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Tamariki aged 3 to 5 are growing more capable and confident, and are keen to understand the world around them. They ask lots of questions, engage in pretend play and have more experiences away from whānau.

A wider world

As tamariki get more and more involved in learning outside their home and as part of community activities, their worlds expand. Out and about in the neighbourhood with their whānau, they are attending sporting, church, marae, cultural and community events. They may be participating in various celebrations and festivals like Christmas, Easter, Matariki and birthdays, and they will be meeting different people and noticing what they look like, how they act and what language they use.

Their observations of their ever-widening world will lead to many questions.

‘Why? Why? Why?’

Tamariki at this age are likely to ask about such things as:

  • gender (their own and other people’s)
  • different family roles, relationships and responsibilities
  • matters of health and disability
  • death
  • different cultural traditions.

As well as being curious about the world of people and relationships, tamariki are looking for explanations about anything and everything they notice, from ‘Why does poo smell?’ to ‘Why is Auntie crying?’ and ‘How can fish breathe under water?’

Check out this Tākai article, Lots of questions | Tākai, about questions and answers.

Keep it simple

To satisfy a preschool child’s curiosity, whānau can try to answer their questions simply, in plain language and at a level they can understand.

Whānau are strengthening relationships as well as increasing their child’s understanding through the questioning and answering that goes on every day. Children who ask their whānau questions are learning from their trusted ‘personal consultants’!

Other responses to questions from tamariki with an inexhaustible curiosity might be:

  • ‘I need to think about that. Ask me again tonight.’
  • ‘Let’s look that up in a book or on the internet.’
  • ‘I think Dad / Mum / Nan / Koro will know about that. You could ask them.’
  • ‘Why do you think...?’

An imaginary world

During the early years, a child’s imagination is becoming more active due to increased neural connections in the vision (imagery) centres of the brain. Curious and observant, tamariki of this age may use pretend play to take on and explore ideas about adults’ behaviour, roles, responsibilities, activities, feelings and conversations. Imagination enables tamariki to understand what others may be feeling and to develop empathy, and it also leads to creativity.

In addition, some children may develop an imaginary friend, and some children’s developing imagination may give rise to new fears.

Capable and confident

By age 3, neurons, also known as brain cells, are about 80% connected into complex brain pathways through responsive nurture and attentive care from whānau. As neurons become myelinated (which means they are wrapped with a fatty coating forming a type of insulation) whānau may notice their tamaiti is performing actions faster and with much more confidence.

Whānau may also notice tamariki are speaking more fluently. They may enjoy playing with words – for example, rhymes, jokes and silly sayings.

Physical skills, such as catching and throwing, are getting stronger and more accurate. Neurons connecting between brain and bladder and brain and bowel are myelinated too, and whānau may notice there are fewer toileting accidents.

Safety

Although they are more confident and capable, tamariki still need supervision, especially around driveways and any water hazards, as they are usually driven by action and exploration rather than care or caution. This applies even more for 'spontaneous active explorers' (tamariki who approach new or challenging situations without a second thought), especially when they're around possible danger zones.

Other tamariki with a more reserved temperament may need to be encouraged before they take action and explore.

Watch what they hear, watch what they see

Dame Whina Cooper

Many influences

As tamariki get nearer to school age, they often have more experiences away from whānau. This might happen when they participating in early childhood education, playing sports, and having sleepovers or play dates with friends. It’s important that whānau feel happy with the people their tamariki are being supervised by in their absence.

How adults can help

Whānau can support and guide tamariki as they navigate their way through childhood by staying close and attentive, asking open questions (starting with: how, what, why, where, when and who) and listening to what their tamaiti says. Whānau can then be ‘bigger, stronger, wiser and kind’ in their interactions with their tamaiti.

Other resources

Why do children ask why? | Scary Mommy(external link)

Exploring nature with children | Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai(external link)

Workshop – Children’s behaviours | Tākai

Temperament differences | Tākai

How to understand your child’s temperament | Healthy Children(external link)