Thursday, July 1, 2010

What are some tricks of the trade?

Happy July! Summer is in full swing.

I thought it might be fun to explore bridges between home and preschool - things we teachers do at school that families could continue doing at home. I hope that these ideas make life with preschoolers a little easier or perhaps even more fun. At a minimum, they may help you see why we do certain things at school. What are these bridges? I'm thinking:

• basics of how teachers talk and interact with children;
• our use of meetings - “circle time” – to discuss things as a group;
• why and how we help children understand today’s schedule;
• teaching children to self-soothe, calm down, decompress; and
• a variety of activities and games.

Yes, I'm going to share a few "tricks of the trade."

Today I'll offer five basics of how teachers talk and interact with children. (I'll discuss the other topics on future days.)

Through the years, I've noticed that there are a number of things that preschool teachers seem to do automatically when they are working with 2, 3, 4, and 5 year olds...there is a special manner of speaking, a typical way of interacting that is often successful with young children. Perhaps we were trained to do them, perhaps we learned by experience (doing the opposite first!), but, for whatever reason, these little tricks help us through our busy days with youngsters.

1. When the voices are loud and raucous, we respond in a quiet voice. Children will typically lower their voices, too. Is it too loud in here? Model what you want to hear. Give a small clap and wait quietly. (I ring a small chime - you may not have one!) Always use a soft voice, even a whisper, in response to a loud one. (And, similarly, is it too wild or rough/rowdy in here? When a child is moving fast, perhaps getting ready to hit someone, we reach softly but assuredly for the child, and hold him/her, speaking in a calm voice.)

2. State the action you want. Keep your words succinct: Let's walk, rather than NO RUNNING! We state the behavior we want to see. Young children get very confused by negatives - it often seems as if they hear the noun or verb you are NOT wanting them to do, rather than the fact that you don't want them to do it. So, train yourself to express your desires in a positive manner - "We are gentle with our hands."

3. Re-direct inappropriate behavior, before it accelerates and takes over. Preschool teachers are great at improvising tasks that we'd love a mischevious (or simply tired) child to do right then - "Johnny, would you help me rinse these paintbrushes?" or "Want to make this puzzle with me?" This "preemptive strike" catches a child being good, helps them be successful, and wards off many an ugly scenario.

4. Model respect and fairness. When two children are involved in a conflict, we approach in an even-handed manner, not assuming anyone's guilt (no matter how sure we are!) and we get down on our knees and speak to the children at their eye level. "What's going on? Do you need my help?" Often, we place a gentle hand on each child's back or shoulder, a physical indication that both children are safe and you will be fair.

5. Play with your child. Follow your child's lead, uncritically. Preschool teachers succumb to child's play - we allow the child to "be the boss of us," to direct the activity, for some part of every day. We have tea parties, play with cars and trucks, and dance to silly songs. As Stanley Greenspan noted, playing with children and giving them your undivided attention sends children the powerful message that they are understood and cherished.

I'll close with a cute little rewrite by Becky Bailey:

A wonderful woman who lived in a shoe
Had so many children,
And she knew exactly what to do.
She held them,
She rocked them,
She tucked them in bed,
"I love you, I love you"
Is what she said.


  1. Maureen, your blog is a treasure trove!! The insight you provide goes so much further than teaching pre-school. I am blown away. Bless you for your work and your writing.

  2. Elaine, I'm so glad you enjoyed this. Thank you for your kind words.