“Tools for Teaching Tots,” Ensign, Mar. 1987, 70–71
I had just received my teaching degree and was assigned to team-teach in a classroom of fifty-four kindergarten children. The responsibility of managing their behavior seemed overwhelming. The children were often restless and fidgety, and sometimes even disrespectful. I was discouraged. I knew that I was putting enough time into preparing the lessons, yet I knew that there was still something wrong.
One day I talked with Ruth, a veteran first-grade teacher who had worked with young children for many years. She suggested that our class join hers for a lesson on the United Nations, and that I and my fellow team-teacher observe how she worked with the students.
To my surprise, the children—over eighty of them—were spellbound. Ruth involved them in singing, dramatic play, map reading, puppet pantomimes, and a lively group discussion. No child spoke out of turn; no one was fidgety and restless. Not once did Ruth have to scold or reprimand a child.
Later, I asked Ruth how she held the attention of so many children so completely. “There are many things today that compete for the attention of our children,” she said, citing movies and television as examples. “If we expect to hold children’s attention in the classroom, we must put on a good show.”
I thought about Ruth’s words, and about the television programs that hold the attention of young children. I began to watch children’s television programs myself, as well as to observe other teachers like Ruth. Over a period of time, I realized that there are several things we can do to help hold the attention of the young children we teach—whether in school, in Primary, in Sunday School, or in our own homes.
Help children handle transitions. Young children are noisier and more disruptive when they are changing activities or moving from one place to another. Often they don’t know what is going to happen next, or how to conduct themselves. Teachers can make specific plans to help them move from one activity to another.
For example, a group of four-year-old Primary children bumped and jostled each other as they moved from opening exercises into their classroom, pushing the chairs around and arguing about where they wanted to sit. Their teacher decided to help them make this transition more reverently. Before Primary, she arranged the chairs in the classroom and placed a name card on each chair so that the children would know exactly where to sit. When a child sat on the right chair with arms folded, the teacher smiled and pinned the name card on the child’s shirt or dress. The routine became a game that the children loved.
Keep things action-oriented. Young children learn primarily through action and interaction with their environment. While it is true that they can be taught concepts through direct instruction, children learn much more effectively when they are actively involved in the learning process.
For example, the teacher of a group of three-year-old Primary children spoke briefly about sharing and then told two short stories about children who shared. She then laid newspapers on the floor and gave each child a ball of clay. She observed that her ball of clay was much smaller than anyone else’s and invited each child, one by one, to share with her. At first the children were reluctant, but when they saw her willingness to share with them, they began to enjoy sharing—not only with their teacher, but with each other. The lesson allowed the children not only to define the concept of sharing, but also to experience the feelings that are part of learning to share.
Teach them by imitation—with stories, songs, and poems. Stories, songs, and poems are wonderful teaching tools. If you tell stories with enthusiasm and excitement, the children will be spellbound. If you teach them simple, repetitive songs and poems, the children will soon be singing and chanting right along with you. Often an important gospel concept can be communicated to young children easily by teaching them a simple song.
Love them—and let them love you. Some time ago, I stood in line at a grocery store with my three-year-old son, Danny. He suddenly pulled on my skirt. “Look, Mommy! There is my Primary teacher,” he said, indicating a woman who was working at the checkstand. My little boy mustered the courage to say, “Hi, Teacher!” and my heart stood still as I wondered if she would hear his small voice and turn from her work to acknowledge him. Then she looked down with a big smile and said, “Hi, Danny!”
Danny loves his Primary teacher. He listens to her in class and tries to be reverent because he loves her. I am grateful for her willingness to share her life with Danny—in Primary and every day.
Learning to be an effective teacher is not easy. It takes prayerful planning and a willingness to try new activities. It also takes a willingness to fail and to try again. But when a teacher does succeed, the children she teaches will reward her with their love and devotion, and the teacher will experience the joy that makes all of the effort worthwhile.—Janelle Lysenko, Provo, Utah