Have you ever witnessed a well-run preschool classroom? It’s magical. To see a classroom full of three to five year olds behaving in an orderly fashion is quite a lovely sight to behold. But it’s not actual magic making it happen, it’s teachers who know what they are doing.
A trained preschool teacher is not a glorified baby sitter, though unfortunately they are often treated as such. A properly prepared early childhood educator knows more about the steps and stages in these few years of life than most people even know is possible. Because they are armed with this information, they are able to transform a room full of snotty hooligans into a wonderful bunch of fascinated pupils.
Not that it doesn’t take some serious patience to be with this age group day in and day out — it’s not a job for everyone. But just because you aren’t cut out to be a preschool teacher doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from some of the ideas they use to connect with their students.
As parents we often find that the toddler and preschool years are the most challenging. Here are some things I learned while I was a preschool teacher that helped me immensely when I became a parent:
1) If you want them to listen, you must make eye contact.
Young children are learning every minute of every day. There is so much to grab their attention! But you are often not one of those things. If they are not looking you in the eye, they likely cannot hear a word you are saying. They aren’t being obstinate. You just don’t exist to them in that moment.
Using a louder voice won’t help you here – you have to break the spell. Hold the child’s hand. Get down to his level. Specifically say, “Look at my eyes.” Then proceed with your request. The reaction you get will at least be a reaction to you and not some other thing he was focusing on.
2) Be specific.
When making a request to a toddler or preschooler, use specific language. If you say, “Get ready for school” they will likely be overwhelmed by this request as there are so many activities involved with preparing for the school day. However if you change the request to, “Put on your socks and shoes” they then know exactly what is expected of them and how to respond.
Also be aware of how many instructions you are giving them at one time. Even when they are specific, if you give them 10 specific things to do they will probably feel overwhelmed and just give up. One or two items at a time is a great way to start with young children.
3) In order for children to learn, they need to have meaningful experiences.
Have you ever wondered why, even after telling your child something 15 times, they just don’t get it? Sometimes it’s because they are not connected in any way to the information. When you can create a meaningful experience for the child, not only will she remember the information better, but she’ll want to know more.
It’s the difference between describing a science experiment to someone and actually letting them do it. Science experiments are the easiest example (like growing a seed in a cup), but learning the letters in their names or the sounds of the letter in their names is also way to make the learning experience meaningful. They will likely be more invested in learning those letters versus just some random ones picked by someone else from the alphabet.
4) Independent learning is the goal.
A well trained preschool teacher knows that she is but a guide in the classroom. When it is her and 18 preschoolers, she can’t possibly do everything for every child. And even if she could, what value would that add?
In the classroom, as at home, the more a child can do for herself the better. When she learns a new skill it helps to boost her confidence so that she more willingly learns the next skill. What starts with independent potty skills will lead to getting dressed independently and tying shoes by herself. Building life skills may help her build confidence to work on other skills, such as recognizing letters and numbers and reading and writing, which will put her on the path for independent learning.
5) Keep your promises.
Children — especially young children — are remarkably intuitive. If you tell them you are going to do something and then you don’t, they learn not to believe you. And they might even learn to not trust you. When you lead a classroom (or a household) of young children who trust you, they are more willing to listen and cooperate.
6) Silliness and singing are very necessary.
There’s a reason kids learn so many silly songs in preschool. Children who are happy and healthy want to play. Singing songs is a great way to remember things (like the alphabet). Singing silly songs feels like playing. So when the teacher is singing “Five Little Ducks” and the children are counting down the ducks, they have no idea they are building skills for math.
A little extra singing and silliness can go a long way at home, too. If you aren’t sure how to fit it in, try singing “Let It Go” from Frozen to diffuse an argument between siblings.
These ideas work for small children, but are helpful when parenting children of any age. I’ve even found that some of these tips can help in adult situations as well… Let it go, Let it go….
Do you have a “teacher trick” that helps you at home? There are many things I didn’t put on this list – what aspects preschool classroom management have you wondered about?