This post is my response to the various preschool related questions from you all, my wonderful readers. I recently asked on our facebook page how I could help give some guidance, whether you were a preschool parent, teacher, or running a preschool. I am happy to share my own experiences with a best practices for children basis, and hopefully it will help inspire others to find something that works for them.
Here are all of your great questions.
“How do you handle sharing? It seems that some things are special and perhaps children should not have to share those. Overall, I want to raise my child to give generously and to learn not to be selfish.”
The way that I implement sharing in my class is truly turn-taking. If Annie wants the book that Ali is reading, I tell Annie that she needs to ask Ali for a turn when she is finished. This works 90% of the time as Ali feels that I am not rushing her and that she can choose when she is finished. On occasion, I do have to intervene because it seems the child won’t ever be finishing her turn. In those cases I say, “I know you are really enjoying that book, and Annie would really like for her turn too. You have three more minutes, and then I want you to give Annie a turn with the book.” I also like to let them set the time limits too (whenever possible) because even if they say 10 minutes, it is usually only two minutes before they are ready to hand it off to the friend.
I definitely don’t feel that every item should be shared. If a child has an emotional item such as a lovey (pacifier, blanket, etc.), I make it off limits to the other children. Other items, such as food or items that go in a mouth, are best for one person only. I love how sweet a child can be and offer to give his friend a bit of his cereal. So I have to step in and explain that we don’t share food. With allergies on the rise, it’s probably the best way to go.
Generosity is perhaps the hardest attribute I have had to teach to children in the first world. We live in abundance and wealth (even if we don’t feel that way). The most generous children I’ve come across are the children who live in true poverty. In my faith-based preschool program, I like to reiterate to the children that everything is God’s. I also take advantage of the times that my own kids want to give something away. Even if it’s an item I was planning on making $10 by consigning, I decide that they are being generous, and I should really support that.
“I need ideas for centers that will sustain attention for longer than 3-5 minutes.”
There is no doubt that some children will bounce around the room, from one center to the next, just being curious but not engaging. Child development shows us that there is a deeper level of play though, a process in which children sustain an activity for long periods of time with their full attention. The best way to start this is with sensory-related play. Activities such as playdough, a water table, rice play, painting at the easel, etc. might be a way to jump start this.
Take into consideration your free play time too. I allow large blocks of time for uninterrupted play, and that helps a child get into the groove of staying at an area for a good 30 minutes or longer. And of course, following the interests of the children helps a ton. My class devours writing activities right now! We have a writing center, and I have students who spend hours there each day (and I keep pinching myself thinking one day it will end, although it’s been months now). Lastly, rotating the items available to them also helps keep the classroom feeling fresh and new.
“I need ideas for children who cannot sit still during circle time.”
Some people are more fidgety than others, so as adults we do things such as click pens, tap our toes, bite our nails, etc. In children, they roll around, walk away, touch their friends, look around at the ceiling, and do other more obvious behaviors. To help with this, I like to give them something to squeeze and fidget with that will not distract from the actual circle time. This could be sponges, koosh balls, stress balls, and the like. Items such as carpet squares are great to give them defined boundaries as to where “their space” is. We also do lots of movement in our circle time to help allow for that release they need. There are even times that I even do an abbreviated circle time with the whole class then bring the ones who are still interested back and do an additional small group time with them.
“I’d like some time efficient planning strategies.”
The first thing that came to mind for me is Pinterest! You can keep track of all the awesome ideas you see online this way and categorize your ideas by a theme. If you want to follow some awesome preschool teacher pinners, see this post on creating lesson plans according to themes by my friend Sarah of Stay at Home Educator.
Lastly, my friend Deborah from Teach Preschool had this advice to offer:
“Making a scope and sequence calendar for the year will help you focus your planning.
Organizing your books and materials by theme so they are easy to find when needed.
Building in ideas that can be easily modified and then repeated throughout the year.
Creating a collection of prop boxes or activity boxes that go along with specific themes and then can be set out as needed.
Creating a center-based classroom environment so that kids are more self sufficient and independent and can build on their own ideas
versus being solely reliant on teacher planning.
