Skip to main content

The Preschool Years: What We Should Be Teaching in Early Childhood

His scientific observation is real life learning.

His scientific observation is real life learning.

The Preschool Years Are The Beginning

Early childhood is the beginning. The preschool years are the most important learning years of a child's life. The brain is developing rapidly, the character is forming. Most preschool curriculums include math and science, early literacy, arts, and social skills. Whether a child learns to read, or learns to write and use a computer is not the most critical requirement of the preschool years. What is important is that the child is learning how to learn, how to observe, how to think and communicate, how to solve problems, how to listen, how to express, how to respect others and himself. With this kind of foundation, the young child is better able to learn how to navigate and function in the world. The possibilities are open and endless.

Here are the areas this article will cover as it relates to the preschool years:

  • Education theories
  • Teach a young child how to observe
  • Teach a young child how to think
  • Ask the child to think
  • Open-ended questions
  • Teach a young child how to solve problems
  • Famous quotes about education

Education Theories

There are so many different theories regarding early childhood education and what is most important for a young child to learn. There are as many different educational theories and schools as there are psychologists, who have studied the early learner to determine how they learn. Jean Piaget, Vygotsky, Erik Erikson, Maria Montessori, John Dewey, Frederick Froebel, Rudolf Steiner (Waldorf), and Loris Malaguzzi (Reggio Emilia approach) have studied and established different modes of learning for the young child. It's of utmost importance to understand how a child learns in order to provide them with the ideal learning environment, whether it be in a state-of-the-art classroom, or in a small village surrounded by mountains. What matters most is that the child is learning how to observe his world, how to think, how to solve problems, how to navigate and function in his environment.

Teach A Young Child How To Observe

Humans are born with reflexes and senses in order to learn and relate. A young child will begin learning with his senses; seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching. Sensory learning is integral in order to properly develop the brain, and to connect body-mind awareness. The more interactions a young child is able to experience using all of his senses, the greater the imprint will be with his cognitive development.

Gone should be the days of giving a child a print-out of an apple to color green, red or yellow for a lesson plan. A child will best learn about an apple by touching it and describing how it feels and smells and tastes. The parent or teacher can cut the apple in half to show the inside and describe how the seed grew, by reading a picture book, or drawing the process on a chalk board. Children can count the seeds for a math activity. Ask the children the different ways an apple can be used as food, and write their answers on a chalk board or easel.


Observation includes exposure to different stimuli and materials. Some of the best learning experiences are through hands on stimulation, touching different textures and surfaces, petting an animal at the petting zoo, digging in the dirt to plant the seed, and having the child describe the experience. How many blocks will be used to make the airport? What kind of sounds will we hear at the airport? It doesn't mean you have to physically be at the airport, but allow the child to make observations in daily activities, and stimulate the learning experience by asking open ended questions.

"Learning is constant, it's always happening."

So we have to realize that how we learn how to do things is different than the way our kids are learning how to do things. They don’t see the need to wait for someone to teach them something. When they’re curious about something, they learn.

— Jamie Casup - Google Global Education Evangelist

She is actively absorbed figuring out how and where to place the piece.

She is actively absorbed figuring out how and where to place the piece.

Teach A Young Child How To Think

The child first learns how to observe, as we read above. As the child develops and begins to communicate, the cognitive skills emerge. They are reinforced with repetition as the child recalls how to do something. Perhaps you have noticed that a child will go back to the same puzzle or the same activity often. It's perfectly normal, and helps the child associate specific actions leading to specific results. Once the child feels successful with an activity, ask questions which directly relate to the activity. Which piece did you use first? Why? Allow the child to process the experience by describing his thought process. The more a child is asked to describe and communicate the whys, hows, wheres, what ifs, whens, what kinds, etc., the more the brain is being activated and sequential memory will be strengthened.

While teaching in the early childhood classroom, I have open-ended questions posted throughout the room on the walls to help open dialog, and to stimulate learning using communication skills. By the second half of the year, some children can pick out words, so it also has a benefit for beginning reading. You can use poster board strips, and change them periodically throughout the year. There are two questions on each strip. These can easily be used at home also.

