• benchmarks: the standards by which something can be judged. Benchmark behaviors are those behaviors that are typical, and against which most behaviors can be measured
  • developmentally appropriate practices: teaching and learning experiences grounded in the way in which we know that children learn, based on understanding the characteristics of a “typically-developing” child
  • executive function: all the cognitive processes that help a child behave and think in an organized way
  • self-regulated learners: children who have learned to manage strong emotions, control impulses, and stay on task with minimum distraction
  • social competencies: skills needed for successful social interaction; in young children these include making simple decisions, interacting with others in productive ways, and being able to resolve conflicts in appropriate ways (by using their words and negotiating and not being aggressive)

Understand How Children Think

Before watching this video, read the text below. When instructed, watch the video from the beginning to end.

Developmentally appropriate practices are defined as teaching and learning experiences grounded in what we know about how children learn at different ages and stages of development. Based on understanding the characteristics of a “typically-developing” child and recognizing that children vary within that norm, these practices require careful and deliberate planning. You should find every opportunity to reach out to children in specific ways for each child.

  • Young children tend to be concrete thinkers. They cannot think in abstract ways. They need active, participatory learning that uses their senses. They need to touch, feel, and participate in experiences.
  • Young children are often egocentric thinkers. They tend to see the world strictly from their own perspective. Educators can help children move beyond their own perspective to understand, appreciate, and respond to others’ perspectives.
  • Young children generally have centered thinking. They process one variable at a time. For example, they may see an object by its color, or by its shape, but usually not both at the same time. A good rule of thumb is “one step at a time.”  Rather than introducing two variables in a pattern (color and shape), the educator asks children to consider color first. In a later step, children can focus on a second variable.
  • Young children tend to confuse appearances (the way things look) with reality (the way things are). They might think their thumb is bigger than the moon, because the thumb can cover the moon.

In this video you’ll see educators providing instruction based on what they know about how young children think. Their knowledge of what is typical development informs their planning, activities, conversation, and the pace of instruction. As you watch, look for effective strategies used by the educators in the video and jot down answers to these viewing questions in your Learning Log.

  • How do the educators help children learn about abstract ideas in concrete ways?
  • How do the educators respond to children’s centered thinking as they introduce new ideas?


Why is it important to provide developmentally appropriate learning?

  • Children learn best when adults recognize their individual needs and interests.
  • Children are encouraged to explore what excites their curiosity. Like adults, children participate actively in activities that are interesting to them and inviting. Unlocking that curiosity is key to learning.
  • Young children learn best through a combination of explanation and experience.

What strategies can you use to teach to children’s concrete way of thinking?

  • Encourage children to use their senses to feel, taste, see, and experience new things and concepts. Children learn best when they can feel a snakeskin to understand what the word scaly means, walk the distance to see the length of a dinosaur, or hold a turtle shell to measure its circumference.
  • Provide hands-on experiences to help children explore the world directly. Then extend the experience. For example:
    • Display real-life objects for children to explore using all their senses. (Hold the snakeskin. What does it feel like? What does it sound like when you move it? What does it smell like?)
    • Introduce sensory vocabulary. For instance, during a turtle shell exploration, introduce the words rough, smooth, light, dark, heavy, full, and empty. Then read and display picture books about turtles.
    • Encourage conversations and help inquisitive minds to test theories and hypotheses. (How can we tell how long the turtle is? How can we measure how round it is on top? What words can you think of that describe the snakeskin?)

How can you respond to children’s centered thinking—their tendency to pay attention to one task at a time?

  • Give children simple directions, one step at a time. For example, rather than saying Let’s make a snowflake pattern using all of these colors, break down instructions into smaller tasks.
    • Let’s make a pattern. White, blue, white, blue. What comes next?
    • Yes, white. Then what comes after that?
    • Now let’s say the pattern. White, blue, white, blue, white.


Think about your own program as you answer these reflection questions in your Learning Log.

  • How do you assess the developmental needs of the individual children with whom you work?
  • What did you learn that you will put into practice in your learning environment?
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