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Answers About Preschooler Development

Frequently Asked Questions About Preschooler Development

As a child grows, many questions arise about their behavior and development. It is normal for parents to wonder if their child is healthy, but it's always reassuring to hear feedback from the experts. Below, we have answered four frequently asked questions from parents.

Q: My 3 1/2-year-old frequently refers to himself in the third person. Should I be concerned?

A: The English grammatical system is very complex. It appears that your preschooler is trying to figure out how to use various pronouns. At this age, children usually are learning how our grammatical structure works, so you will hear a variety of errors in their speech. For example, "I goed to the store" or "I saw ghostes on Halloween."

As parents, our role is to model the right grammatical structures for our children. For instance, if your child is using "you" for "I" in a sentence, then correct him by modeling, "I want some juice." By providing your child with gentle reminders and the correct language modeling, he will soon learn the appropriate grammatical structures in our very complicated English language.- Mindy Hudon, speech-language pathologist

Q: My 4-year-old has difficulty recognizing colors. Should I be concerned?

A: By 4 years old, she should be able to readily identify colors. When I see patients who are having similar difficulties, they usually end up having varying degrees of color-blindness. This is nothing to be ashamed of or to get upset about if that's the case. A test at the pediatrician's office or a visit to an ophthalmologist should identify the problem and help your daughter address it. - Dr. John Dorsey, pediatrician

Q: My son has just turned 4 and is unable to draw any recognizable figures and shows little interest in trying. What are some fun activities we can do to spark his interest?

A: You are not at all wrong to be concerned, but do not overreact and panic! Most children who turn 4 are starting to be able to draw a circle and will start over the year to draw figures. However, drawing is not the only fine motor skill developing at this time. Take a look at other dimensions of fine motor development and see how he is doing there. Most 4-year-olds can cut paper, build a three block bridge, build an eight-block tower, dress/undress a doll, pour from a pitcher, button buttons with large holes. If these are skills that your son is also not able to do, you may want to try fun activities that encourage small muscle development and eye-hand coordination.

Manipulating Play Doh is an excellent activity, as is finger-painting. Making letters or figures with your fingers is an easy and fun way to start. Also, activities with small balls (Nerf, Koosh balls) that involve use of fingers to throw and catch as well as eye-hand coordination are very helpful. Control of the small muscles can also be gained using jigsaw puzzles, construction toys and snap beads. Some tools for writing are easier to use than others. Markers and felt-tipped pens are easiest for the child to use because they require very little pressure to achieve the desired results. Chalk is the next easiest, then crayons, and last pencils.

Activities that are fun and beneficial for young children are cutting out magazine pictures and gluing them in a book, making cards or letters for Dad or grandparents, making presents for friends that involve cutting, coloring and gluing.

If your child is indeed behind, it is not by much, and his preschool should give him ample opportunities to catch up. Try to make sure that all activities are fun and geared to his interests! - John and Harriet Worobey, developmental psychologist and early childhood educator

Q: How can I encourage social play for my 3-year-old at home so he plays more with other children at preschool and with the neighborhood children?

A: It is terrific that you are concerned with your child's social development. Probably the best thing you can do is to have one child at a time from either preschool or the neighborhood over to your house for a play date. Try to pick a time when your child will not be too tired or cranky. Also, don't make the play date so long in time that the children get too wound up or out of control.

What I used to do with my daughter to avoid sharing problems was to have her select one or two of her favorite toys to put away in the closet so that no one else could play with it and let her know that everything else needed to be shared with the guest. You might want to plan a special art or cooking project to make the playdate more special.

Do be aware that most 3-year-olds are still at a developmental stage in which most of their play is termed "parallel play." What that means is that they want to play next to their friends, with similar toys and definite boundaries of which toys belong to which child.

Most children develop true cooperative play ("You be the Mommy, I'll be the Daddy," "Let's build a rocket ship," "Let's do that floor puzzle together") around the age of 4 to 4 1/2. This will happen naturally but even more smoothly because of your concern and efforts.- John and Harriet Worobey, developmental psychologist and early childhood educator

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