Tag Archives: preschoolers

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.

Wiggle While You Work

“The eensie weensie spider crawled up the water spout. Down came the rain and washed the spider out…”

Recognize the tune? You probably remember the hand motions, too. As a parent of three grown children, I have noticed in my time that childhood and music seem to be permanently intertwined. Did you know that as a child sings his or her favorite song or spontaneously moves to a beat, he or she is experimenting with, exploring, and practicing important developmental skills?

As children sing and move, they get physical as well as creative exercise, and feel the joy and exhilaration of freedom and growing control. When a child moves or dances with others, comfortable sensations associated with belonging to and working in harmony with someone else are experienced. As a child sings, new vocabulary and pronunciation skills are practiced. As children clap, tap, snap and move to finger-plays, small-muscle control is gained. And, as children begin to distinguish among rhythms, tones and sounds in the environment, they exercise auditory discrimination skills—an essential prerequisite to reading!

When enjoying music with children, begin with simple tunes, drawing children into musical movement. Put aside your inhibitions, switch on the radio and dance around the classroom! The more comfortable you feel, the more likely your children will want to join the fun. Wiggle while you work!

Share children’s favorite tunes with their parents. Encourage them to join in by helping their child learn a little more of the song, practice the words or just feel good about sharing an important part of their life and something they enjoy doing.

As children go through their daily tasks and routines, take some quiet moments to notice the rhythms around you: the tap, tap, slide of shoes on a tile floor, the quick ker-plunks of rain on the roof, the gentle thump, thump of sport shoes on a gym floor. Also notice the sounds that seem to attract children’s attention. Listen together, focus on the soothing effect. Other times, try to re-create rhythms using your hands or feet, or make the sounds with your mouths.

Anything you can bang, ring, strum or shake is a potential instrument. Children love taking discarded boxes, baskets or bags and use colorful crayons or markers to decorate them. Search together for items that make interesting noises: a pencil and a block, a rock and a piece of sandpaper, or a few large beads in a capped plastic container. Put them in your specially decorated music makers. When the class feels like being noisy, bring them out and raise a ruckus.

Dance, movement and song will be the theme for 4C for Children’s early childhood conference next year, and we hope to see you there with bells on!

Preschoolers are not Pilgrims and Indians!

Teacher: “Who wants to be a pilgrim?”
All 3-year-olds in class: “I do!”
Teacher: “Who wants to be an Indian?”
All 3-year-olds in class: “I do!”
One curious 3-year-old asks, “Teacher, what is a pilgrim?”

Every year as the leaves turn red, yellow and orange, it is tradition that the pictures of pilgrims appear on many child care center walls. I often find myself asking the same question the curious 3-year-old did, ”What’s a pilgrim?” or more importantly, “Why are 3-year-olds learning about pilgrims?”

This year, I decided to ask the teachers. One teacher answered, “So they will be ready for kindergarten.” Another teacher announced, “Learning about pilgrims helps them to understand Thanksgiving.” A third well-intentioned teacher explained, “Three-year-olds need to know their heritage.”

Upon answering the “Why” behind the “What” they are doing, I pushed these teachers to support their reasons with what they know about developmentally appropriate practices. The teachers had to agree that their understanding of how children learn did not support their practice of teaching about pilgrims and Indians, but it was just what they always had done. I then asked them to identify which of Ohio’s Early Learning Content Standards were being addressed and in unison they replied, “The history standard.”

The following are excerpts from Ohio’s Early Learning Content Standards for Early Childhood (located on the Ohio Department of Education’s Web site). I wonder if you are as surprised as these teachers to find out what is expected at the END of preschool?

Early Learning (3 – 5 year old) History
What this means: Understanding of people and events that influenced behavior.

• Begin to use the language of time (e.g., day, night, yesterday, today, and tomorrow).
• Label days by function (e.g., school day, stay home day, swim day, field trip day).
• Begin to use or respond to the language of time such as next, before, soon, after.
• Share episodes of personal history from birth to present.
• Arrange sequences of personal and shared events through pictures, growth charts, or other media.
• Share personal family stories and traditions

The 3-year-old asked the teacher a very valid question, and developmentally speaking, he can only really grasp what happened yesterday, and only cares about what is happening in his own personal family as far as his heritage is concerned. These are the histories we should be exploring in a preschool setting. Children are not expected until second grade to recognize the importance of social and political figures like George Washington, Tecumseh or Harriet Tubman, and not until third grade are children expected to measure time in centuries. If we reflect on the real reason we want to celebrate Thanksgiving with the children in our care, isn’t it more about friendship, family, and sharing a meal together?

Next year, instead of paper bag vests and tricorne hats, consider celebrating a child’s family by having them bring in pictures of important people in their family. Allow your child to choose the picture(s) she wants to share. It will be more meaningful if she could talk about the person in the picture. Talk about the custom of sharing a family meal together at this time of year, discussing that your classroom is like a family that shares and cares for each other. A culminating activity could be a classroom family meal, with age appropriate favorite foods like turkey lunchmeat, dinner rolls and carrot sticks. Consider inviting extended family to this classroom family meal to celebrate the heritage that is personal to all the children. I promise you will be less frustrated with children who have disputes over which costume they want to dress up in – the Indian or the pilgrim. They’ll be too busy being themselves!