Following the children’s interests through out the school year will help keep everyone inspired as the year progresses.”
“I am homeschooling a second grader and a first grader. I also have a son in pre-k (3 1/2), an 18 month old and a baby. I am often very busy directing the older two in their lessons- how can I keep my pre-k student busy? Perhaps some quiet activities that he can work on and express on his own?”
First off, I’m going to say that you’re Supermama in my book! During the day when I need to attend to a few students and have the rest engage in activities for long periods of time, I go for sensory activities. Here’s my Independent Play pinterest board, Sensory Activities board, and Playdough pinterest board with some ideas. There are definitely some super messy ones in there that I’m guessing might be best for other times, but in general, once a child is engaged in sensory play, he becomes very quiet…or silent :).
I also love books on CD with headphones or Story Readers. Activities with yarn at this age are very engaging. Turn a chair upside down or find a surface where he can take yarn and tie it time and time again. I also highly recommend these amazing quiet books from the wonderful Dyan of @And Next Comes L.
You are certainly not alone in finding balance to this as many of my blogging friends could relate, and I’ll finish off with this great post with tons of fantastic ideas from the talented Tabitha of Meet Penny. I hope you find a few activities that you absolutely love and work well for the dynamics of your family!
I have a child ( four years old) in my class – super bright and excels on everything but when it comes to group games she gets scares and hugs my leg, refusing to join in. Any ideas on how to help her? Thank you so much in advance!
It sounds like this sweet little one is dealing with a bit of anxiety or the feeling of being overwhelmed. The best way to help her cope is to continue to make her feel safe and secure with you as well as in the class setting. I would recommend helping her transition to the anxiety causing activities by giving her time to process it before it happens. Talk through it with her. I would say, “We’re about to come together as a class, and I know that you want to be near me because < you feel scared/it’s loud/we have lots of friends/whatever the case my be.> I’ll be here for you, and you are going to be safe.” Then I’d have her help with the activity to make her feel more confident (if she’s willing). Hopefully through time as you’re able to determine the cause of her anxiety, you can help her work through the emotions that she experiences in that setting. Eventually she’ll loosen her grip, then take a step away, then be confident in her own space.
If this extends into other social settings and seems to be more than a transitional stage, it could be something that she should work through with an Occupational Therapist as well. OTs help children learn to cope and self-soothe, and they are my best friend as a preschool teacher.
“I need some good ideas for teaching letters. I go over the sound(s) they make and we practice writing them. But what else can you do?”
I love what you are doing already. In my experience there are two areas that I focus on with letters. The first is building confidence. Help children become familiar with letters. This can be through letter stamps, letter manipulatives, letters used for lacing, and other fun letter activities. This Reading Mama made a list of 101 Alphabet Activities and Printables with some wonderful ideas.
The second aspect I focus on is meaning. Children should see and understand that letters convey importance. They are what we use to write our names, to communicate with people, to determine what store we are at, to read road signs, etc. Once children understand the importance and function of letters, they begin using them and start wanting to create words and sentences with them. My friend Stephanie from Twodaloo has a fantastic post about this on how we bring meaning to literacy.
“With an in-home preschool, how do you set boundaries. You are essentially teaching from your home which is a completely different atmosphere than a teacher who goes to a school.”
This has been an aspect that constantly needs fine tuning! When I first opened my program, my husband felt completely invaded and intruded upon. Over time I decided to change my hours so that he is not here when the drop-offs and pick-ups take place. This way he feels much more that he is at home and not living in a transient environment with people constantly coming in and out.
Work always comes “home with me,” so I’m constantly trying to figure that out. My “to do list” is also gigantic despite how much I get checked off, so I definitely have to make an effort not to look at the classroom when we are having family time. It helps that my classroom is at the back of our house in it’s own secluded room. Some providers have their programs in their living areas, and I knew that would not work for me. It’s definitely a balance that I never feel I’ve mastered, but I try to find little ways to still make it feel like home and to make sure my family is being respected at the same time.
I’ve absolutely enjoyed answering all of these wonderful questions, and if you’re not following along with our facebook community, we’d love to have you join here.