My daughter turned four last week.

As an early childhood educator, I recognize that changes occur in children between the third and fourth year of life. I know that children become more socially inclined and they learn to share things and take turns. But the other day, my daughter said to me, “Mom, I`d like to trade our cat for a dog. Dogs listen to people.”

Piaget, known for his pioneering work in child development, said that preschoolers are in the preoperational period from age two to seven. “Pre-logical,” for those civilians not in the know. He said that a child`s logic at this age is ruled by his perceptions. He believed that children actively seek out information and adapt it to the knowledge and conceptions of the world that they already have.

Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori philosophy, divided early childhood development into two stages: the unconscious absorbent mind, from zero to three years, and the conscious absorbent mind, occurring between the ages of three to six. The former means that the child is absorbing information without realization and the latter means that the child is consciously seeking out certain experiences.

It is not until the age of three that children are able to reliably use their memory to acquire, store, and recall information or experiences across time. The psychologist Vygotsky noticed that when children were starting to move towards independence with challenging tasks, they would talk to themselves. This self-talk is common in children between the ages of three and seven. So, by listening to children and watching how and what they play, we are perhaps able to discern the range of their cognitive abilities.

Looking back over the past year, I note that my daughter has packed her suitcase and pretended to go on holiday over 10 times. She is constantly busy and moving. And talking. She talks about her best friend Sophie all the time and assures me that Sophie will definitely be invited to her birthday party. She actually just talks non-stop. She`s filling up envelopes and taping them and sending them who knows where. She loves to play hide and seek. Every chance she gets. She asks questions, every day: Why. She loves building houses and palaces with Legos. She counts everything. She never sleeps. Or at least that’s how it feels. Just today, she emptied all of the recycling in the middle of the living room floor and began constructing a shop.

I`ve read that children’s interactions with family and those around them will help to shape their personality and their own ways of thinking and moving. I know children need unstructured time to give them enough space to develop. And as our daily life continues, my daughter continues to absorb and talk and seek and remember. She is changing. She has an intense desire to integrate into the world around her. To contribute and share all that she knows.

It’s a marvel that my daughter could even perceive that cats are just simply more independent than dogs, and therefore a dog would be more obedient. Yet it is also my duty to remind her that the cat is part of our family and he will remain with us for the long haul. If this is age four, then I am very curious about five.

By Whitney Bushnell

Whitney Bushnell is a Montessori educator, mother and American expat living in Switzerland.

Illustration by Lara Friedrich

Lara Friedrich has been a freelance illustrator for Family Matters since early 2013, and she has also contributed recipes. She is in her third year of University (majoring in Psychology) where she’s currently working as an assistant in a research project in pedagogy. Lara is also an assistant translator from German to English for various fiction books, and works as a demo singer for the songwriter Kate Northrop. Lara works part-time in a bistro and posts occasional food pics and illustrations to Instagram.

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