Skill Acquisition and a Child’s Age

by tr223 23. March 2011 23:40

Children are developing different skills and different ages. Below are some age appropriate suggestions on how you can help your child learn these critical foundational skills.

Toddlers - Ages 2 to 3          Preschoolers - Ages 3, 4, and 5           Middle Childhood - Ages 6 to 11

Toddlers – 2 and 3 Year Olds

Each child is unique and develops at his/her own pace; a challenge family and caregivers are constantly juggling. However, generalizations can be made about the ages and patterns in which children acquire skills.

A Helping Hand

At this age, early attempts to be social – to 'connect' with others are important. Positive helping acts – pro-social behavior- begin to blossom in two to three year olds. Sharing, empathizing, comforting, patting, and gift giving are ways in which young children reach out to the big world around them.

  • Cooperation and getting along well with others is a goal of most PBS Kids programs
  • Describe what you see on TV to your toddler. For instance, 'Did you see how they shared the cookie? Each got a piece of his/her own.'
  • Modeling - when your child sees someone like themselves being a good friend, it helps them to imitate being one too.

A Window to the World Around Us

Two and three year olds also begin to develop an awareness of far-away places and future events, which grows in to a sense of curiosity and anticipation. Airplanes, relatives that live far away, birthdays, and holidays become fun and exciting. Animal friends also become important as children grow in their understanding of living things. Plants, birds, and pets are a wonderful source of discovery and playfulness.

  • Use the TV like a picture book and ask your toddler, 'Tell me what you see?'
  • Television can be a wonderful window to the world around us because it can take us to places we may not otherwise be able to visit.
  • Make Connections – for instance, between a birthday party on TV or read about in a book and one you recently attended by asking, 'Tell me what you remember about Claire's party?'

Hear Me Roar

By age three, a child's vocabulary has grown from 200+ words (at age 2) to about 900 words, and a toddler's hunger for new words is never-ending. This 'language explosion' means that they are very interested in naming objects. Be sure to start with things and objects they see very day or use often. Also, Encourage toddlers to talk about and verbalize what is bothering them instead of acting out.

  • Children learn language from a variety of sources, including quality TV
  • Sing along, ask questions, name things, describe what is happening – use TV and storybooks as tools to promote language growth
  • Talk about what you saw on TV or read in a storybook later in the day when you see or experience something that relates to what you saw or read.

Busy Bodies

Why does it seem that two and three year olds are in constant motion? Exciting large-muscle growth allows toddler's awkward, stiff walking to blossom into more skilled movement that will soon become jumping, climbing, hopping, tricycle riding, ball kicking, and throwing. Inevitably, this also brings plenty of opportunities for bumping, falling, and scratches.

Small-muscle coordination is growing, too. Toddlers begin to show more interest in drawing and copying shapes, dressing themselves, and turning handles.

  • Children learn best through play. Encourage your preschooler to play along with the characters as they watch TV.
  • Use movement games, balancing acts, and ball activities to increase coordination and body awareness.
  • Watch TV with your toddler and imitate what you see on TV.

Ideas for Growing Muscles

and Minds

Families and caregivers of two and three year olds can build on a toddler's growing mind with a variety of activities. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Use a variety of different types of play activities. These should build on the child's development in terms of physical motor skills (running, jumping, throwing, riding a tricycle) and fine motor activities (stirring, pouring, squeezing, drawing).
  • Playtimes, both alone and with friends.
  • Environmental Print – pictures, storybooks, and magazines all represent something real
  • Rhymes¸ songs, finger plays, and stories.
  • Plenty of time with blocks, sand, water, bubbles, dough, and other objects in a young child's environment. 

        Preschoolers – 3, 4, and 5 Year Olds

Each child is unique and develops at his/her own pace; a challenge family and caregivers are constantly juggling. However, generalizations can be made about the ages and patterns in which children acquire skills.

There is a Big World out There

For the growing preschooler, friendships begin to bloom starting with the extended family to include family friends and child-care pals. Selfishness begins to give way to cooperation and sharing. The child's social awareness shifts from the family to the outside world, from neighborhoods to routine social settings (preschool, the park); the world is seen as a larger place.

  • Talk about the friendships you see on TV. Ask, "Tell me why Bert and Ernie are good friends?"
  • TV and storybooks can offer important lessons about how the words we choose can make others feel.
  • Talk about what your children would do in the situations they see on television or read about in a storybook. PBS programs carry important messages about friendship-making skills.

I Can Do It Myself

Preschoolers develop a sense of time as well as a sense of themselves as people, with their own names, ages, addresses, and unique families. Problem-solving skills and reasoning skills begin to grow. Preschoolers are rapidly developing more of an awareness of their environment and a sense of who they are.

  • Encourage your child to describe the things he/she sees on TV and in storybooks. Ask questions, for instance, "Why is it like that? Is that how we do it in our home / family?"
  • This is an age of tall tales as the preschooler's imagination dominates play experiences. Pretend playmates as well as talking to oneself are common. Provide plenty of 'free play' time for your preschooler.
  • Television can open up a world of discovery that might not be readily accessible in your community, like a trip to the beach to a bakery. Draw pictures of and describe the tours of the places, factories, and farms you see on PBS. 

