Defining age-appropriate play experiences for preschoolers is one of the first semester goals of students in Donna Goble's Child Development class at Payson High School.
The knowledge will prepare her students for teaching and playing with preschoolers in the Lil' Longhorns day care next semester.
"Play is not just play," Goble said. "It is how a child learns. A child's brain is pretty much developed by the time the child is 5 years old."
Growth and development generally happens in sequenced steps.
Walking is a skill that usually occurs between 12 and 14 months. Muscle strength is one determining factor for walking that is affected by heredity.
Environmental factors that effect development, walking and other skills, include nutrition and rest, relationships with others and what a child sees and hears.
For instance, a 3-year-old child uses three word sentences; a 4-year-old child uses four words.
The ability to talk in sentences of increasing complexity is an example of developmental acceleration.
A 2- or 3-year-old using complete sentences could mean the parents talked or read to them a lot, which gives the child an opportunity to grow in that area.
"But you are not experts, and you are not to label a child's development," Goble cautioned her students.
Asking developmental questions about preschoolers is fine, as long as privacy is protected and names are not used, she said.
As children experience play that is rich in sensory stimulation, neurons in the brain send and receive electrical impulses that build networks for learning.
"A teachable moment is the time when a person can learn a new task because they are physically ready," Goble said.
Using pictures from magazine, her students created a play notebook, defining stages and types of play.
A girl on her bicycle represents solitary, active physical play, said junior Brittany Stanley.
Soccer represents cooperative play.
A girl and boy dressed up for Halloween looking at treat bags represents associative play, said senior Laura Niskanen.
The class covers many career areas that revolve around children.
"I want to get away from the stigma that you take child development because you want to become a preschool teacher," Goble said. "It's a fun job if that's what you choose, but that's not the only purpose."
The class went to Phoenix Children's Hospital and talked with a child life specialist, a crisis center in the Valley to see how children are taken care of and a speech pathologist has spoken to the class.
One student, senior Alex Slatalla, said he enjoyed the field trip to a preschool teaching class at Arizona State University.
"It was interesting that they were just guiding the kids rather than using structured learning," he said.
At one point, Slatalla was thinking about a degree in psychology. Now, he is thinking about teaching high school. Either way, he said, the child development class will be beneficial.
Students have gained a bit of work experience going into local elementary classrooms three hours a week.
"The children are very fun and interactive right when we walk in the door," said junior May Smith, who is taking the class for the second time.
Last year, she helped first-graders make paper scarecrows.
"I had to take the time to show the children how to make the scarecrow and then help them. Otherwise, they would ask, ‘Can you do this for me,'" Smith said. "You can see it in their eyes when they get it."
"I want to be a better mother for when I have children of my own and I think taking this class and teaching will help me do that," said junior Chelsey Copestick.
Lil' Longhorns preschool is held from 9:30 to noon, weekdays. It will begin Jan. 22, 2007 and continue through the end of May.
There is a waiting list, but interested parents may contact Goble via e-mail at email@example.com or call (928) 472-5750.