Preschool is often a child’s first taste in a formalized learning environment, where an adult other than mom or dad is in charge for several hours most days of the week. At this age, so many wonderful things are happening in the development of your students, and as their preschool teacher you will have the fun – and sometimes stressful – job of leading your four and five-year-old students to success.
These ten tips will help you set up a successful learning environment for your preschool students.
- Follow a schedule. As a former special education teacher, I learned quickly that children functioned best on a schedule. To create a daily schedule for my classroom, I would list out what I knew had to be done at a specific time, like lunch and recess, and then plug in the other things I wanted to cover, like circle time, lessons and art. Once the kids knew the drill, days flowed more easily.
- Be flexible. Unexpected things happen when working with kids. Don’t be so schedule-crazy that you can’t change the routine to deal with these things.
- Get organized. Keep like things together (craft supplies, manipulatives, and snacks). Know where tools are. Keep your lesson plans on your desk. Problems often come during those ‘unstructured’ times, so if you have to stop every half hour to look for something you’re going to lose the attention of your kids.
- Be creative. Use tactile and interesting lessons to teach skills. Kids this age love to play. They like to touch things, and they love to be creative and use their imaginations. Some ideas include practicing writing names using shaving cream on the desk, teaching colors by making homemade play dough, or discussing sharing and problem solving by having kids dress up and role play.
- Allow time for free play. While you may provide directed activities, such as making letters out of macaroni noodles, you should also provide time for free play. Daniel Asres says it is during free play that children learn how to react to and resolve conflicts with others.
- Have a plan in place for problems. Preschoolers are learning a variety of social skills, and having a plan in place for specific problems will help you move forward easily when they occur. Think “What will I do” if two children are fighting over the same toy? Or a child continually gets up and wanders around the room? Or a child suffers daily separation anxiety when mom or dad leaves?
- Communicate with parents frequently. As teacher Steve Reifman says, children behave differently when they know the teacher and parent are working together. Plus, parents appreciate teachers who communicate frequently. You might keep a daily written log, make occasional phone calls home, invite parents to volunteer and participate in school events, and have regular scheduled parent conferences.
- Remain positive, even in the toughest of times. These tiny children in your classroom are just starting to learn about the world around them. Your ability to remain positive and calm, even in the worst of times, will help your students do the same.
- Be open to alternative ideas. When I first began teaching I had an idea of ‘this is how it is going to work’. And when it didn’t work, I grew frustrated. If you go into the classroom open to alternatives to how you think things should work – for instance, a different approach to teaching how to share or a willingness to take a peer’s suggestion about teaching reading and use it in your classroom – you will grow as a teacher and your students will grow as well.
- Keep your voice low and calm. Children will model your reactions and behaviors. I learned this early on in teaching. Teachers who spoke in a soft voice had calmer classrooms. At the preschool age, kids love songs. Instead of yelling for everyone to ‘Clean up!’ you can sing the clean up song. Rather than yell at a disruptive student, which will inherently raise the volume level in the entire classroom, speak in a calm but direct voice.
What have you done to help ensure student success in your preschool classroom?