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Kids World

Topics of interest to teachers of English as a second or foreign language to young learners.

September 15, 2003

Preschool Learning Stages

Kids Many of us in the English teaching profession are asked to teach preschoolers. Even though we know this is the age at which students absorb language the fastest, many of us are initially hesitant to enter this arena due to lack of knowledge or training. I, too, was reluctant to take on this age group. But once I did, there was no turning back.

I would like to share with you some pointers concerning preschoolers that I have learned over the years.

Although the learning curve of a child is fairly predictable, it is important to remember that each child progresses at his/her own pace. The child's drive to learn is awesome, and it is the role of the teacher (and parents) to nourish it. The trap we should all be careful not fall into is that of pushing a child too hard or too soon.

Three-year-olds are pretty interested in doing things for themselves as they are about ready to separate from constantly being with their mother. They are also motivated to keep up with older children as they can sense the older kids know something that they don't know. They have an initial interest in small puzzles and like to dance and sing with a group (following the teacher.) Some like to draw with crayons. This age group can begin to deal with cause and effect.

Four-year-olds are usually able to put puzzles together with relish because their motor skills are developing at a fast pace. They are interested in colors. Since they find pleasure in identifying the world around them, being able to classify things (such as colors, numbers, letters, body parts) gives them satisfaction. Singing and dancing comes easily, and they enjoy interacting with each other.

Five-year-olds understand counting and can manage to begin writing, although some are more able than others. This age group enjoys interacting with others, so group play and peer approval become important. Varying degrees of cooperation and negotiation are possible.

The following methods work best for me with preschoolers. I would like to encourage you to adopt as many as you can.

  1. Speak slowly and clearly.
  2. Repeat a lot.
  3. Make short statements.
  4. Use commands often. (Come in, stand up, sit down, show me, give me, take off your shoes.)
  5. Gesture while you speak.
  6. Respond to the child's English. ('Yes, the apple is RED!)
  7. Smile a lot. (Naturally)
  8. Use colorful materials for visual stimulation.
  9. Use music to set the mood, give the class a tempo, sing & dance, and as background music for playing games.
  10. Divide the class into manageable activities that are easy to do.
  11. Always have more activities than you need.
  12. Create and maintain tempo that keeps the class moving from beginning to end.
  13. Have simple games to play at the end of each class and switch every few weeks.
  14. Think of ways to help your student experience the concepts you want to teach. (Touch something blue; count your fingers; shake hands good-bye.)
  15. Look at the preschooler as another human being who is smaller than you and younger than you but who is, by all means, worthy of your respect.

In addition, the teacher should encourage each child to act responsibly by setting limits on dangerous activities (like running), anti-social behavior (interrupting another child), or being rude in general. It is really important that the teacher be consistent with the rules. Children find security in a fair system which lets them know what to expect. As always, with any age level, I think the teacher should praise in public and correct in private.

Whether you are new to this age group or a veteran, one thing is for sure: these precious people will teach you more about teaching than any other age group. They cannot disguise their elation or disappointment with our lessons. What a wonderful adventure for us all!

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