Supporting Adaptive Skills in Preschool

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  • 0:03 Adaptive Skills
  • 1:04 Cognitive Skills
  • 2:14 Motor Skills
  • 3:23 Communication Skills
  • 4:23 Self-Help Skills
  • 5:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Abigail Cook
Preschoolers are at the age where they want to be independent. Teachers can foster independence in the classroom by supporting adaptive skills in the classroom.

Adaptive Skills

As Mrs. Jackson looks around her preschool classroom, she sees her students engaging in a lot of different activities. Ally is dressing her doll and brushing its hair. Preston is rolling a ball back and forth with Carter. Ilene is coloring with crayons and markers, while Ben is telling Andrew about his dinosaur collection. All these different activities demonstrate preschoolers using their adaptive skills to function like typical three- and four-year-olds.

Adaptive skills are the cognitive, motor, communication, social, and self-help skills that allow children to be as independent and responsible as is appropriate for their age. Some children develop these skills naturally over time, by watching their parents or siblings. Other children may need more direct instruction and practice to develop these milestones.

Let's identify appropriate adaptive skills for preschool-aged children and explore some activities you may implement in your classroom to help children develop these skills.

Cognitive Skills

Cognitive skills include all the main skills your brain needs to think, reason, learn, read, remember, and pay attention. Preschoolers are typically working on things like learning the alphabet, learning how to count to 10, recalling events from a story, and remembering something that happened in the past.

Alphabet Game

Choose three letters your students have been working on in class. Write each letter on a flashcard and tape them to three individual boxes. Collect several different objects that begin with each letter and put them in a bag. Have students take turns pulling something out of the bag, and placing it in the box that matches the object's beginning sound. For example, a toy boat would go in the 'b' box.

Sink or Float?

Understanding different vocabulary words and basic science concepts are usually part of a preschool curriculum. Teach your class the meaning of the words 'sink' and 'float' by doing this activity.

Fill a bin with water. Tell your students to gather a few objects from around the room. (Make sure the objects they choose can get wet.) Have students take turns guessing whether their object will sink or float, then have them test it in the water.

Motor Skills

Motor skills are actions that require us to use our muscles. Things like writing, coloring, jumping, running, bending down, and holding a pencil are all examples of motor skills. Here are some examples of preschool-age motor skills.

  • Building a block tower
  • Cutting paper
  • Gluing two things together
  • Writing and drawing
  • Zipping up a jacket


Schedule 10 minutes of your day to work on puzzles with your students. Give each student their own puzzle or have them share. Puzzles with more than five chunky wooden pieces are appropriate for most preschoolers. The practice of picking up a puzzle piece and using hand-eye coordination to place it in the correct spot will help your students with their fine motor skills.

Obstacle Course

Create an obstacle course on the playground for your students to complete. Model how you want them to do the obstacle course, and have them take turns trying it out. You may have them climb the stairs, jump across the bridge, go down the slide, run to the swings, crawl under a swing, walk to the climbing tower, climb the ladder, jump off, and hop to the drinking fountain.

Communication Skills

It is typical for children to want to talk at the same time. Some of the communication milestones for a three- or four-year-old include:

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