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Apr 05

From Three To Four Years of Age

Posted by Lorraine Yamin in The Alumni Blog on Apr 05, 2017 For teachers, spring break is one of those natural points in a school year that provokes reflection on the trajectories of student growth. Much of child and adolescent development toggles between periods of unobservable, internal change and periods of observable, expressed change. For me, watching a group of three-year-olds transmute into four-year-olds is endlessly fascinating – they change in so many ways, often profoundly.

The year begins with teachers attempting to gain their students’ trust. Once three-year-olds have assessed teachers and believe them to be benevolent, they become enthralled with everything: from water play, blocks, Magna-Tiles, and play dough, to minuscule insects, and the sliver of morning moon spied occasionally from our window.

One of the many extraordinary things about three-year-olds is their complete absorption in the present moment. Like little Buddhas, they appear to be filled with the conscious experience of here and now. They may utter a short sentence or two regarding what lies in the near future, (“My mommy is going to pick me up”), or recent past (“‘Lasterday’I went to the zoo”), but it is the wide embrace of space-time in our room that occupies their awareness. 

Early in the school year, we see our three-year-olds beside one another, crouched over miniature people figures and toy vehicles, creating little worlds that echo their own. At this point, they anchor in the world of parallel play -- spending time next to each other, but not yet sharing ideas. Their thinking is visible to us when they use toys to enact scenarios of their individual lives. This pretend play can focus on the people who care for them, the food they are fed and the vehicles that transport their bodies to and from important places.

Playback on a time-lapse camera would reveal the extraordinary process whereby solitary parallel play morphs into sociodramatic, collaborative play. The amount of time these children spend absorbed in individual interests decreases as the magnetic pull of social interaction draws them toward longer exchanges with one another. Shifts occur in the group dynamic; the appeal of talking and imitating actions extends their gaze up and outward, setting them in search of other children. Increasingly, they alert to each other’s voices and form pods: groups clumping together for ventures like erecting towers, retelling a story in the book tent or building drive-through stations serving gasoline into the tanks of vehicles and ice cream into the hands of friends.  

From age three to age four, vocabulary expands from approximately 1000 to 1600 words, fueling early conversations. Children gain traction in the ability to ask questions. Some answer in the pithy staccato of concrete facts; others fling a fanciful mixture of improbable semi-truths around the room and then skip away. Our sweet, fairly quiet room fills with raucous banter. Children stumble upon their first absurdities -- inside jokes, if you will, as they jointly discover the hilarity of slapstick gestures and careening projectile objects.

Our students then begin sharing intentions and negotiating play plans. Together they become superheroes, persons of royal extraction, parents, babies, pets, doctors and firefighters – enacting compelling dramas, with and for one another, daily. As they edge toward four, these preschool novellas will include death and resurrection play, an especially empowering form of pretense.

The group drive toward collaboration generates conflict as children stake out literal and imaginative territory, and they bicker, sometimes vehemently. Strikingly, they will experience conflict over the very same things that adults war over: resources, (“That’s my shovel! I had it first!”), territory, (“I was sitting in that chair!”), privileges (“It’s my turn to be the line leader!”), and ideas (“I know - let's play superheroes”).

Between three and four, we see glimmers of a self more rooted in time, in a sense of mornings and evenings, yesterdays and tomorrows. When children are three, the concept of time is vast and incomprehensible. The four-year-old mind starts to view its own self as having a place in the passage of a Monday through Friday frame.

With a budding, healthy sense of self comes a more strident claim on resources, territory, privileges and ideas.  However, anger over the loss of these entitlements is easily soothed in the preschool classroom. Play, creative expression, or a romp in nature will reconnect child to child and diffuse most of these ephemeral skirmishes. As children age and move on to other developmental stages, metamorphosing into adults, the self anchors deeper into views of its own place in the past or the future, and there is more at stake. With that comes more opportunity and responsibility to co-create conflict, or peace. tagged alumni, blog, childhood, early, lorraine, yamin
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