Ask The Child To Think

  • What else could you do with...?
  • What do you think would happen if...?
  • Where could we do that?
  • How can we make that work?
  • What/who should we put here?
  • I wonder what they will do?
  • Is there another way?
  • Why does it do that?
  • What would you like?
  • Can you think of another way?
  • Why did they...?

Open-Ended Questions

  • Can you tell me about..?
  • Where else can you...?
  • Could you use anything else to...?
  • What will happen if...?
  • How do you do that?
  • What will happen next?
  • I wonder what that could be?
  • Why did they...?
  • Tell me about...
  • Tell me what happened.
  • What do you think?
  • What should I do?
Our children are growing up in a global society.

Our children are growing up in a global society.

Teach A Young Child How To Solve Problems

Preschool children are very curious, and they should be. We want them to ask questions. But there is a natural tendency to give too many answers, instead of requiring the child to think or to take action on his own. Very often a question can be turned around, as we see above with the sample of open-ended questions. Our children/students need to have opportunities to think through a situation or a conflict. Too often, a teacher will tell a child what to say, do or think, rather than ask "what else could you do ...? Is there another way this could work? Tell me what happened. What do you think you could have done? What comes first? Next? Why won't that work? What will you do next time? What could you do to make him feel better?"

Critical thinking skills help children learn that problems have solutions. The more we can help them understand how to ask the right questions of themselves, the more clearly they can understand cause and effect. Their brains are like porous sponges at this age, and it's amazing how much they really can comprehend. If a young child can learn how to solve problems, (why won't that piece fit, what happens if I hold the pencil this way instead of that way, etc.), his social and cognitive skills can be greatly enhanced. These are skills that are required in the workplace, in the laboratories, the CEO office, the great schools of higher learning, inside a rocket capsule, in every relationship a human encounters.

Famous Quotes About Education

The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done. Jean Piaget

We especially need imagination in science. It is not all mathematics, nor all logic, but it is somewhat beauty and poetry. Maria Montessori

Voluntary activity, more than highly developed intellect, distinguishes humans from the animals which stand closest to them. L.S. Vygotsky

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 rebekahELLE

Thank You For Reading And Please Feel Free To Leave A Comment

Mona on May 10, 2018:

Thank you

It' Was very informative for me

Agila on February 10, 2018:

Thank you for the useful information.

rebekahELLE (author) from Tampa Bay on October 07, 2014:

Hi Nell, thanks! Oh, that's sad about what the teacher is doing (or should I say, not doing). Unfortunately there are those teachers who don't understand the importance of the early learning years. It's remarkable what young children are capable of learning, and they want to learn! Thanks for letting her know about this hub. She can certainly use these techniques at home with her little girl.

Nell Rose from England on October 06, 2014:

This was fascinating reading, my friend has a little girl who has recently started school and she was complaining that instead of reading to the children they were using a tape recorder to read the book out loud while the teacher sat there yawning! What? also as you said about the apple, they do the opposite, just show pictures, then do writing etc, your ideas are amazing, and I will show her this hub!

rebekahELLE (author) from Tampa Bay on March 09, 2013:

Thanks Marie. I believe that Reggio approach does employ these type of open ended questions. I know also that the High-Scope curriculum uses these kind of questions. We use the Creative curriculum at our school but are able to incorporate whatever teaching methods work best for our children. Each group of children have different needs. I have seen that open ended questioning helps children to expand their thinking and reasoning skills. I will definitely check out your hubs. Thanks for reading and commenting. Also thanks for commenting on my question about quality preschools being a wise investment in the US.

Marie Alana from Ohio on March 04, 2013:

This is a great hub! It seems much like the Reggio Emilia school of thoughts. Great questions and questions to expand that in order to make them think. I love it! I hope you come to check out more on my hubs about the thinking processes.

Joy56 on August 28, 2012:

i enjoyed this hub............

Do you live in Tampa........ would you believe, my grandsons go to school in Tampa, one of them just started. It would be strange if you knew them. My son teaches also, not sure if he teaches in Tampa, but he sure does live there.

rebekahELLE (author) from Tampa Bay on July 29, 2012:

How wonderful for you and your granddaughters! Scribbling is indeed the beginning of writing and it's a huge step forward when the child wants to hold the pencil, and makes the connection. I love how you showed her and taught her with just enough instruction to encourage her to try it on her own! When a child feels forced to perform, it takes away their natural curiosity and initiative. Thanks so much for sharing your experience!

