Young children are bundles of energy. The wise teacher will use strategies to take advantage of this characteristic, while planning brief periods of quiet instruction throughout the day. Here are some hints to help set up and maintain a happy and effective classroom for very young learners.
Enlist the aid of the parents
A child who is well-rested and eats a healthy diet usually does well in class. Sometimes parents need to be reminded of appropriate bedtimes and good food choices for their youngsters. This can be done during the “Meet the Teacher” evening, as a group presentation at the beginning of the year, and reinforced through newsletters sent home at intervals. If necessary, individual interviews may be held with parents who need more information and additional encouragement.
Establish a classroom routine and stick to it
Children learn best when they feel secure and comfortable. They like to know that the teacher won’t forget important events like snack time or outdoor play. They are more willing to sit quietly for brief lessons if they know that very soon there will be activity time and they will be with friends doing something they enjoy.
Model the behaviors you want to see
The teacher should speak in a quiet voice only loud enough to be heard clearly by all the children. She should cultivate a pleasant, serene, confident manner and refuse to yell or get excited over the normal ups-and-downs of classroom life. Children are notorious little copycats. If the teacher raises her voice and rushes around in an excited or distracting manner, you can be sure they will follow her example.
Schedule short lessons
There are some items on the curriculum that are best taught by whole-class instruction. Keep such lessons and story times brief – no longer than 10 minutes. Use colorful visual aids when possible. Accept the fact that you will not be able to compete with the professional entertainment they see on a large-screen television at home, but be as animated and interesting as you can. Ask questions frequently to keep their attention.
Alternate quiet times with activities
After every quiet activity, schedule a more relaxed and less structured time: snacks, playtime, music, or a game. Keep in mind that many skills can be learned through activity-based learning. The children can make letters, numbers or geometric shapes out of plasticine. They can learn to weigh items at the sand table. They can measure to find out who built the highest tower. They can draw or paint a picture to predict how a story will end, or practice good telephone etiquette conversing with a classmate on a toy phone. The value and scope of learning through activities is limited only by the teacher’s imagination.
Teaching very young children is an important and rewarding experience. During these years, young minds are developing quickly and learning occurs with incredible speed. A skillful teacher during these crucial years will build the foundation for her students to live successful and well-adjusted lives as adults. In the words of St. Ignatius of Loyola, “Give me a child until he is seven, and I’ll give you the man.”