Teaching Young Learners - Part 1


INTRODUCTION

Everyone who interacts with a young child is a teacher. As preschool teachers and child care providers, you have both the wonderful opportunity and the important responsibility to teach and nurture our youngest children. The years from birth through age five are a time of extraordinary growth and change. It is in these years that children develop the basic knowledge, understanding, and interests they need to reach the goal of being successful learners, readers, and writers. All young children deserve experiences that will help them to achieve this goal.

You play an important role in ensuring that "no child is left behind." You spend many hours with children and the right kind of activities can help them tremendously. You can be especially helpful to those children who have limited learning experiences at home.

This booklet draws from scientifically based research about what you can do to help children to develop their language abilities, increase their knowledge, become familiar with books and other printed materials, learn letters and sounds, recognize numbers, and learn to count. Many examples of strategies you can use for teaching these skills are included here. Also included are examples of ways to create an environment in your preschool classrooms that will nurture children's natural curiosity and their zest for learning.

Remember, you hold the key to the future academic success of the young children in your care.


CREATING A LEARNING ENVIRONMENT FOR YOUNG CHILDREN
Effective preschool classrooms are places where children feel well cared for and safe. They are places where children are valued as individuals and where their needs for attention, approval, and affection are supported. They are also places where children can be helped to acquire a strong foundation in the knowledge and skills needed for school success.

Young children need teachers who welcome all children to their classrooms, including children from various cultures, whose first language is not English and children who have disabilities.

Young children need teachers who take time to work with them individually, in small groups, and sometimes with the entire class–to help them develop their cognitive and social skills, their language abilities, and their interest in learning new things about the world.

Young children need instruction to develop the thinking, language, and early literacy skills needed for continued school success.

Effective preschool teachers and child care providers:

Know when children can figure out new ideas and concepts on their own and when it is important to explain things to them step-by-step.

Encourage children to participate in classroom activities and to honor the classroom rules.

Listen to what the children say and expand upon their language, building their vocabulary and background knowledge.

Know when to teach directly, when to provide time for exploration and discovery, when to practice skills, and when to encourage creativity.

Plan activities that have a purpose and that challenge children.

Know how to help children learn to work together and to resolve their conflicts.

Encourage children to respect each other's time and personal belongings.

Provide many opportunities for conversations between and among children and with adults.

Know how to establish and maintain order in a classroom but in a manner that permits the children to learn how to participate in and enjoy learning.

Arrange the classroom in a way that enhances their work with children and how the children spend their time.




Adapted from U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Early Childhood-Head Start Task Force, Teaching Our Youngest, Washington, D.C., 2002.