Kozmo on July 28, 2012:

I was reading all the information and realize how great it is to know there are so many great thinkers out there that are so ready to provide the best for children. I just had a wonderful experience with my two granddaughters that I would like to share just so we don't forget how important it is to listen to the child, rephrase, allow time for them to reflect and then encourage.

One girl is six, and she is keen to learn and always writing and drawing. She is very capable. The other sister just turned 4, and as I was encouraging her to draw or try printing something, she just stated--"I can't do that--I just scribble". She backed away and avoided the whole situation. As I thought about it, I went back and encouraged her to try holding a pencil and explained that I understood that she must feel discouraged because she can't perform like her older sister. I continued to explain to her that scribbling is the beginning of writing. She must not be discouraged. I continued to explain that letters are made of straight lines and curved lines. I printed her name a we picked just one letter to demonstrate. She watched and she listened. Before long, I observed that she too was holding a pencil and trying to make marks and lines on paper. She was excited and interested.

Upon reflection, I share this just to encourage others to be patient and kind with a child if they are hesitant and uncomfortable. Allow them whatever time it takes to gain the confidence and encourage them verbally. They do listen and bide their time until they are ready. When they are ready there is no stopping them. Just wait and provide lots of ideas that seem appropriate for them. Let the child guide you with timing.

FreezeFrame34 from Charleston SC on July 26, 2012:

Great reminders on what we should be teaching before it's too late!

Lack of critical thinking is definitively our nation's newest deficit!

Can I link this to my back to school hub?

kozmo on November 01, 2011:

I really enjoyed reading your perspective. I agree with everything you are saying. I am learning how to write hubs as well, and yours is a great example. I hope people really listen because these words are paramount for a child's development. For the love of children!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 31, 2011:

This makes perfect sense. I'll just bet that your young students love your manner of teaching! Rated useful and will tweet this.

rebekahELLE (author) from Tampa Bay on May 24, 2011:

Thanks jpcmc. You're so right. School shouldn't be the only place children are learning. Truly the world is their classroom!

Hi Winsome, Thanks for the link with your Play hub. I remember especially enjoying that hub, (but I enjoy all of your hubs!) I look forward to checking out the link. I've heard a lot of great comments about Waldorf schools. Thanks so much for reading. :)

Winsome from Southern California by way of Texas on May 23, 2011:

Hello Rebekah, I will have to link this to my "How to Play" hub as they truly compliment each other. We have a Waldorf school in town and you might enjoy the site of another school (one of my clients) that exudes hands on and interactive learning.

Another diamond of a hub RE, sorry I am late in telling you so, but I do have a note from my doctor--chronic "flibbertyjibbetism" I think he said. =:)

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on May 04, 2011:

This is one hub parents should read. Children only spend so much time at school. Fostering their development must include meaningful experiences at home as well. Great job!

rebekahELLE (author) from Tampa Bay on April 25, 2011:

Thanks for the wonderful comments aware, prasetio, winged and cvanthul! I'm always glad when I know the info has been helpful. If we look around at older children, we can see some of these qualities lacking. If started young, a child has a head start with critical thinking skills, learning how to think and ask questions.

cvanthul, that's so cool that you used Gary to spark a teachable moment! He'll probably always remember that walk and tell others about what he learned. :)

Cristina Vanthul from Florida on April 24, 2011:

Great information! It's too easy these days to plunk a child in front of a video game or TV and leave him/her with the digital babysitter. TV is ok if we as parents incorporate it into every day life. I remember one camping trip a couple of years ago. My son was 5 and we went to a campground by the Gulf. Walking the shoreline, we came across snails on reeds which led to an hour discussion and observation of snails. Because they were snails? Partly, but it was sparked because I told him they were like Gary, the pet snail in Spongebob. Teaching children and helping them learn requires creativity and innovation. It's a great way for parents to stretch their own minds.

William Thomas from That Great Primordial Smash UP of This and That Which Gave Rise To All Beings and All Things! on April 24, 2011:

The part I liked best was where you wrote: "What is important is that the child is learning how to learn, how to observe, how to think and communicate, how to solve problems, how to listen, how to express, how to respect others and himself. With this kind of foundation, the young child is better able to learn how to navigate and function in the world. The possiblities are open and endless."

