Pre-School

…How the Pre-School leads the young child on the journey towards becoming a social being.

Most children come to our pre-school when they are 4 years old. Up until that time they have lived in the bosom of the family, perhaps played with a brother or sister and they may have had some experience in playgroup, day care or kindergarten. However, within the family or in small groups of children, the 2 – 3 year old usually plays alongside her peers, rather than engaging or interacting with them. Gradually, as the child is better able to express what she wants and thinks, then she is more able to begin to play with other children.

One of the aims of pre-school is to teach social skills by means of example, experience and activity using imaginative language, stories, and “natural justice”.

Remembering that the 4-year-old child is at the very beginning of the journey towards becoming a social being, we consistently repeat and reinforce appropriate social behaviour. Sometimes it helps to put things into perspective by asking ourselves if we are doing all the things we are expecting of our 4, 5 and 6 years olds! We are the best teacher by being a role model, by setting the example.

Some of the skills that we are teaching and using in the pre-school on a daily basis include:

Making a Request

“May I play? May I have that doll? Will you share those blocks?” Many children will take toys away from other children without asking. Often if a child wants to join play already underway, he will disrupt (break a tower of blocks or a cubby) because he has not yet learned how to ask to join, and the disruption is a way of getting attention. The pre-school teacher takes the disruptive child, or shy child who stands off to the side and watches, and models how he can enter the play appropriately.

Helpfulness

Pre-school teachers encourage helpful behaviour towards other children and adults. Older children might be asked to help a younger child build a cubby or put on a puppet show, help with finger knitting, locate a particular toy, etc. It is interesting to observe how time and again children will play with particular toys during free play, but tidy up someone else’s toys. Tidy-up is something all the children do together for everyone’s benefit. In pre-school each day, one or two children set the table, serve the snack or set up the story circle for everyone. These are deeds which serve the whole group, rather than being self-serving.

Patience, Taking Turns

The young child lives in the moment. “Now” is all that matters – not the past or the future. If she is hungry she wants to eat now, if she is interested in something she must do it now. However, there are also other children in the group and therefore, she must learn to wait her turn. If someone else is speaking, she must wait before she can speak. She must wait to be served for morning tea or snack.

Negotiation: Speaking and Listening

Social skills go hand-in-hand with language development. The child (or adult) who is unable to express his thoughts and feelings in words often resorts to aggression when he feels frustrated, threatened, frightened, insecure, and uncertain, etc. Some young children may hit, kick, bite, scratch. Others may withdraw, rather than becoming aggressive. The ability to say what he wants or doesn’t want, to negotiate and compromise (give and take) underlies the beginning of the socialisation process. On the other hand, the child must be able to listen and understand the wishes and needs of others.

The pre-school teacher role is a role model for the children. She uses a variety of strategies to teach appropriate social behaviour and to encourage the skills mentioned above. Following are a few of these strategies:

Rachel Smith & Declan Allen

Imaginative Language

Imaginative language used by teachers and parents can focus on the behaviour rather than on the child. For example, the pre-school teacher may remind a child that “We have friendly (kind) hands for helping” when he hits someone. Or perhaps “Dogs bite. You are a boy”, if he bites another child. These sorts of statements make it clear to the child what is or is not appropriate behaviour, without confronting.

“Natural Justice”

“Natural justice” implies that a child experiences the effect or consequences of her behaviour. So, for example, if she tips her cup over, she cleans up the mess. No harsh words are spoken; she simply rectifies the situation. In group situations, when a child (especially a 6 year old) is unable to follow routines and expectations, she may be temporarily withdrawn from the group until she is ready to rejoin them in an appropriate way. This is not only for the benefit of the disruptive child, but also for the whole group.

Keturah Tracey & Ashlee Day

Stories

Finally, stories appeal to the child’s imagination and to their soul nature and act as a mirror. Fairytales provide archetypal images of human polarities – generosity and greed, kindness and cruelty, beauty and ugliness, etc. In all of these stories good triumphs over evil in the end, giving the child a deeply ingrained experience of morality without moralising.

The journey towards becoming a social being is a long one, requiring a lifetime. We help the child take their early steps in pre-school and hopefully impart some of the tools and skills they will need along the journey.