Child Development & Early Academic Foundations

By Teacher Jean

As you watch your child acclimate to LAPP, especially in the 2s/3s class, you may see some interesting behaviors. Remember that children have several major areas of development going on at this time in their lives, and all areas do not necessarily coordinate with each other. Your children’s brains and bodies are working on cognitive, speech and language, large and fine motor, and social/emotional skills. Learning in all of these areas at once is overwhelming, and that is why the toddler/preschooler brain brilliantly shifts gears to bring each area to the forefront for bursts of intense practice and development. This would explain why one moment your child is intently explaining an intricate subject, and the next thing you know, he or she has fallen off the chair; or he or she is able to climb to the top of a playground structure with grace and ease yet not make it to the potty on time! Maybe your child can recognize all of the letters of the alphabet and has memorized all the words to their favorite songs, yet still cannot seem to use an eating utensil and does not show any interest in drawing or painting. 

The philosophy of LAPP takes this into consideration. We attempt to create an environment where your child can focus on the developmental area that is blossoming at any given time. Children are not in control of which area needs the most attention at any given time. Your child may have one favorite thing he or she loves to do over and over and suddenly, may switch to something new to accommodate this inner drive toward mastering the world! We address this at LAPP by allowing the children choice in their activities. Keep in mind that development usually follows a sequence of large to small; painting broad strokes with a brush on the easel paper precedes the proper grasp of a crayon or pencil and coloring “in the lines” or writing letters. Development also proceeds from the center of the body to the periphery. Remember those first developmental milestones? First your child lifted his or her head, and then rolled over before they crawled or walked.

And so it progresses from concrete thinking to the abstract as in the wonderful  development of pretend play. As parents and educators, we want to guide preschoolers through this internally driven process and allow children to engage in activities that have meaning for them at their moment in development.

Let’s take this developmental approach to early learning one step further and look at how early academic foundations are integrated into the play based environment found at LAPP. It would make for a very long article to discuss all academic areas, even though they are all interwoven, so I’ll focus on early math right now. As you are reading, you will be able to see how early literacy, math, science, and other areas almost cannot be separated in an early childhood program! I came upon the article “New Calculation: Math in Preschool”, from the November 29, 2011 edition of the Wall Street Journal, which described how Chicago area teachers are integrating math concepts into the preschool curriculum. Their approach focuses on how to teach mathematical thinking, rather than basic math procedures. Instead of learning, for example, to recognize the numeral 4 and that it comes between 3 and 5, the teacher wanted the students to understand that “4” represents a quantity and has meaning. An example given in the article describes how a 4-year-old arranged four Popsicle sticks into a zigzag pattern under the number "4." After she put the four Popsicle sticks into a Z pattern, the teacher prompted her to rearrange them into another shape, proving that no matter how the sticks were arranged, they still represent the quantity "4." Early math thinking also shows up when children mimic a teacher's syncopated clapping pattern, or when students join a growing line of characters when acting out "The Gingerbread Man" story to chase the child playing the gingerbread man. The children don't realize it, but through activities such as these they are learning fundamental math concepts such as connecting numerals to quantity, building patterns, and the idea that adding something, or someone, creates a larger number. This article describes how teachers approach early math concepts using concrete objects and thinking, literature, and encouraging physical involvement with math concepts by making objects available for counting, sorting, and other hands on experiences for the children. The approach fits well into a developmental, play based preschool environment. It also reinforces the fact that early childhood educators are trained to integrate early academic concepts into the children’s experience as they “play” their way through preschool. This is learning in the 3-dimensional world of the preschooler, and gives a strong foundation as children develop into the 2-dimensional world of academic reading, writing, science and learning math with books and using paper and pencil.

It is easy for parents to encourage early math, and other areas of conceptual teaching at home with objects and toys found around the house. Learning is so fun; after all, it’s best when it feels like play!

And even more importantly, understanding that the flow and process of early childhood development is not totally under anyone’s control can make it easier to cope with the intricacies and simplicity of guiding children on their journey through this incredibly accelerated time of learning.