10 Things You Need to Know About Working With Preschoolers

Summer care arrangements are often more informal than they are during the school year. Between part-time preschools, vacation Bible schools and play groups, very young children are often under the supervision of adults who don’t possess the training to know what’s developmentally appropriate. As well intentioned as teachers and summer volunteers in your classroom may be, working with preschoolers can be a real challenge.

While it’s certainly not exhaustive, hopefully this list is enough to keep a volunteer or a new teacher from losing their mind or patience trying to understand a preschooler!

  1. Preschoolers can only sit in a group for about five to 10 minutes at a time.
  2. If you find yourself having to correct a preschooler about their behavior when sitting in a large group , they are not engaging with what you are telling them. It is better to move on to something else, because they are not getting what you want them to get anyway.
  3. Preschoolers are visual learners and would like to see pictures combined with hearing a description of something.
  4. They learn by doing–give them something that they can do with their hands that will help them learn.
  5. If you have control of the room arrangement, small nooks and play areas are easier to control than one giant open space.  Large open spaces invite wrestling matches or running in circles.
  6. Preschooler’s vocabulary is growing rapidly, however they do not have all of the words you have.  You may have to give them some words to help them explain what’s on their mind.
  7. They do not understand sarcasm and may even get their feelings hurt if you tease them.  They are very literal and their sense of humor is just developing.  That is why they think knock knock jokes are funny, and why they may try to tell a joke that does not make sense.  Sarcasm is a very sophisticated level of humor which not only is lost on a preschooler, but can be hurtful.
  8. Telling a preschooler to “share” is a concept that is hard for them because they believe they are center of the universe.  Sharing can be perceived as a threat.  Tell them exactly what you want them to do with the crayon, ball, bike, etc.  Say, “You use the toy and then Rebecca will use the toy, and then you can use it again.”  That way they know that they are not losing the toy forever.
  9. When in doubt, read a familiar book.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Brown Bear, Brown Bear will almost always redirect a group.  If you would like to have them participate, use a Wheels on the Bus type of book to get some physical energy out.
  10. Always remember that behaviors are feelings to be understood.  Before you label a child’s behavior as bad or wrong, try to think about why they are “acting out.” Are they hungry, tired, anxious of a new situation, worried about making a transition or lonely?  Try to put yourself in their shoes to see if one of these feelings could be the underlying problem.