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Director's Corner                                                                                           



APRIL 2024

St. Paul’s Preschool follows the Pennsylvania Early Learning Standards as we create and adapt our curriculum to the various age groups within our school.  Each month I will examine one of the standards we are focusing on in the classes and explain how we are implementing it into their curriculum.

10.4  Physical Activity-Gross Motor Coordination

10.5  Concepts, Principles, and Strategies of Movement-Fine Motor Coordination

The greatest portion of the young child’s day is spent in physical activity.  St. Paul’s Preschool recognizes this, and provides for a full range of physical and motor experiences.  Indoors the children use puzzles, scissors, and sorting/sewing activities as they practice fine-motor skills.  They dance to music with scarves and ribbon streamers.  Perceptual-motor development occurs when children learn songs and finger-plays or while finger-painting.  Outdoors, gross-motor skills are refined by the use of climbers, hopscotch, ball play and obstacle courses!

An understanding of physical development is important to teachers and parents for a number of reasons:

  • New behavior is made possible through physical change (as muscles grow stronger, children can be successful in more physical actions)
  • Growth determines the child’s experiences
  • Growth changes the way people respond to the child
  • Self-concepts are profoundly related to physical development

Early childhood is the time of most rapid growth, though development does not take place at an even pace, but in spurts.  While there are individual differences in the rate of maturation among children, growth follows a sequential pattern.  Large muscles develop before smaller ones-one reason why most preschoolers are more skilled at running than at cutting with scissors!  Growth also starts at the center of the body and moves outward (toddlers walk using a whole leg action while 5-year-olds run using their knees and ankles).  Children also tend to develop in a head-to-toe pattern (infants move their eyes, head and hands long before they learn to crawl or stand up).

It is important to remember that while growth is sequential and directional, it does not occur in a smooth and unbroken pattern.  Why is that?  Growth is influenced by a variety of factors such as genetic makeup, disease, and injury.  Environmental influences such as nutrition and experience have their greatest effect during the early years.

Gross motor development involves movements of the entire body, or large parts of the body.  Using various large muscle groups, children try to creep, crawl, roll, bounce, throw or hop.  Activities that include balance, agility, coordination, flexibility, strength, speed, and endurance foster gross-motor development.

Fine motor development uses the small muscles of the body and its extremities (the hands and feet).  Such movement requires dexterity, precision, and manipulative skill.  Grasping, reaching, holding, banging, pushing, spinning, and turning are all activities that refine these skills,

Perceptual motor development is a process in which the child develops the skill and ability to take in and interpret information from the environment and respond to it with movement.  Every movement is a perceptual-motor activity since the body and mind must work together to complete all motor tasks.  Eye-hand coordination uses perceptual motor skills as does walking across a balance beam!

There are three basic types of movement:

  • Locomotor abilities involve a change of location of the body and include the skills of walking, running, leaping, jumping, climbing, hopping, skipping, galloping, sliding and tricycling.
  • Non-locomotor abilities are any movements that require some degree of balancing. These skills are turning, twisting, pushing, bending, stretching, pulling, swinging, rolling, dodging, and balancing.
  • Manipulative abilities include the operation and control of limited and precise movements of the small muscles, especially those in the hands and feet. Manipulative skills include throwing, catching, reaching, bouncing, striking, kicking, holding, grasping, cutting and sewing.

A typical day for a St. Paul’s Preschool student is full of numerous opportunities to practice motor skills.  Though PLAY, the children can practice fine motor skills such as:

  • Holding a paintbrush or scissors
  • Tiptoeing to music
  • Grasping a hand or a toy
  • Threading a bead, a wide needle, a sewing board

And gross motor skills such as:

  • Climbing on ladders and sliding down slides
  • Digging a garden
  • Balancing on a balance beam
  • Pedaling a tricycle

Through self-help skills, children can practice fine motor and gross motor skills such as:

  • Buttoning a coat or doll’s clothing
  • Turning a faucet handle or doorknob
  • Feeding self with utensils
  • Cleaning up toy areas
  • Helping to sweep floors after snack

Children learning motor skills need experience in basic skills; they must learn simple skills before combining them into complex activities.  To gain mastery over a skill, there must be an opportunity for practice.  Children are given time to try, refine and try again each day.  When children develop their physical and motor skills under this kind of encouragement, their confidence and sense of competence grows!


Each month I will focus on a question or two from the parents.  Please send your questions to the director at:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..  Many of the questions come directly from the “Getting to Know You” forms which were sent to families before school started in September.

QUESTIONI know your philosophy is learning through play, but I am not clear on the goals (academically) that you are trying to achieve. I suppose introduction to letters, numbers, etc. along with socialization, large and fine motor skills, etc.