Precisely! It all comes down to laying the proper foundation by making learning fun.

Great hub. Voted up for useful.

Take it easy.

prasetio30 from malang-indonesia on April 16, 2011:

I am sorry for late to give a comment. You have done a great job here. As a teacher I should give my support to this information. Excellent hub and very informative as well. Rated up!


Raymond Williams from Westpalmbeach on April 06, 2011:

great hub . good to see you mentioned social skills . its a subject that i feel in need of emphasis at all grade levels.


rebekahELLE (author) from Tampa Bay on March 29, 2011:

Cogerson, thanks for reading and sharing a comment. It sounds like you are busy raising and preparing your children well for their school career. I love the 2's, when they are so excited about communicating. It's a precious time for a family. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub!

@chaunatye, thank you! I'm hoping that the article can be helpful to anyone who is involved with teaching and parenting our young ones. Thanks for reading!

chaunatye on March 28, 2011:

Love this! I think that you've hit on several different subjects that are critical to a childs development.

UltimateMovieRankings from Virginia on March 24, 2011:

Excellent hub....our 5th child is about to start school next year so we have really been asking her lots of open ended questions.....while our 6th child is only 2, but is just really starting to communicate with is an awesome process...great hub.

rebekahELLE (author) from Tampa Bay on March 23, 2011:

Thanks always exploring and Pamela, Education is a hot topic now, and the thought of slashing early childhood programs and eliminating teachers is the worst possible solution I've ever heard, when our children so desperately need skilled teachers in the classroom. It starts with the youngest, and we must make sure our children our learning.

Thanks so much for reading and I appreciate your time in leaving such nice comments.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 23, 2011:

This is an extremely well-written with excellent ideas. You listed some good research and thought this through as everything you said makes perfect sense. Voted/rated awesome.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on March 22, 2011:

This is a great hub with useful tools for learning. I can see that you have put forth a great deal of research here. Thank you.

rebekahELLE (author) from Tampa Bay on March 22, 2011:

Thanks Darski, I appreciate your response. During nap time very peaceful music is on in the background to allow the children to relax from the busy day. Busy little minds need the quiet time in the middle of the day. :)

@Twilight, Thanks so much. Yes, it's the kind of hub that may not appeal to everyone! Actually this is a hub I didn't have to do research on because it's been so much a part of my adult career. I'm glad you read it anyway and took the time to leave a comment! :]

Twilight Lawns from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K. on March 22, 2011:

Beautifully written. You've researched this well. But it reminds me of sitting in Education lectures and being flooded with so many names and methods until my mind was spinning. It wasn't till I got to the classroom (Primary 8 - 11) that it all started to make sense.

Marked up and useful

Darlene Sabella from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ... on March 22, 2011:

Excellent hub, this is so well written and great advise, I sure with we could put prayer back in the classroom just before a nap. I rate this up up love & peace darski

rebekahELLE (author) from Tampa Bay on March 22, 2011:

Fiddleman, thanks for reading! I'm happy to hear this hub has provided some helpful insight. We can easily look around in society and see how schools are failing to teach our children how to think critically. Asking open ended questions also benefits by increasing and expanding a child's vocabulary. Enjoy your grandchild!

@archana, thanks for reading. Yes, have the students thinking and communicating their reasonings and solutions. I'm glad the article gave you some ideas!

@Stan, Thanks for reading! It's always nice to see your presence. These tips also help adults and older children.

We live in the age of communication and yet young adults do not know the basics of how to think and provide solutions. They want it done for them! It must start with the youngest learners.

Stan Fletcher from Nashville, TN on March 22, 2011:

What a great resource for parents of young kids. Mine are grown, but I see the wisdom in what you've said here. Great job....

archana jamdar on March 21, 2011:

Wonderful and meaningful ideas, speacially regarding open ended questions in the class room!

Fiddleman on March 21, 2011:

This is a tremendous hub. As a grandparent of a preschool child, your suggestions seem to be right on and will benefit all who will take the time to listen to the little ones, ask questions,and teach them to think.