short) an amount of time a preschooler can pay attention to the most dramatic and engaging story we can possibly tell.
Let’s look at one area of cognitive development and how it develops from birth to 5-years-old –Memory:
First Year Milestones: Makes simple associations (If he cries, he gets picked-up), remembers sequences (Jack-in-the-Box toy), notices when someone leaves room.
Second Year Milestones: Names pictures of familiar objects, plays imaginatively (pretends).
Third Year Milestones: Asks “why” questions, names some colors, completes a 3 to 4-piece puzzle he saw put-together.
Fourth Year Milestones: Follows 3-part commands, recalls stories, knows seasons and related activities.
Fifth Year Milestones: Beginning to understand time and remember scheduled activities (What happens next?), memorizes things but does not yet have strategies, uses imagination and remembered experiences to create own stories.
As small group leaders, we are responsible for making our environments relevant to the cognitive abilities of our preschoolers. If they are engaged and successful, they will want more of what you offer.
How are you making that time with them relevant?