QUESTIONIt’s not so much a question, more of a concern.  At the orientation they focused a lot on playing, but I was hoping to hear more about what learning activities they would do.  My son can count, sing his ABC’s, knows most colors, etc.  I want to keep the momentum going.  I know they learn through play, but I don’t feel that it is enough. I don’t push learning thing beyond his age, but just want to keep up with what he has learned.

ANSWER:  These two questions are related and are ones that parents ask when they enroll their children in “developmentally appropriate” programs that focus on play.  First, we need to explain how important play is to this age group.  Play is so important to optimal child development that the United Nations High Commission has recognized it for Human Rights as a right for every child.  NAEYC position statement asserts that play is an essential component of developmentally appropriate practice.

In the field of child development and Early Childhood Education, there are several theorists and child development researchers who have written extensively on the value of play as a learning and teaching tool.  St. Paul’s Preschool incorporates these learning theories as well as the PA Early Learning Standards into our curriculum and offer many experiences through play.  How do children learn through play?

Jean Jacques Piaget stressed several points in his cognitive theory of child development regarding play:

  • Play provides children with opportunities to construct knowledge about the world through interactions with the materials
  • Play engages the children in assimilation, taking in information and fitting it into existing mental structures.
  • Play supports the development of three types of knowledge: physical, logical-mathematical and social.
  • Social interaction within play is important because conflicts occur, which present children with alternative views

Lev Vygotsky also stressed some important points about play in his social learning theory of child development:

  • Play is the source of development and creates the zone of proximal development
  • Children learn through interactions with others
  • During play, children use objects to represent other objects enhancing their symbolic representation skills
  • In play, children must act against their immediate impulses. Experiences following the rules in play support the development of self-regulation. Controlling impulsive action in order to pursue plans and goals is “the highest level of preschool development”.

What does that mean?  Well, simply, it means that play contributes to cognitive growth, which is an increase in the child’s basic store of knowledge.  Cognitive ability includes identifying, classifying, sequencing, observing, discriminating, making predictions, drawing conclusion, comparing and determining cause and effect relationships.  Play helps children develop organizing and problem-solving abilities-children must think about organizing materials in order to meet their play goals.  During play, children must put together information from previous experiences from the real world, and from other play participants.

Theory has taught all early childhood educators that young children learn best through manipulation of materials and hands-on experiences carefully planned and facilitated by knowledgeable teachers. Teachers of preschool are rigorously academic because they keep goals in mind as they continually interact with children in their play and exploration.  The learning of all academic subjects should be playful and exploratory.  Children contribute their own ideas, use problem-solving strategies, and pursue their own interests.

Teachers skillfully weave in the goals and objectives of traditional academics as they build on what children can do and challenge them to try new things.  Play contributes to the development of academic ability.  For example, reading is a complex process that involves eye coordination, visual and auditory discrimination, and the ability to work with parts of wholes.  Play is important for developing such skills.

Another important goal in reading instruction is oral language development.  During play, children have a chance to talk, argue, explain and persuade as well as use language in imaginative ways!

Beginning science skills include children using these concepts in play:  observing, making predictions, gathering data and testing hypotheses.  Physics is learned through use of ramps, weights, and gears.  Earth Science is learned by using sand and weather observations.  Biology is learned by having classroom pets.  Chemistry is learned by color mixing and snow melting experiments.  Scientific investigation is done at the easel with various brushes and paint consistencies.

Math skills are developed as children play.  Set theory, geometry (three dimensional shapes), topology (block construction), and grouping, classifying, sorting, problem-solving experiences all happen during play!

Writing requires fine motor development. (See above explanations under the Learning Standards section).  Cutting, painting, puzzles, play dough, and writing itself (notes to each other, signs for stores, reading the classroom helper chart, and labeling the classroom, etc.) all help in this development.

Counting and one-to-one correspondence are evident in the daily routines of attendance and setting the table for snack.  Social studies concepts of community and family life and the study of people and their differences and similarities are included in dramatic play, literature and cultural celebrations.

Yes, the children do learn the letters and numbers, but they are learning them in ways that give meaning to this knowledge. They are creating neural pathways in the brain so that this information is encoded and remembered and can be used to build on new, more involved and more abstract knowledge.

Teachers continue to individualize instruction for the children so that they are offering each child learning experiences, which build on the knowledge they already have!  Learning in St. Paul’s Preschool is definitely not stagnant!  It grows daily through the medium of play!

Serving Pittsburgh’s Northern Communities for Over 48 Years!

St. Paul’s Preschool
1965 Ferguson Road, Allison Park, PA 15101
Phone: 412-486-5591
Email: preschool.office@stpaulsumc.com