Unique Thinking Skills in Preschool-age Children

Child Care September 14, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

As most child care providers know, young children aren’t just "miniature adults." Preschool-age children actually think about the world from a very different viewpoint. Knowing how preschoolers approach the world can help child care providers do a better job of building relationships with them, planning activities that support and challenge their development, and communicating with their families about development during the preschool years.

Preschoolers are Egocentric

Most 3- to 5-year-olds see the world only from their own point of view, a quality called egocentrism. Have you ever listened to an argument between two preschoolers? You might notice that neither child really understands the other one's side of the argument. If asked what someone else is feeling, most preschoolers will describe what they themselves feel. Preschoolers who think and talk egocentrically are not intentionally being selfish. They truly believe that everyone shares their point of view.

Preschoolers Think Objects Are Alive

Preschoolers also tend to give lifelike qualities, such as feelings and thoughts, to inanimate objects like teddy bears and leaves. This kind of thinking is known as animism. To preschool-age children, anything that moves is alive, like a piece of paper blown by the wind or a flowing stream. Sometimes children cry if a favorite stuffed animal is kicked or callously tossed out of the way, because they are afraid the animal's feelings will be hurt. This is a clear example of animism.

Boy wearing play helmet

Child Care Providers Can Challenge Preschool Thinking

Preschoolers' logic is faulty by adult standards, but remember that it is very reasonable in their minds. Instead of correcting or arguing with young children, find positive ways to challenge their thinking. Help preschoolers notice signs that another child is angry or upset, such as crying or yelling. Talk about the fact that everyone is different, and we all have different ideas and feelings. Encourage pretend play, to help children learn how to take on the ideas and behaviors of other people. By helping children recognize that others may have different ideas or perspectives, you will encourage them to develop compassion and empathy.

For More Information

To learn more about preschoolers' development, and to find activities and materials that support preschool development, take a look at the following eXtension Alliance for Better Child Care articles:

If you are looking for specific activities to use with preschoolers, check out the Hands-on Activities for Child Care and Story-Stretching Ideas for Child Care searchable databases.

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USDA / NIFA

This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.