“What are your objectives?”
I thought it was a simple question. I was speaking to a room full of early childhood teachers and I was asking for an example of an objective so that I could show how to use the Recognize-Emphasize-Maximize model for intentional, play-based teaching.
But rather than a quick, off the cuff answer, I got blank looks in a quiet room.
Flash forward to another presentation.
I had just finished talking to a group about the importance of Developmentally Appropriate Practice and why we can’t just push 6 year-old expectations down onto 4 year-olds without a negative impact. As I opened up for questions, I heard one that had become familiar. “So, what should my preschooler be able to do?”
Amid all the mixed-messages, noisy promotions, and push-down pressures, I’ve gotten the feeling many times over that parents and teachers of young children could use some clarity around what the developmentally appropriate objectives and expectations are for the preschool years.
One way to do this is to use a developmental guide for planning and observing. You can purchase in-depth developmental guides and programs from a variety of sources, OR if you’re a nerd like I am, you can curate a brief overview of development based on a variety of resources, position statements, program guides, and personal experiences.
I’ve put together a free developmental guide as part of my newsletter series, and would love for you to grab your own copy — as long as you’re aware of what it is and what it isn’t.
What This IS/ISN’T
What This ISN’T: A Test
This isn’t a list of tasks for you to call out to your preschoolers like trained bears.
What This IS: A Guide
This list can be used to inspire and guide activities and experiences that are geared toward your preschooler’s developmental level. It will help you to recognize how to challenge them appropriately, scaffolding them within their zone of proximal development.
As you cruise through the sometimes overwhelming offerings out in the Land of Pinterest, you can have a bit of clarity and focus as you are able to recognize what types of activities would best support and promote the skills you’ve been observing and building.
What This IS NOT: A Checklist
This isn’t a series of boxes to check off as you race through childhood.
What This IS: A Guide for Observing the Process
Development is a process. Sometimes that process is very gradual and sometimes it’s quite rapid, but it’s helpful to have some idea of how and where you’re headed. This awareness helps some parents and teachers to relax a bit as they are better able to recognize the different parts of the process as they unfold.
What This IS NOT: A Cause for Panic
Please do not see this as a list of unchecked boxes and panic. This list is not comprehensive. It also extends some of the skills out into the kindergarten range, simply to illustrate the continued process of building that skill. Do not panic if your young preschoolers have only a few of these skills under their belts.
What This IS: A Cause for Reassurance
I hear many parents worried about their young children being behind because they don’t do X, Y, or Z. Often, their children ARE working on the foundational skills preceding these larger tasks, but those skills are not always easily observable. This guide will help make those foundational skills more recognizable.
For example, parents concerned that their child isn’t “reading” can recognize that simply holding a book and retelling a story from its pages is a precursor to reading. (Please note: The developmental guide does list reading as a skill, but largely as a bookend to show that the skills preceding it do lead to fluent reading, NOT as an assertion that all preschoolers should be able to read. Always remember that the typical developmental window for reading is ages 4-7 and that the differentiation in timing and pacing is normal. It’s progress that you’re looking for, not speed.)
In a similar vein, I recently had a friend mention (with a little bit of discomfort) that her preschooler didn’t like to write. She said that all she got out of him was letter-like scrawls. A guide-list like this points out that putting those letter-like marks to page actually IS a beginning step toward writing. Recognizing this, a parent or teacher of a child like this could recognize this progress and offer playful opportunities that further build those fine motor skills which, along with other literacy-building experiences, will support the ongoing development of writing skills.
When parents and teachers are able to recognize and emphasize the foundational skills, rather than focus on upper level skills beyond the ZPD, real learning and growth takes place.
What This IS NOT: Diagnostic
This list is not meant to be used to diagnose developmental delays or clinical conditions. If you have concerns about your preschooler’s development or a gut feeling that something is off, contact your pediatrician and/or your school district’s early intervention or early education services.
What This IS: Broadly Focused on Whole Child Development
Within this developmental guide, you’ll find more than just a list of “academic skills”. This is focused on broad, whole child development. That means two things.
One, because the list is broad, it is therefore not exhaustive. There will be other developmental markers along the way that are not listed. (Go ahead and note them in the margins anyway!)
Two, it’s broken down into categories including Language & Literacy; Cognitive Reasoning, Math & Logic; Curiosity & Approaches to Learning; Social-Emotional; Self-Help/Adaptive; Physical/Motor; and Creativity. It also includes a category for “Spiritual Development”. While many child development experts agree there is a realm of development that falls into this category, unique from the other areas, there is still much discussion on how to actually define and observe this domain of human development.
While spiritual development can be connected to religious practice, as a developmental area it must also be able to stand independent of religiosity in order to represent universal human development. Essentially, the expression of spiritual development will look different for a child growing up in a Buddhist environment vs a child growing up in a Methodist environment vs a Jewish environment vs an Agnostic environment vs an interfaith environment and so on. At the same time, there must be connective developmental principles between each one.
With this in mind, my preferred definition for spiritual development is as follows:
Spiritual development is the process of growing the intrinsic human capacity for self-transcendence, in which the self is embedded in something greater than the self, including the sacred. It is the developmental “engine” that propels the search for connectedness, meaning, purpose and contribution. It is shaped both within and outside of religious traditions, beliefs and practices.” (Benson, P. L., Roehlkepartain, E. C., & Rude, S. P. (2003). Spiritual development in childhood and adolescence: Toward a field of inquiry. Applied Developmental Science, 7, 204–212.)
Depending on your context (home, preschool, faith-based preschool) you may want to adapt the spiritual development section of the developmental guide (along with other sections of the guide) to better fit your needs, by changing, omitting, or using more specific descriptors. As I mentioned before, this is not an exhaustive list, but a broad sampling. Use some of the extra space in each section to add your own notes.
(I’d also love to hear about your adaptations!)