Preschool children are driven to explore their world. This curiosity is the basis for learning, now and throughout their lives. Children at play are little scientists. They answer for themselves basic questions about how the world works, whether they are playing with sand or water, sculpting with clay or painting, or climbing on playground equipment.
Learning that comes from exploration is more appropriate for preschool children than the mastery of letters or numbers that might come from more passive kinds of learning, such as watching educational television. By exploring and playing, these children start to understand cause and effect and how this concept relates to their actions.
Children who have many chances to explore develop a healthy sense of competence as they master new skills and solve problems on their own. For example, young children often feel proud of wiping up their own spills. Be sure to engage with your child during activities. Praise the child's effort and do not worry about the result or outcomes of projects. Give the child many different things to play with, from games to building toys to puzzles and books. Encourage building and art projects.
Parents are often tempted to put limits on exploration, both for safety reasons and for their own convenience. Resist this temptation to limit your child's natural curiosity. For example, accept that finger paints will require some time and effort for preparation and clean-up. Show a child how to wipe up any messes and explain why spills need to be wiped up right away.
If you find that you are often limiting your child's play for safety reasons, think about how you can make your home and yard safer. Then you can allow your child to be more free to explore without danger. For more information, see the topic Health and Safety, Ages 2 to 5.
Medical Review:John Pope, MD, MPH - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics