Any tips for working with 4-5 year olds?
January 13, 2009 2:15 PM   Subscribe

Any tips for working with 4-5 year olds? I am taking a position at a Head Start program. I currently work with kids, but I would love to have some advice, as the kids in Head Start (Pre-K) are quite a bit younger than I am used to. I don't have kids and I am the youngest in my family, so I don't have that intuition that moms have :)
posted by pdx87 to Work & Money (6 answers total)
Keep your rules simple, make them clear, be consistent and give lots of hugs!! You'll be fine. Don't forget to have fun!! This is a great age!!
posted by pearlybob at 2:25 PM on January 13, 2009

Make sure you allow them to move around a lot. Kids that age are squirrely. I taught pre-K summer school for a few years and kids can't sit still for as long as you expect. Games like Follow the Leader and Duck Duck Gray Duck (or Duck Duck Goose) work well for keeping some semblance of control while still letting them move around.
posted by JannaK at 3:29 PM on January 13, 2009

Consistency. Yes. If you establish something as a rule, never EVER bend on it.

Be firm. You're going to have to repeat yourself. Over. And over. And over again. Be clear, keep directions simple and keep saying it. Give positive reinforcement - say "thankyou" every time something is done correctly. Say "please" whenever you request something.

I work with a 2 yr. old and a 5 yr. old and my day is spent uttering the following phrases:
"Put on your boots, please."
"We need to go and sit on the potty now, please."
"Thank you for listening to your body and using the bathroom."
"Thank you for being safe on the playground."
"No jumping on the furniture, please."
"Keep your feet off of your sister, please."
"We do not throw our toys, please."

Never raise your voice. Ever. Once this happens, the terrorists have won.

Kids this age have an attention span of about twenty minutes - don't ever plan an activity that will take longer. Also, plan on prep time being three times as long as it should take. I need five full minutes just to get jackets and boots on TWO kids. When I taught preschool, sometimes getting coats on took more time than we actually spent outside for recess.

Talk to kids on their level. Meaning, squat down and talk to them so that you're at their eye level.

Answer every child's question honestly, even if it means coming up with some vague answers. If you don't know, admit that you don't know. Never say "just because" or "ask your mommy" if you want to earn a child's respect. I've answered everything from "where do babies come from?" (My answer: "Mommies and daddies make them together, and for more information, that's something you need to talk about with mommy." - That's the only one I WON'T go into details on) to "What happens when we leave this world? Where do we go after that?" ("I don't know exactly, what do YOU think?") to "Why do people clean up dog poop but not dog pee?" ("You can't clean pee off the street because it gets stuck there. Just like you can't clean rain off the street.")

Be patient. Remember what it was like to BE this age. Kids are learning and changing SO FAST.

Time-outs are useless. Don't even try. The only way to use negative reinforcement is to catch a kid in the act and have them sit down RIGHT THEN and there. The threat of "If you do that again..." means that a kid will just keep going until threatened, they won't actually ever QUIT the behavior. If you see violence (which you will), the best solution is to separate the kids IMMEDIATELY and have all involved parties sit down quietly in different areas of the room. If toy throwing commences, same thing, just take the kid aside and have him/her sit down. Sitting down is punishment enough at this age. You don't need to come up with any "fancy" wording for it and you'll be surprised how much they DON'T want to do it when asked.

I think I've probably bored and/or overwhelmed you. I've taught preschool, I nanny for this age group, and I'm planning on getting a Master's in Early Childhood Education, so if you have any more specific questions, feel free to MeMail me :)
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:49 PM on January 13, 2009

Tell them what TO do instead of what not to do. For example: "Tommy, drive the car on the floor, " instead of "Tommy, don't drive the car on the table."

Give them reasons for your requests. "Tommy, drive the car on the floor because when you drive it on the table, it makes a loud noise and messes up the table."

Have fun! If you are getting frustrated, put on a kids' CD and sing songs with them. Read them a book everyday.

Don't get more than one messy activity going at a time.
posted by tamitang at 5:30 PM on January 13, 2009

Kids' yoga is a big hit in my daughter's preschool class. The teacher will initiate a short yoga session when the kids are getting too squirrely.

Also, special acitivies on each day of the week seem to give the kids something to look forward to. For example, in my daughter's class, Tue. is library and computer lab day, Thursday is cooking day, Friday is art day.

The kids love cooking day - if you have access to an oven, making gingerbread men or banana bread or cookies is great fun for all of them. You have to have the majority of the class doing something else, then invite 5 or so at a time up to cook. I guess you would really need an assistant to make that work efficiently.

They also love Spanish, and pick it up easily. They've also studied a lot of fun science topics - planets and the solar system, reptiles, dinosaurs, trees, etc. Pick a topic and do activities around that topic for a while.
posted by Ostara at 6:02 PM on January 13, 2009

I volunteer with our daughter's JK class of 21 weekly, leading a craft and helping out in general. I would suggest having an alternate quiet activity set up, and working in groups, as the teacher has. As you learn their individual personalities, you'll find that some will stay happily absorbed in whatever task is at hand and others will do the bare minimum and want to move on. And, you'll learn that already there are cliques and loners and that it's just as difficult to do a craft with the four noisy boys as it is to do it with a table full of shy kids - so get a handle on how to mix them up as soon as you can.

I'd also say you need to have a plan for dealing with interruptions. While those who've attended programs before will have the "raise your hand" thing down, despite that there will always be those who shout things out, and those who never will. It can lead to frustrations and resentment if some kids appear to get more attention because of this. Having a period where each kid gets to share something if they need to takes care of a lot of this at our daughter's JK, and those who follow the rules during activities get lots and lots of positive attention for doing so. Those who don't get the most and best attention when they do, but only friendly yet scant attention when they don't.

It's all good advice above. I agree with the suggestions regarding attention spans and needing to move around. Singing songs helps to transition everyone and remind them of rules ("Let's walk on the gray line, the gray line, the gray line..." and "Let's sit on the carpet, the carpet, the carpet"). I find myself doing it at home now. (Let's gather up the laundry, the laundry, the laundry...")
posted by peagood at 7:14 AM on January 14, 2009

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