One of my colleagues from the training center approached me and asked me how to go about teaching kindergarten aged students. I have had a lot of experience over the past 3 years with this age group. I gave her two solid pieces of advice that can always be applied while teaching students 2 to 5 years old.
1. The teacher has to be in close contact with the students.
2. Think of everything you do with the students as a game.
These two pieces of advice might be hard for some teachers to actually apply because other teachers who are used to older students are not accustomed to planning lessons with the expressed goal of having fun in class. Their goal is to pass tests, not necessarily master the skills, but to pass a test to gain access to the world of university and work. These destinations also do not have the expressed goal of having fun. That is a shame because while fun comes natural to most people, a lot of lives responsibilities are stripped of it.
As a teacher who has a daily schedule that lasts from 9 AM until 8 PM and comes home to a neglected house plant, I feel that I owe it to myself to fill my day with as much fun as possible. What every teacher should realize is that as the planner of the lesson and the leader in the class, the teacher has quite a bit of control of the style and pace of the classroom activities. If the lesson feels tiring by the end or feels as if it is dragging on forever, the teacher is the one to blame. If the students are restless, the teacher has to recognize that they are a captive audience and the teacher needs to find a way I deliver the lesson and engage with the students in a refreshing way. Good teachers do not talk about disciplining the students. They talk about keeping exertion engaged. It is not really difficult to do but requires one to go into the situation with a certain spirit.
How this is accomplished for middle school students or university students is different from how it is achieved with kindergarten students, but the idea is the same.
Kindergarten Students Need Direct Contact
When introducing yourself to a kindergarten class you have to realize that they are looking at every aspect of you. They are judging your manner of speech and movement and look. As a foreigner and as a man, I need to be aware that the students may notice that I am quite different from any other adult they have ever seen before. That I speak an unrecognizable language hardly matters but it doesn’t help either.
With the youngest students, I will approach them and offer to shake hands and say hello. I will arrange the class in a semi-circle to make this easier. I will go around the whole class and offer my hand. This will progress to me sitting in front of them and calling students up one at a time to come shake my hand and say hello. That is it. On the surface, it is extremely simple. But an introduction where we make physical contact and student can approach me is part of an important foundation for getting to know one another. This activity can advance where they come to me and let me put them on my knee. I bounce them a couple times and then let them go back to their seat. With the youngest students, this helps establish trust. And since there is no hurry to master the skills on the Gao Kao, I can relax. For students to come to the front of the room is an act of courage. Bouncing on my knee is an incentive that for a kindergartener is a very exciting thing.
With older kindergarten students, a ball can be used. I say hello to a student. If they respond to me with a hello, I toss the ball to them. Catching a ball requires eye contact and accepting what I am throwing at them. They return the ball with a gentle throw that lets me know that they accept me. Tossing a ball to one another is a form of physical communication. For older students getting to toss a ball proves to be rewarding to them.
The students have only a small circle of adults in their life. They have grandparents, aunts and uncles, their parents, and a few other adults, including teachers. An foreign English teacher needs understand that they play a big part in their small world.
The Playful Side of Everything
Playfulness includes a certain amount of chaos. Children love to run around and yell and knock things over and push and forget about the mess they are making. Schooling teaches, above everything else, how to manage your day with 30 other people without anyone losing an eye. Safety is always first and foremost in the teachers’ mind. And while we try to prevent anyone from losing an eye, teachers are satisfied getting through the day without losing their minds.
Cautious teachers would rather have students sitting quietly in their chairs, not engaging in anything dynamic, in order to assure safety. While I do value safety, a bump of the head can leave its mark long after the bruise has healed.
Something as simple as responding to the command to sit down can be fun. The simple TPR activity of students following a voice and hand command to stand up and sit down can become a lot of fun by speeding up the tempo or slowing it down. Also changing the had direction with the voice command.
The extension is to add the command come here. At that time, the students all come forward to crowd around the teacher. It is important:
- for the teacher to make his hands as if her is holding a barrel so that when they crowd, you have some shock absorption and not knocked over.
