adult with child in lap looking at tablet

Developmental Themes

Preschool is a particularly exciting time in children’s development. During these years, children typically develop language, critical thinking, social and play skills in addition to developing physically. Within these areas, there are several themes that emerge.

Physical Development

Preschool children are also learning how to use their bodies. They need physical activity to learn motor skills, coordination, speed and balance.

Language Skills

Children develop their language skills rapidly during this time, typically increasing their vocabulary from 50-110 words to over 2000. In order to encourage this development, adults should engage preschoolers in conversation by asking them questions and encouraging them to speak. Parents should also encourage preschoolers to speak with other children.

Critical Thinking

You have probably heard preschool children constantly ask “Why?” at this age. This is because they are trying to learn more about how the world works. On top of asking questions, children also need to answer questions at this age. Try asking them open-ended questions like “What do you think will happen next?” to learn more about what they are thinking and to help them develop their critical thinking skills.


Kids of this age need to have outlets for expressing themselves creatively through art, music, and imaginary play. Provide them the time, space, and materials to work out their ideas.

Social Skills

Preschool children need to learn skills like sharing, turn-taking, empathy, and compromise. Many of these skills can be learned through activities like dressing up, sharing the playground, and playing games.

Media and Preschoolers

Media can be a wonderful addition to the lives of preschoolers; however, it is important to be aware of what media and how much media are appropriate and inappropriate at this stage of development. It is also important to note that the Academy of Pediatrics recommends that that parents set media limits for their children based on the individual child.

Television and Movies

There are a number of well-designed educational programs for preschoolers, including Sesame Street, Dora the Explorer and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. These shows and others are well-researched, and can improve children’s language skills, critical thinking skills, and social skills. Caregivers should be mindful that some television shows and movies claim to be educational in nature without any research to back up these claims.

While a program like Sesame Street has been well-studied, be mindful of television shows and movies that claim to be educational in nature, as these claims are not always true. Additionally, since some preschoolers may not be capable of distinguishing fantasy and reality, they are especially likely to experience fear and/or confusion about the storyline. Watching TV shows or movies beforehand will help you determine if they will positively contribute to your child’s development.

Parents should also limit exposure to television commercials, as advertising can impact a young child’s food preference, and may lead to obesity. Having a TV in a child’s bedroom can also be a risk factor for obesity and sleep problems.

Print Media

Preschoolers who read have better literacy skills, such as reading, spelling, and comprehension, in addition to better oral language skills. As with other media types, ensure that your child’s book selections are age-appropriate, and do not contain images or pictures that might frighten or upset your child.


Preschoolers who have the opportunity to listen to music, play instruments, or sing have increased language skills. Music activities can also improve a variety of young children’s cognitive skills. When selecting music, ensure that it is age-appropriate, as lyrics have the potential to negatively impact moods and behavior.

Social Media

As the majority of popular social networking sites require users to be age 13 or older, preschoolers will most likely not be using social media. There are some social networking sites created just for children, but they are usually recommended for children 7 and older.

Video Games

Some video games carry the EC or Early Childhood ESRB rating, which means that the game is suitable for young children; however, as with television, preschoolers may have difficulty distinguishing fantasy and reality, and even an Early Childhood game may be too scary for your preschooler. Choose games that are appropriate for your child’s social development and that encourage movement to help with your child’s physical development.

Mobile Media

Deciding whether to give your child a cell phone or tablet depends on their levels of maturity independence. The majority of preschoolers will not be ready for their own devices. If your child is using your device, ensure that they are engaged in age-appropriate activities, such as using drawing apps, reading picture eBooks, or playing non-violent games.



Developmental Themes Source: Behrman RE, Kliegman R, Schor NF, St. Geme JW, Stanton B, Nelson W. (2020). Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. Philadelphia, PA, Elsevier, Inc.

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