Teaching Preschool

Preschool teaching is the instruction of children under the mandatory school age, which ensures cognitive stimulation and socialization. In most countries, preschool education and care cover children under the age of four. In 1767, Johann Friedrich Oberlin set up the first infant school known as salle d'asile, or the hall of refuge, in Waldersbach. Robert Owen followed suit and in 1816 set up a preschool institution in Scotland. His school taught children of cotton mill workers up to the age of 10. Special instruction and recreation activities were organized for children aged between two and five. Also in the 19th century, German Friedrich Froebel set up the first kindergarten, which was different from the existing preschool centers. Froebel proposed a systematic theory of early childhood pedagogy and postulated that preschool education is an important stage of the child's development, in which he or she should learn through play. In his book The Schools Our Children Deserve, Alfie Kohn (1999) insisted that schools have to value children rather than treat them "as adults in-the-making" and school activities have to be meaningful for the child. These ideas have turned into underlying concepts of modern early childhood education. Preschool learning is based on relationships and is highly dependent on the learning environment. Preschool teaching helps children learn mainly through interactive activities and play. It relies heavily on storytelling and rhyming games with music, arts and dance playing a lead role. These activities are meant to improve the child's social skills and acquaint him or her with basic scientific concepts. Preschool teaching involves small-group lessons as well as one-to-one instruction.

Preschool classrooms have to create an environment where children feel safe and where they are valued as individuals. Research shows that if they receive approval and affection, children will be able to develop their potential and acquire basic knowledge and skills. The preschool classroom aims to promote social interaction, as knowledge and understanding is built on socialization. Preschool education aims to help children develop ideas and concepts which enable them to understand the surrounding world. Learning is effective when children build new knowledge upon existing understanding. Apart from factual knowledge, preschool students need to grasp basic concepts in mathematics, science and literacy. Children are also expected to acquire skills for gathering information. They should be able to identify letters and numbers. Preschool teaching also targets the development of children's metacognitive skills, which help them evaluate and monitor their own learning process. Early literacy skills are critical for the future learning process, while language-rich activities in the preschool classroom promote literacy acquisition. Children get used to book reading, acquire print awareness and learn print conventions. The preschool curriculum covers basic concepts of mathematics and the preschool institution offers a number of opportunities to children to get familiar with numbers in an informal situation. Children learn the meaning of numbers and understand adding and subtracting.

In general, preschool activities are designed to meet the physical, emotional, intellectual and social needs of children. Preschool care includes also the provision of breakfast and lunch. Particular attention is paid to cleanliness and safety of equipment. Preschool education is also meant to promote acceptable disciplinary policies. Preschool teachers have to ensure a safe and developmentally appropriate program in accordance with all of each country's legislation. The teacher is responsible for planning and implementing the program which will ensure children's development and safety. Moreover, the teacher has to be respectful of children. He or she has to help children build their self-esteem, and has to be available to comfort them and to provide positive guidance. Meanwhile, the teacher has to discuss children's development with parents or caregivers, identifying their problems and needs. The Montessori method, developed by Italian educator Maria Montessori (1870-1952), is widely used in preschool teaching around the world. Under this method, activities are organized in three-hour uninterrupted work periods. Children study together in mixed-age groups. Although there are no academic requirements for infants, they are exposed to a large amount of new information. According to Montessori, children under the age of 6 have an inherent development path and their free choice within a controlled environment can guarantee their optimum development. Hence, the teacher provides guidance, but children are allowed to freely choose their activities.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Educating the Young Thinker: Classroom Strategies for Cognitive Growth
Carol Copple; Irving E. Siegel; Ruth Saunders.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1984
As the Twig Is Bent--Lasting Effects of Preschool Programs
Consortium for Longitudinal Studies.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1983
Early 3 R's: How to Lead Beginners into Reading, Writing, and Arithme-Talk
Lee Mountain.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2000
Engaging Young Children in Mathematics: Standards for Early Childhood Mathematics Education
Douglas H. Clements; Julie Sarama; Ann-Marie Dibiase.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004
Teaching and Learning Vocabulary: Bringing Research to Practice
Elfrieda H. Hiebert; Michael L. Kamil.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Classroom Practices for Vocabulary Enhancement in Prekindergarten: Lessons from PAVEd for Success"
The Effects of Observational Learning on Preschoolers' Book-Related Behaviors and Alphabet Knowledge
Horner, Sherri L.
Child Study Journal, Vol. 31, No. 1, March 2001
Teaching Thinking: An Agenda for the Twenty-First Century
Cathy Collins; John N. Mangieri.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1992
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 14 "Preschool Children...Masters of Change"
Long-Term Studies of Preschool: Lasting Benefits Far Outweigh Costs
Bracey, Gerald W.; Stellar, Arthur.
Phi Delta Kappan, Vol. 84, No. 10, June 2003
Preschool Teachers' Use of Assessments and Curricula: A Statewide Examination
Pretti-Frontczak, Kristie; Kowalski, Kurt; Brown, Rhonda Douglas.
Exceptional Children, Vol. 69, No. 1, Fall 2002
When Mother Says to Do One Thing and Teacher Says to Do Another: Preschoolers' Responses to Mother-Teacher Differences
Chen, Hsiu-Ling; Ispa, Jean M.
Journal of Research in Childhood Education, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring-Summer 1999
Integrating Thematic-Fantasy Play and Phonological Awareness Activities in a Speech-Language Preschool Environment
Constantine, Joseph L.
Journal of Instructional Psychology, Vol. 28, No. 1, March 2001
Using Discrete Trial Teaching within a Public Preschool Program to Facilitate Skill Development in Students with Developmental Disabilities
Downs, Andrew; Downs, Robyn Conley; Johansen, Michael; Fossum, Michelle.
Education & Treatment of Children, Vol. 30, No. 3, August 2007
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