Preschoolers: Characteristics, Development & School Readiness

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  • 0:02 Preschool
  • 1:02 Physical Development
  • 2:09 Cognitive Development
  • 3:23 Social & Emotional Development
  • 4:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How are preschoolers different from other types of students? In this lesson, we'll look at preschoolers and what they're like, and see how their special characteristics can guide the classroom and curriculum decisions made by educators.


Gemma is a preschool teacher. She loves her job and is excited to set up her classroom and plan her curriculum. But, she wants to make sure that she's supporting her students in the best way possible. How can she make sure that she makes her classroom and curriculum reflect what toddlers are like?

Preschool is a type of school focused on students who are ages three to five years old. It is the first time that many children attend school, and both the age of the children and their unfamiliarity with school can pose challenges for teachers like Gemma.

The primary goal of preschool is school readiness, or the cognitive and social preparation of children to be in a school classroom with other students. That means that Gemma is tasked with making sure that her students are ready to take on the learning and social challenges that come with entering school. To help her out, let's look at the physical, cognitive, and social development of preschoolers and how those things can impact the preschool environment.

Physical Development

Gemma teaches young preschoolers. That is, most of her students are about three years old. Her students are physically very different from the five-year-olds down the hall. Still, all preschool students have some things in common.

Preschoolers have usually developed the ability to walk, but sometimes they struggle with movement, balance, or coordination. Because of this, Gemma should make sure that her classroom is a safe space with few sharp corners, enough space between piece of furniture to easily maneuver around, and floors that are covered in carpet or other soft materials.

In addition, preschoolers like bright colors and visually interesting things. Gemma might want to hang bright pictures on the walls or include colorful bins and baskets to store things. And speaking of storing things, preschool classes often have many toys and materials that should be easily accessible to students. This means that Gemma will want to have lots of shelves in her classroom. But not just any shelves will do: she should remember that the average three-year-old is short, so she'll want long, low shelving units in her classroom instead of tall ones. That way, the students can access whatever is on the top shelves with ease.

Cognitive Development

To Gemma, the physical aspect of her classroom is pretty easy and straightforward. But what about the way her students think? They understand and think differently from adults. How can she help design her classroom and curriculum to take advantage of the unique cognitive abilities of preschoolers?

The first thing that Gemma needs to understand is the fact that preschoolers are curious, and they learn through exploration and experimentation with the world around them. She'll want to set up her classroom with lots of different areas where they can play and explore. Her curriculum, too, should include many chances for the students to examine the world around them through experimentation.

The different areas, or stations, in her classroom should also support the cognitive development of her students. Music and art, for example, can help student development. So can playing with blocks and other building materials. Finally, playing dress-up or pretending to be an adult offers very real benefits to the cognitive development of children. Gemma can set up the different areas of her classroom to allow students to explore all of these things.

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