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Assessing The Development Of Pre-schoolers
By Lilian G. Katz
It is only natural for parents to wonder occasionally if the development of their pre-schooler is going well. Questions such as, Is my child doing what he or she is supposed to at this age? and, Do all four-year-olds behave this way in the same situations? reflect a natural desire to be sure the child is progressing normally. Over the years, psychologists have developed many normative scales to indicate how an individual child compares with others of a given age in similar populations.
This digest focuses on the question of individual growth, namely, Is the individual child's development going so well that he or she can be described as thriving? As parents look at their own young children's behaviour and achievements on the categories outlined below, they can address the question, What aspects of my child's development need special encouragement, support, or intervention right now?
Categories of Behaviour to Assess
In the course of development, ups and downs are inevitable even for children whose physical and mental endowments are normal. Occasionally children require intervention to get them successfully through a "down" period. Parents can observe behaviours in the eleven categories listed below during periods when they suspect a bit of a downturn. Keep in mind that difficulties in any single category are no cause for alarm. Indeed, difficulties in several categories do not imply irreversible problems; rather, they help us notice those periods when the child's life situation, for many possible reasons, is a bit out of adjustment with his or her emerging needs.
For three-year-olds, a look at their behaviour on the following criteria for a period of about three weeks is desirable. For four-year-olds, four weeks should give a reliable picture of the quality of the child's life. At five years, add another week, and so forth. Be careful not to judge their permanent behaviour based on one day's observation! All of us--children and adults--have the occasional really bad day!
Suggestions for Intervention
The first three of these eleven criteria of sound development- -sleeping, eating, and toilet habits--are particularly sensitive indicators of the child's well-being because only the child has control of them. The other criteria are more culture-bound and situationally determined. When the pattern of a child's behaviour on about half of the criteria seems less than optimum over a period of about a month, some remedial action should be taken.
While each individual case will require its own special intervention, some general approaches are worth trying right away. For example, no matter what the underlying cause, almost all young children respond well to spending time alone with an adult who is important to them. The important adult may be a parent, relative, caregiver, or anyone else with whom the child has a significant relationship. The time can be spent walking around the block, helping to tidy up a closet, gardening, baking a cake, or doing anything else the child really enjoys. The activity should be simple; it need not be an exotic trip to a faraway place. The main point is having someone special all to oneself. A few minutes a day for a few weeks will invariably help alleviate whatever stresses the child has encountered. Once the level of stress is reduced and the child is more relaxed, he or she may then become more responsive to a parent's guidance and suggestions about how to cope with the problem at hand.
In some cases a child's development can get back on track when his or her daily routines are simplified. Many pre-schoolers have a hard time coping with frequent, rapid, changes in environments within a day or week in which they are expected to be responsive and co-operative, to exercise self-control, and to be self-sufficient. For such children, reducing the number and rate of changes can go a long way to helping them "get back on the right foot."
For More Information
Bruce, T. (1993). For Parents Particularly: The Role of Play in Children's Lives. Childhood Education 69(4, Summer): 237- 238.
Gilkerson, D. (1992). Helping Children Develop Socially and Emotionally. Brookings, S.D.: Co-operative Extension Service, South Dakota State University.
Katz, L.G., y D. McClellan. (1990). The Teacher's Role in the Social Development of Young Children. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.
McKenzie, T.L., J.F. Sallis, P.R. Nader, T.L. Patterson, J.P. Elder, C.C. Berry, J.W. Rupp, C. J. Atkins, M.J. Buono, y J.A. Nelson. (1991). BEACHES: An Observational System for Assessing Children's Eating and Physical Activity Behaviours and Associated Events. Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis 24(1, Spring): 141-151.
Saunders, S.A., y V. Green. (1993). Evaluating the Social Competence of Young Children: A Review of the Literature. Early Child Development and Care 87:39-46..
All ERIC/EECE Digests are available free in original printed form directly from the clearinghouse. For additional information on this topic, please contact ERIC/EECE directly at or . NPIN Home Page.
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