What Does Learning Look Like In Preschool?

Learning in a preschool does not look like children sitting at a table for 30 minutes of workbook activities.  Learning does not look like rote memorization and repetition of facts, words and sounds.  Adults tend to look for evidence of learning that we can see.  We look for sheets with smiley faces, stars and 100% circled in red.  Learning in a preschool classroom looks like children making choices.  They may choose to write on paper.  They may also choose to play with blocks.  Some are wearing dramatic play clothes.  Others are finger painting.  In a preschool classroom, learning looks like play because children learn best when at play.  The lessons learned are not always evident to the naked eye – unless you really look closely.

Building blocks are a favorite in preschool classrooms.  Children gravitate toward them.  Preschoolers build the most amazing structures.  The feats of architecture are evidence of learning.  Children who build learn about spatial relationships, balance and weight.  They have made size comparisons and solved problems.   Building blocks are geometry in action.  Children working together have learned about cooperation and team achievement while melding their creativity. 

The dramatic play area is full of pre-literacy skills and confidence building activities.  Children may use dress up clothes, pretend to cook meals, care for dolls and more.  This area is full of opportunities for oral language development.  Children and teachers share new vocabulary words as they play in a magical pretend world.  Cooperation and communication is the key to pretending together.  Role playing is the beginning of understanding symbolism – one thing can stand for another.  Inanimate objects come alive.  Children can be someone other than themselves.  It is through being others that children begin to learn empathy.  A child pretending to be a parent is experimenting with how it feels to be that person.  For a few precious minutes, egocentric preschoolers can step outside themselves.

Manipulatives are generally defined as items that can be used on a table and require the use of fine motor skills.  A great deal of fine motor development occurs as children use puzzle pieces, small building items and lacing tools.  Children using manipulatives can often be seen classifying, sorting and patterning.  They collect and group items.  The children are building their pre-math skills and knowledge.   They also develop an understanding of one-to-one correspondence.  One-to-one correspondence is an essential pre-reading skill. 

For far too long, adults have embraced the idea that uniform art means the children are learning.  Learning through art does not look like sheep made of cotton balls or pre-cut shapes glued perfectly onto a piece of paper to make a car.  If all of the children leave school with identical projects, they were passive participants and learned little. Art is an activity that should emphasize creativity and decision making.  When children are given the freedom to make decisions with art materials, they learn valuable lessons about cause and effect.  They mix colors and see what happens.  They find out about how different combinations of materials produce an end product.  They learn that they can make choices without concern for being wrong.

Your children are learning everywhere in their preschool classroom.  It is perfectly acceptable for a child to choose to play with blocks every day and forego the art table or visa versa.  The child is trying to add to existing knowledge and master a skill.  It is also acceptable for children to have preferred activities – don’t you?  No matter what they prefer, they are learning. 

Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
All Rights Reserved
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  1. what a lovely post, I think you have nailed the idea that learning at preschool does not look like adults think it should.


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