Talking Back to the Television

Vocabulary grows from 1,500 to 2,500 words between the ages of 3 and 5. Early reading centers around the rhythm of language, environmental print, letter and sound play, and a rich climate of stories, books, songs, poetry, finger-plays, and print.

  • Encourage and demonstrate talking back to the TV. For example, "Where do you think he left his book?" But also encourage active listening and watching – saving questions for when a TV program or storybook is over.
  • After viewing, play guessing games or make rhymes about subject matter from a TV show.
  • Create stories about what could have happened, for example "What if Arthur had gotten on the wrong bus to go to his karate lesson?"

Let's Get Up and Do It, Too!

For the growing preschooler, self-control and judgment still haven't caught up with his/her physical skills. However, the preschooler becomes quite an athlete through exploration with muscle play, motion, force, and movement. Balancing, hopping on one foot, tiptoeing, and catching large objects are now part of their skill set.

  • Before or after viewing, use movement games, balancing acts, and ball activities to increase coordination and body awareness.
  • Select TV programs that incorporate plenty of hopping, skipping, dancing, and clapping. Seeing the characters they identify with engaging in active movement can give children the confidence to join in.

Ideas for Building Strong Minds

and Muscles

Caregivers of preschoolers can build growing minds through:

  • Language and musical activities: conversations, stories, songs, rhymes, and instruments.
  • Exploration, indoors and out.
  • Sharing and looking at stories, poems and dramatic play activities.
  • Creative expression through drawing, playing instruments, and singing.
  • Outings to zoos, children's museums, parks, puppet shows, storytelling events, etc.
  • Basic problem-solving activities using tools, cooking ingredients, measuring devices, clay, blocks, water and sand. These activities create a foundation for future science, math, and social studies lessons.

        Middle Childhood – 6 to 11 Year Olds

These years of 'middle childhood' are a crucial bridge from home to school. The social, cognitive, physical, and emotional progress of these years is often more gradual and less obvious than in earlier periods.

Each child is unique and develops at his/her own pace; a challenge family and caregivers are constantly juggling. However, generalizations can be made about the ages and patterns in which children acquire skills.

The Three R's + a

Healthy Television Diet

Six to 11 year olds have made the transition to full days of school and will learn the reading, writing, and arithmetic that form the basics of lifetime learning.

  • Children at this age are in danger of watching too much television, especially if it's not balanced by physical activities. Sit down with your child and discuss the shows he/she watches each week.
  • Encourage the habit of selecting specific programs of real value – to watch programs, not just TV.
  • When a TV program is over, teach your child to turn off the TV and do other activities.
  • When a TV program is over, teach your child to turn off the TV and do other activities.

Television Watching +

Plenty of Discussion

Imagination continues to flourish, but no longer dominates as children this age now have the ability to reason and manipulate ideas and symbols. They can use their minds to arrive at solutions rather than needing to touch or move objects in order to solve problems.

  • Because children at this age are capable of more complex reasoning, you can talk about which programs are good and which are unhealthy for the mind.
  • Discuss with them how much TV and what types of shows they watch that they have different educational needs. Draw up a set of guidelines and rules for television viewing in your household.

Children Can Learn to Associate

What They See on Television

with What They Do

Peer groups are often formed and friendships take on new depths as the growing child can 'place themselves in other's shoes.' This interest in friendships intensifies during this period.

  • Help Children make connections between what they are watching on TV and their own experiences. Are there scenarios in their lives that mirror what they have seen on television?
  • TV can offer important lessons about how the words we choose can make others feel. Talk through what they see and hear on television, everything from commercials to television news.


Go Out and Do It!

Physical development in children from 6-11 years most often sets the stage for adulthood. It is a period marked by much growth – an average of 2.5 inches and 6 pounds per year – and by challenges and successes.

  • It's easy to want to relax in front of the television after school especially if parents are busy trying to make dinner. Thus, it's important that adults take extra care in continuing to monitor their child's viewing as well as the snacks they eat as they watch!
  • Make a list of activities and 'things to do' that are fun for your child. When they ask to watch TV, review the list and choose at least one thing they can do to replace some of the TV time.

Parents and Caregivers with

Children in Middle School

Should Encourage

  • Friendships with children from a variety of settings and/or backgrounds (the neighborhood, school groups, the community center) and with many different types of people.
  • Increased responsibility taking, such as small chores and duties around the home. They are capable of taking care of themselves in regards to daily living tasks like preparing simple food, planning their own activities, and cleaning up after themselves.
  • A positive attitude, which helps them search for solutions.
  • Increased awareness of different customs, practices, ethnicities, cultures – these can be celebrated as learning opportunities.
  • Reading books of all types: nonfiction, mysteries, fiction, adventure stories, science fiction and old favorites, such as Charlotte's Web, The Little Prince, and Anne of Green Gables.


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