Cognitive Development Considerations in Preschool Fire Safety Education

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By Steven Dalbey

According to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), data from the National Vital Statistics System show that the 1991 death rate from fire and burns for children age one to four was 4.1 per 100,000 population. This compared to a rate of .92 per 100,000 population for children aged 5 to 19. One of the problems associated with reaching this high-risk group, given their age and related thinking skills, is making the limited opportunities to teach preschoolers fire safety as meaningful to them as possible.

The purpose of this research project was to establish some basic criteria for the evaluation of fire safety lessons for preschoolers, in consideration of their unique cognitive abilities.

A descriptive research procedure was conducted to determine the current theories of educational psychology, as they relate to the cognitive development of preschoolers. This research project studied the cognitive abilities of preschool children, including teaching strategies, and made application of the results to teaching fire safety and evaluating current programs. Research questions to be answered included the following:

  1. What are some of the basic principles of learning?
  2. What cognitive processes occur in children?
  3. How are those processes different in children than adults?
  4. What are some characteristics of fire safety lesson plans developed in consideration of the unique cognitive abilities of preschoolers?
  5. How do current Muscatine Fire Department fire safety lessons for preschoolers fit those characterizations?

The physiology of brain development was researched, along with teaching strategies directed at that particular age group of children. On the basis of that information, an association was made between general teaching concepts and specific fire safety messages. Current fire safety programs of the Muscatine Fire Department were evaluated against those conclusions, and modifications were made to programs where indicated by the research.

Recommendations were made to change certain portions of the preschool programs that are currently in use where it appeared that language, terminology, or the method used were not consistent with the cognitive abilities of the children.

The findings of the project included a distinct need to consider the cognitive abilities of the audience. On the basis of the research, it was apparent that changes in the programs were necessary in order for the messages to be as meaningful as possible for this high-risk group, with whom our opportunities to teach are limited.