Young children are curious about anything that surprises them. They love to move around and explore, and will pay close attention to what interests them. They learn from one another even more than they learn from their teachers and parents. They need materials presented that are developmentally appropriate and engaging.
To manage all of this while supervising and facilitating the learning of children at several different ages at once may seem like an overwhelming task. But managed well, a multi-age classroom can offer distinct advantages. Older children become helpers and mentors for young ones. The social skills they acquire and the self esteem they develop while doing this will prove invaluable throughout life. The teacher is usually freed from the task of tying shoes, helping with buttons, and other small tasks that some of the children have not yet mastered.
In order to make this experience work, the educator must be well organized. A schedule should be established that allows the children to know what’s next and what will be expected of them. Most days will start with an opening circle time of some sort, with children sharing ideas and enjoying a book or song with the teacher. This is followed by time to explore learning centers, physical activities such as dance, lunch time and of course nap time, and some outdoor exploration as weather permits.
The classroom should be divided into various learning centers that will allow children to explore freely and learn new things. A science center, an art center, a home living center, a book nook, a dress-up area, a math concepts center could all be included in the planning.
Children should be taught that the things at each center stay there. They are used in that area and need to be returned to their proper places before the child moves on.
Themed units work well with preschool children, and can be supplemented by the “number of the week, color of the week, letter of the week” system to help teach academic skills. A monthly newsletter that explores the units to be covered and provides parents with questions to ask (How do the beans get in the can?) and activities (such as tearing lettuce for the salad) helps to reinforce the concepts being taught.
Children can learn to take responsibility for completing one or two tasks during the time allowed for exploring learning centers. A simple system for checking the completed tasks will help them develop a sense of accomplishment.
Coming together as a group at the end of the day allows children to talk about what they have learned and done together and provides a time for transitioning to home. Each child should go home anticipating the adventures planned for the next day.
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