- to make sure the students are responsive to the command sit down.
Come here is followed with sit down and you will find that the students will rush back to their chairs. With all of the students crowded around, the activity is a little chaotic and there is a little pushing but unsurprisingly the students manage to push just enough to move but not hurt any one. If anyone gets too roughed up, all the more reason to modify the activity and give them a chance to do it again but with more care.
The idea that their chair is a place to go to, at their teacher’s command, is an important lesson for class safety. With other activities, the chair can serve the purpose las a "home base."
While learning about animals, the children really enjoy getting to stand up and walk around as that animal. A rabbit will jump. A owl will look. A parrot will fly. As we sing a little chant about one of the animals and walk around, I will surprise them and pretend that I will try to grab them. They squeal and scurry back to their chair. Again, they manage to hurry to their chairs without collision or other problems.
Oftentimes we tell the students to be quiet when what we really want them to do is listen. Silence is valued above most other things. Quite a few teachers enjoy spending their free time away from noise and chaotic places to unwind. Friends, who do not spend their day with children, often prefer night clubs or loud restaurants. But we teachers want a reprieve from that cacophony that is a kindergarten class's chorus.
Students are waiting for teachers to tell them what to do and show them how to organize themselves. They will be quiet when they see that we are ready to share something with them that is worth listening to. I suggest that silence should be included in activities to show them that silence is fun too. The activity where the students walk around as an animal that they chant about also includes a tiger. I teach the students that a tiger walks BUT he walks quietly. Stalking through the grass the tiger is neither seen nor heard. So we chant quietly and we step stealthily as his shoulder blades poke up. I end that round with a big roar which causes the children to squeal and hurriedly find their chairs.
Being loud is fun. Teaching classes all day, sometimes I just want to let out a big yell because it feels good. I try to avoid letting my students sit for too long because I hate sitting for a long time and I reason that they must hate it too. And I try to avoid letting them be quiet for too long for the same reason. I find that movement and noise is not only good for my students, who hunger for stimulation, but it is good for me too. I have an 11 hour day. I do not teach the entire time but such a long day involved with word can be draining.
Sometimes I will lead the students in a group yell. We alternate from raising our hands, and howling, to covering a finger to our lips in silence. We do this a few times just for fun. The funniest thing happened in one class where two of the teachers are very pregnant. While doing their activity with the students they both reported to me, at the same time, that their babies started kicking them.
I know that if I included slightly more structured and controlled versions of things that they like to do, not only will they see me more positively but they will also have a greater sense of self control.
Being Like the Eye of a Storm
Kindergarteners have a lot of energy. A teacher has to have more energy. More energy, in turn, means less stress because smiling and laughing throughout the day lifts you up. It is not fair to the students of the teacher is discipling the class because they are too excited. There are ways to let them vent off the extra energy in needed but the teacher needs to be alert enough to recognize that and think of a method in that situation to let them expend that energy.
Students can get very loud. But a teacher needs to draw up sound from deep in the chest cavity and be heard them. Sometimes the teacher can raise her voice and say, "Quiet 5....Quiet 4....Quiet 3....Quiet 2...."
There must be something innate about this method because I rarely if never have to say "Quiet 1." They just know.
The children can move quickly but a teacher must have reflexes to catch them in the act because you cannot lecture a 5 year old about what they did wrong, long after the act. Their carelessness, that we want to let them know is naughtiness, doesn't mean much to them. Stopping them, in the moment, is the chance to let them know, without getting angry, that they need to steer in a different direction.
A kindergarten teacher is the the center of activity. We are teaching our value for safety, social behavior, and learning. Fun is a key part of this learning process. It's ok if the class becomes rambunctious because in an instant the teacher can bring order. It's ok if the class gets a little too loud because on command the teacher can quiet the students down. Over time, a certain look from the teacher will speak volumes. With experience, the class will know that learning is a reward for studying well. In kindergarten, that understanding is just beginning to take shape.