Posted on 11/16/2012 at 08:01 AM by Global Reach

Preschool teachers, especially those in state funded settings, have recently been feeling the nudge to move away from some traditional activities that for years have been a part of their classroom settings.  Research is telling them that those teaching methods can be replaced with far more effective practices for supporting young children in the areas of social-emotional, physical, cognitive, literacy, mathematics, science, technology and social studies.  What are some of those methods that we should be leaving behind and what do we replace them with?
   
Calendar Time (where preschoolers look at the date and month, count the days that have passed and talk about the weather) is used by teachers to incorporate math and science concepts, but due to young children’s limited understanding of time, the lack of relevance to their lives and the repetitive nature children often become unengaged and enthusiasm for learning wanes.  Replacing Calendar Time with Message Board (where children view words and symbols through morning messages that relate to the days activities, their friends and classroom dilemmas) may be far more effective, address multiple content areas and meet children at all levels of understanding, which means increased engagement and skill development.  
   
Letter of the week teaching looks at one letter at a time and focuses all activities on that letter.  This method also has little relevance to the preschooler’s immediate lives and research is showing that letter learning in isolation like this is not near as effective as letter learning through integration.  Letter of the week also goes too slow for some learners and too fast for others, and leaves no room for differentiating instruction.  When we look at the predictors for reading success we discover that children’s first exposure to alphabet learning should be play-based, have connections to their real life and begin with the most useful letters in the alphabet—those in their name.
   
Cafeteria-style meals do not promote good eating habits, proper manners, language development, a sense of community and progress in preschool objectives as well as family style meals.  Passing the food, serving yourself, deciding what and how much to eat and having in-depth conversations makes mealtime enjoyable for children and adults and there just are not teachers who made the switch that wish they hadn’t.
   
Big playground structures cost thousands of dollars, need to meet ever-changing safety guidelines and have limited open-endedness.  More and more preschools are going to the outdoor classroom concept for meeting their playground requirements to avoid these barriers.  A fenced in area with a cement riding path, a shed or two for storage and lots of space along the path for various play stations creates unending enjoyment for youngsters that includes gross-motor activities such as running, climbing, riding, jumping, etc., as well as possibilities for learning in all other content areas. 
   
Worksheets are simple for teachers to use, inexpensive and show parents what skills you are working on, but they are problematic and not developmentally appropriate.  Every skill that a preschool teacher wants to teach can be taught without a worksheet in a more active enjoyable manner where more interesting materials are used.  Our idea that children need to do worksheets to be prepared for kindergarten must to be replaced with the idea that children need to learn in fun and meaningful ways to be ready for kindergarten.
   
Show and Tell is intended to make children feel special and develop speaking skills, but is it really doing that?  Its bring-and-brag, competitive, product-based nature is not sensitive to family cultures and requires all but one of the children to sit-and-get when often they can’t hear or see what’s going on.  Having a Sharing Time where children explain what they made in the classroom or Sharing Circles where children rotate through stations and share an item they brought related to a particular study topic avoids the negatives of traditional Show and Tell, is far more meaningful for preschoolers and enhances learning in the content areas.
Saying goodbye to things we’ve done for years is hard, but it helps to know the reasoning and have a replacement activity.  That’s why Northwest AEA offers a workshop for making the transition in each of these areas.  You can find out more about this at nwaea.org.  All preschool teachers need to be accepted for where they’re at in their professional journey, but so do they need to continually strive to be better and follow what research tells us is best for children. 

Join the group of preschool supporters who see change for the better as a constant.

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