Kids are fun!
I used to be an assistant teacher in a preschool/day care center back in my home town. It was so much fun!! I worked with toddlers on up to preschool and early elementary aged children for four years. It was challenging at times, but so rewarding in the end. When I was working with the toddlers (ages 2-4), I would help teach phonics as well as basic phrases. Teaching children that young can be very difficult since they have very short attention spans. You need to be patient, very patient, in order to experience some success. It takes lots and lots of repetition, every day, to get those children to learn.
Kids that age have a tough time sitting still for long periods of time. One thing I’d often do is have them stand up and jump, run around, shake their arms and legs, pretty much do any bodily movement. It’s a great way for them to release energy and get some exercise. Any sort of movement at that age helps develop gross motor skills and coordination. If you teach in a kindergarten or preschool, you know what I’m talking about. Many of the children at the center loved listening to “The Wiggles” CD (They’re a children’s music group from Australia). They would also learn to sing along with some of the simpler songs. We’d also have a designated reading time, where the head teacher or I would read a book aloud to the class. Sometimes, with some of the three and four year-olds, we would have the children repeat a line or two after us.
Aside from the motor and language activities, we’d also do art projects to help build and encourage creativity skills, and the head teacher would set up a science center (usually a box of sand, jelly, something they can touch) and we’d talk about what the kids touched. Changing activities often is a good way to keep up the interest and attention of the young children. What is important is that you take everything in baby steps. Successes won’t be big. In fact, more often they’ll be small (things like children saying short phrases or one word at a time, being able to sit still for longer periods of time, listening to and following directions more easily). Every victory, no matter how small, should be celebrated. The child(ren) should be praised for doing well.
How does this relate to teaching ESL?
Even though I’ve worked with mostly young learners in the States, many of those same problems and methods can apply to teaching ESL. Since language learning is the best during the formative years of early child development (between ages 3~8), teaching basic phonics skills as well as basic grammar, is vital to learning any language. Teaching a second language to a child uses the same principles that are used when teaching a first language. The students must get used to hearing the second language spoken as often as possible to familiarize the sounds and words of that language. Listening comprehension will slowly get better as the child grows and learns more vocabulary.
One important thing to remember when teaching ESL to young learners, is to find a way to relate it to their first language. When the children are able to know the words in both their first and second languages, it is easier for them to understand what you’re teaching and saying. If the children are under five years old, it’s very helpful to have another teacher who is fluent in the first language to interpret and help them understand. Patience is a very good virtue to have and it cannot be stressed enough. Teaching young learners is a real challenge. It takes lots of energy to keep up with them, it also takes lots of patience and love to help them learn and grow. The challenges are great, but so are the rewards. Seeing young learners grow and begin to speak, helping them as they learn more, is a wonderful feeling.