Teaching a classroom of 3 and 4 year olds is completely daunting at times! Why is it that these little people can scare the living daylights out of fully-grown professionals twice their size? Most of it comes from a lack of understanding their needs. This week we dive into the social, emotional and learning needs of three year olds in hopes to “level the playing field” and be better teachers for our littles.
Self Esteem Plays a Huge Role At This Age
These young ones cannot handle the tough, demanding classroom commands that the older, more advanced students can. It is crucial that teachers truly care about each child as an individual, equally. Each child needs to feel loved and accepted. If we ridicule, tease or otherwise draw attention to their inadequacies, it can damage their self-esteem. Nothing makes a child want to quit more than a teacher who doesn’t verbalize often to their students that he or she believes in them!
Remember that young children:
- Make many mistakes.
- Feel inadequate most of the time.
- Are not skilled (yet!)
You, as a teacher, can help them grow in maturity and self-esteem by responding with . . .
- Positive feedback
- Honest and sincere acceptance, and
- Individual encouragement for each child.
Emotional and Social Needs
Children need . . .
- To feel that they are an important part of the class. Each student matters to each other and to the teacher.
- To feel they are successful. They can do it, and they can do it well!
- To feel accepted as they are. They don’t feel like they have to do everything right in order for you to accept them.
- To feel understood and liked by the teacher. This one can be tough since we sometimes come across students at this age who are still struggling with speech. Even when you don’t understand, affirm and encourage them anyway!
Here’s what you, as the teacher, can do to make sure you’re fulfilling their emotional needs:
- Use their names each class.
- Express to them that you expect their best efforts (within their limitations of age and maturity).
- Build rapport with them, by using eye contact, etc.
- Teach them to address you by a title implying respect, such as “Mrs. Green” or “Miss Judy”, rather than “Judy”. I also love to address my students this way, and it’s especially sweet when they refer to each other that way: “Miss Olivia is in my way, Ms. Kim!”
As I briefly highlighted in “5 Principles of Classical Ballet for Young Children”, we must find a balance between discipline and fun at the pre-ballet levels. Children need limits to feel secure and safe, so they can be free to learn:
- Appropriate behavior.
- Appropriate language.
- How to take turns.
- How to wait for instructions.
- How to listen to the teacher.
- How to be nice to each other.
- How to get ready for and how to finish an activity.
It is the teacher’s job to structure the class and to provide a secure, safe learning environment.
It is also the teacher’s job to help children learn appropriate behaviors for class along with the lesson material. He or she must realize that children don’t know all of the appropriate social behaviors. It will take years of practice, correct feedback from adults, and much growing for them to learn all they need to know about getting along with others.
These things can help:
- A few simple rules based on safety and courtesy.
- Adequate lesson preparation.
- Positive, friendly instruction in how to treat classmates, and equipment.
- Consistent procedures in starting and finishing the class.
- Consistent procedures in starting and finishing activities.
- Teaching with imagination and creativity; not just showing, but using a wide variety of approaches, involving as many of the children’s learning senses as possible.
Prepare! Make Plans!
You have less than one hour per week with the class, so make it count:
- Study the material. Select only a few props and visual aids to use.
- Know what you want to accomplish with them.
- Rehearse the activities and presentations ahead of time.
- Have the music, props, etc., ready, and arranged in the order to be used.
(For more details on lesson planning, see “Planning From a Bird’s Eye View”)
Teach to Their Level
Plan to reach the needs, abilities and understandings of the students through the dance activities; not just physically, but mentally, socially, and emotionally. Their needs, abilities, understandings are very different from those of adults.
- Conduct the class to their level of interest and understanding, not yours.
- Make the challenges appropriate for their level of physical and mental development. What is challenging but not frustrating to young children may seem overly simple to an adult.
- Structure each part of the class so as to limit potential problems. Free time or undirected activities are not a good idea for pre-school children.
- Guide your own inner feelings so that you will radiate what you want your students to feel.
Teaching these incredible little people is such a privilege! We are their very first exposure to the vast world of classical ballet, and there is so much more for them to learn! This year let’s get down to their eye level, see the world through their eyes, and explore the world of dance together.
- Tips for Teaching Preschool Combo Classes
- How Young is Too Young?
- 5 Principles of Classical Ballet for Young Children
- 20 Ways to Create a Comfortable Class