Preschool: Teaching a Range of Levels
Sometimes teaching your child at home can be tricky, especially if you have more than one kiddie who requires your attention. In our home, I have William, who is almost four, Corinne, who just turned two, and this summer we will have a third, so teaching time can leave me feeling more like a bad juggler than a teacher. My biggest problem is that I hate leaving one child out of an activity, so instead, I modify the activity so that both my children can participate. Our activities require being appropriate for a range of levels.
Take pattern shape blocks, for example. I have two sets and both boxes state they are for children ages three and above. Perfect for William, but less perfect for Corinne. So, here is how I may use pattern shape blocks to teach both my children at the same time.
First, I begin by allowing both children to simply play with the shape blocks. They can explore them by stacking, or lining them up, by making line patterns or pictures. I always allow them to manipulate the materials before giving them specific instructions on what to do with them. Something I learned from teaching preschool when I couldn’t figure out why one of my very well behaved students wasn’t cooperating. Her mother told me the next day that since the counting chips were new to her daughter, she simply wanted to try stacking them, instead of counting with them. Lesson learned.
After a few minutes of simply playing with the materials, I set William up with a pattern he loves and is capable of doing mostly on his own. This pattern requires both an equilateral triangle and an isosceles triangle, so the latter requires a little manipulation.
I get William started on a familiar pattern so that I can spend a few minutes teaching Corinne how to use the shapes. I allow Corinne to pick the pattern that interests her. Surprisingly, she chooses the airplane pattern, not the ladybugs or flower patterns. I begin by pointing to a square and asking her the shape, which is when I realize this is the first time I’ve formally sat down to teach her shape names. Our dialogue sounds like this:Me: Corinne, (pointing) what shape is this? Corinne: (no response.) Me: This shape is a square. Say square. Corinne: Square. Me: Can you find a square? Corinne: Right there! (pointing to a circle). Me: That is a circle. We are looking for a square. Like this one. (I point again to the square on the pattern sheet.)
I then show Corinne a square shape block and ask her to find another one just like it. She does, and I show her how to place it on the pattern sheet. I invite her to do the same.
And she does, but then she swipes the squares off the sheet saying, “I no like it, Mommy.” Corinne returns to the circle she previously found and places it on her sheet. At this point, I realize that my efforts in teaching Corinne the shape of a square, or how to appropriately use pattern shapes may be in vain. After all, she entered the “I Can Do It Myself” stage at about six months old.
During all of this, William is still working on his train pattern, being very selective of colors. I allow him to continue working, and challenge Corinne to find more circles that match the one in her hand. She finds several and places them on her pattern sheet. While there are no circles on her pattern sheet, I do not correct her. Pulling like shapes out of a pile on the table is a valuable mathematical skill in and of itself.
Now Corinne is settled, as she is pushing circles around on her pattern sheet and independently pulling more from the group on the table. I return to William, who is experiencing some frustration because he is having difficulty figuring out why the equilateral triangle is not fitting in the space for the isosceles triangle. I lay the equilateral triangle shape next to the isosceles outline on the pattern sheet. Our dialogue sounds like this:Me: Look at these two triangles. Do they match? William: Yes. Me: Look again. They look a little different to me. William: (Pointing to the isosceles outline), Oh, this one is taller! Me: That’s right. Let’s look at our pieces and see if we can find a tall triangle.
William successfully finds a “tall” triangle and turns it to in circles until it matches the one on her pattern sheet. Being the last piece, he then sits back, puts his hands behind his head, and smiles at his work.
From here I encourage William to choose another pattern sheet, which he is hesitant to do, but he complies. I continue to work back and forth among my two children, spending a few minutes at a time with one before moving to the other. I let Corinne lead me in terms of what she seems receptive to learning. William, being older and more obedient, I encourage and praise him as he works on a more difficult piece, modeling how to problem solve.
Now, in the literal sense, I cannot juggle. Not even a little bit. It’s quite funny to watch how uncoordinated I am. But, as I said before, teaching a range of levels can feel a bit like juggling, even if you’re experienced. The key is to remain positive and encouraging. Start with something you know will be manageable. Work slowly and take your time, because I think much of juggling is about the process and not the product.
I’m Sarah, an educator turned stay-at-home-mama of five! I’m the owner and creator of Stay At Home Educator, a website about intentional teaching and purposeful learning in the early childhood years. I’ve taught a range of levels, from preschool to college and a little bit of everything in between. Right now my focus is teaching my children and running a preschool from my home. Credentials include: Bachelors in Art, Masters in Curriculum and Instruction.