English in Early Childhood: Alumni Teaching Experience
For two years I have been teaching Italian children in a nursery, a group of 5,2-3 years old. They are still not able to speak well their mother tongue and have a short vocabulary. They have no experience yet in being taught traditionally, may still use pacifier and diaper, so how can you teach so small children English and is it even worth it? Shouldn’t they first learn their native tongue? Many parents think so.
I am sure they benefit from being exposed to English vocabulary and getting used to the sound of English as young as possible. But of course, it must be done in the right way, they are not going to study English but going to “play English” It must be a funny experience for them.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Charlotte P. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
Of course, teaching so small children is not always easy. They easily get distracted and keeping their attention for a long time is almost impossible as well as useless. Sometimes they are tired, they miss their mum and I have to continue teaching with a crying child on my lap. If they see a toy, they get off to play with it and the others follow. Therefore, it is important to find a way to get back their attention, without shouting but patiently bringing them back to the activity we are doing, and when it is not possible, then I change the activity.
As a teacher, it is important to be cheerful, present and funny, to try to get to know each child, their sensitivities, their strengths and move on at their pace. Most important to me teaching this year group, is that they have fun learning English so that their first experience with this new language remains positive.
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I do use flashcards, but I have realized that I must use very few at the time, like 3-4 each lesson. They can repeat the vocabulary, but they don’t memorize the new words. Therefore, I do drilling and make sure to use the same new words during the lesson many times; when we sing, read books, do mime games and through a memory game with very few images. In the following lessons, I make sure to repeat the vocabulary from previous lessons.
The children have an amazing skill to memorize songs even when the songs are in a new language. I use simple children's songs followed by gestures, and I believe that the songs are the most effective way to teach small children English. Even very difficult words get easily memorized when they are sung. An example; they learn to count to 10 in no time because we sing funny counting songs.
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All children love to hear stories, and love to hear the same story again and again. Hearing the same stories is a fantastic way of doing a repetition of the same vocabulary. Matching images with words give a good visual understanding of the meaning of the words. Using gestures while reading, and changing the voice to make the characters from the story come alive makes the stories funny and invites them to participate in the storytelling. In the end of a lesson, I let them sit on the floor to “read” the books they feel like, they have a natural love for books, a love that I think must be nursed, if You are exposed for a lot of books as a child there is a chance You will continue to read as a grown-up.
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I use “gymnastics” to teach the verbs. The children love it and soon learn to do the right movements when they hear the verbs. “I swim”, “I dance” I turn around” etc. It is a good activity to do after too many “sitting down” activities. A small child needs to move, and learning as they use their body is an effective way.
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So, is it possible to teach so small children? Of course, it is, but it is important to variate activities a lot, go with the flow, and not keeping a strict plan of your lesson, but be immensely present and aware of how to keep their attention? Songs, stories, dances, plays, creative works, gymnastics are some of the activities I use. A lot of humor and love for the children makes it fun for me as a teacher and fun for them to enter a new world of a new language.
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