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Preschoolers use their growing vocabularies and communication skills to express feelings, ideas and curiosity about the world around them.

Between the ages of two and three, many preschoolers begin to use more complicated sentences . But this doesn’t mean that they understand all of an adult’s words or abstract concepts. In fact, preschoolers are often very literal thinkers and interpret ideas concretely. Many are only beginning to think logically and understand sequences of events.

Preschoolers learn that they can use specific words to express ideas and feelings. They have long known their parents’ words have power over their lives. They are beginning to realise that their own words can make a difference as well. They create more powerful meanings using their growing vocabulary.

‘No’ and ‘why’ become common words for young preschoolers. Saying ‘no’ is a way preschoolers claim their space. Saying ‘why’ is a wish to understand the world around them. ‘Why’ is also a word preschoolers use to question authority. Underneath the question, they are saying, ‘Why do you have power over me when I want to feel autonomous?’

Preschoolers like to participate in decisions. This gives them a feeling of control and independence. A preschooler might think, ‘I can take a different position from my mother – and I like it’, or ‘By saying what I want, I am a big kid’.

Preschoolers love to imitate other people’ s words . They often mimic comments, phrases and sophisticated statements. At times they misuse or exaggerate phrases, particularly during pretend play. A preschooler might say to a doll, ‘You are so bad you are going to jail for 100 years!’

Preschoolers like to hear about and describe the same event over and over. By telling and listening to stories, preschoolers begin to form opinions about the world and how they fit into it. They say ‘Tell me again’, because hearing a story many times makes them feel safe and secure. When the story is repeated, it also allows them to imagine new scenarios.

Preschoolers like to make up their own explanations. This helps them make sense of things they are only beginning to understand. For example, a preschooler might explain rain by saying, ‘When it rains the sky is crying’. Preschoolers might also embellish stories with wishful thinking.

Between three and five, preschoolers refine their understanding of cause and effect. Older preschoolers can understand simple explanations of cause and effect such as, ‘The medicine will help you get well’ and ‘If you eat healthy food, you will grow big and strong’.

Preschoolers also talk through their bodies, their play and their art. In fact, verbal communication still might not be the dominant way many preschoolers either understand the world or express themselves.

Solve problems playfully
Preschoolers love to play and three minutes of play can save you ten minutes of struggle. If your preschooler refuses to leave, a question like, ‘Would you like to hide under the table so no-one sees you escape?’ turns a potential battle into a game. It’s a lot more fun for both of you – and actually can save time!
– Gillian McNamee, PhD, Director of Teacher Education, Erikson Institute
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  • Last updated or reviewed 25-05-2010
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    © 2002-2006 Public Broadcasting Service.  Reprinted from with permission of the Public Broadcasting Service.