Monday, March 28, 2016

Tuesday Tips- Knowing Your Little Learner- What is Different (and Special!) about Early Elementary Students

ARE YOU ONE OF THOSE LUCKY PEOPLE that has switched from teaching Spanish to high school or even middle school to elementary? Yes, I said LUCKY! Now you're sitting in a circle on the carpet, fending off sneezes right and left, and singing 'Los pollitos dicen' 20 times a day while flapping your little 'wings' like a chick... I know, it's paradise!


BUT, YOU ARE ALSO WONDERING who are these little people and how do I teach them? There is a fair amount of information out there regarding the pedagogy of teaching little children, but something they often miss is the nitty gritty-what makes up a Kindergartner? or any elementary student, for that matter....




HERE'S WHAT MY STUDENTS HAVE TAUGHT ME OVER THE YEARS (about themselves):

*A FOREIGN LANGUAGE is a foreign concept to many little ones. Unlike older students who have a working knowledge that people around the world speak in different languages, Kinders lack that understanding. You are introducing them to new words- and a new way to communicate. The idea that you can use the foreign language to get meaning across is one you need to practice and reinforce all the time, as well as the idea of WHAT a foreign language is. Be patient- they will frequently answer in English, or "translate" for you. Speaking a language is like a game to them, or a code... go with it!

*MAKING THE TRANSITION from home (or preschool) to Kindergarten is stressful and sometimes downright traumatizing... oh, and exhausting! Little 4 & 5 year olds miss their mommy, want to be home, and still need naptime. Don't be surprised by tears, sucking thumbs, even a kiddo falling asleep in your class (I know, this could never happen, right, because your class is so fun?... never underestimate how tired Kinders are, especially if you have them in the afternoon!). What I have noticed is that Kinders really don't settle in until about late October or November. Until then, be prepared to jettison your teaching to hug and console a little one. Keep it fun and not too challenging until they acclimate to being in school.

*IMAGINATIVE PLAY is a goldmine! Little kiddos still believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, that stuffed animals can talk and go on adventures.... tap into this magical world they are still living in! Have a puppet or stuffed animals as part of class, incorporate Ratoncito Pérez, the Tooth Mouse, and PLAY, PLAY, PLAY! And don't forget about using manipulatives (Thank you opattie for your reminder!)- plastic foods, toys, counters, manipulatives of every kind- kids love to touch and play with THINGS, not just interact with a screen.

*LITTLE KIDDOS LOVE NON FICTION...content based instruction is a huge motivator for young children. Science is a BIG hit with littles- animals, habitats, life cycles, outer space, the environment, dinosaurs, geography are great topics to tap into! And, since the gen ed classroom is often involved in these themes, you have the opportunity to coordinate and connect with them!

*SCHOOL SKILLS have to be taught and learned..at least in my district, more and more Kinders are coming to school without preschool experience, so knowing how to sit in a circle or walk in the hall or participate without interrupting and talking over everyone else are skills we are teaching more and more, rather than reinforcing. On top of that, social skills aren't as well developed, so manners, taking turns, being kind and respectful to others are not always ingrained either. Setting up routines, procedures and expectations right from the start is key- modeling and practicing these is crucial. Responsiveclassroom.org is a great resource for this!

*THE ATTENTION SPAN of a 5 year old is about as long as the number of years old they are... 5 minutes of an activity and it's time to move on! Keep the pace lively and varied, involve the whole group as much as possible (a group of 18 kiddos will only wait so long if you are taking turns before they start to squirrel out), and have more planned than you think you can actually do in a time frame. If you see them getting restless, you need to be prepared to switch to another activity!

This list is certainly not exhaustive, but I hope it helps! What would you add?

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2 comments:

  1. Love your list! I'd add: Keep it real! To the extent possible, use real materials, not pictures. For example, when teaching clothing, use baby/toddler clothes and dress stuffed animals. We can't always have real food in the classroom, due to food allergies, so I might use paper plates and have my students glue down pics of their favorite foods...we glue down plastic silverware, too. Incorporate fine and gross motor skills when ever you can. Take the littles outside and teach the vocabulary for what you see. I also second Responsive Classroom and would also recommend Whole Brain Teaching.

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    1. Thank you so much for your addition! I completely agree- hands on materials are a must! I am huge on manipulatives, toys, stuffies, counters, plastic food, you name it- little kids want to touch and play with everything! That tactile component is so important! I am going to add this to my paragraph on imaginative play!
      And love Whole Brain Teaching!
      ~Julie

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