Teaching kindergarten level can be very fun and challenging, the children know no basic English, attentions spans are incredibly short and behaviour can vary. Before I moved to China, I had no prior experience teaching kindergarten children so the majority of what I learned, was through my own experiences. I spent a year teaching a boisterous and excitable class of 3 to 4 year olds. I share some of what I learnt along the way with you.
Chinese children are like children anywhere else in the world
I lost count of the amount of my friends back home who would say to me “I bet the Chinese children are better behaved than our kids in the UK”. The bottom line is, kids will be kids no matter where in the world they live. I understand that as Chinese students begin primary school, they typically become accustomed to a more disciplined learning environment and in turn become more orderly students, but at Kindergarten level, this type of behaviour has not yet been instilled in them. So yes, my Chinese students would be just as naughty, mischievous and as playful as our children in the West.
Sometimes lessons don’t go to plan
Teaching Kindergarten children means having both unpredictable students and lessons, and sometimes things don’t go to plan. On more than one occasion I’d be doing some lesson planning in the office, and have a eureka game moment. I’d be delighted to have come up with this new and exciting game that was going to help my students master the target language whilst blowing their socks off with excitement. I’d try my new game out with the children and find that they were completely apathetic to it and disinterested. Trying to force a game that is just not working is counterproductive. If the children became bored they’d become naughty. To reel them back we would take some time-out from the structured plan and play a game of Duck, Duck, Goose, go for a walk, watch some Peppa Pig, do some colouring in or do some dancing.
Old games can be revived
By around month 9, myself and some colleagues were really struggling to keep the merry-go-round of continuous new and amusing games going. I took a breather and stopped trying to invent new games. For example, I knew the Hide & Seek flashcard game was always a winner. I would teach the target language, hide the flashcards, then the children would work in twos or threes to find the word I shout out. It was repetitive and predictable, but nonetheless, it was a reliable activity. How could I bring this back without boring the children? It was easy to stir it up again with a few props and some acting. Depending on the target language, I would create a story around the game, which the kids loved. If we were learning about vegetables, I would play the role of a frantic chef who found that they were missing their soup ingredients, animals, a distraught zoo-keeper whose creatures had escaped from their cages. The children absolutely lapped up my crying face and my energetic celebratory dancing when they found my missing belongings.
Actions speak louder than words
Just imagine someone speaking to you in another language for 20 minutes, it would be hard not to switch off , furthermore, imagine a 3 year old being spoken to for that length of time in a language that was not their own. How could a 3 year old possibly stay focused? Considering the young age and the fact that the children could not yet understand the vast majority of what I was saying, I found that continuous silly faces and big actions went a long way – it kept them (mostly) fixated on my lessons and made my task of teaching them English, a lot easier.
Children love responsibility
Having already mentioned how boisterous my children could be at the best of times, I found that by giving them responsibility in the classroom, the ownership really calmed them down. Children were assigned tasks such as helping the teacher tidy lesson materials, being the classroom monitor, helping carry our class basket and selecting lesson songs on the screen. The children would also bring in and reward their classmates with stickers that they loved to share. The more naughty children thrived in the feeling of importance that responsibility gave them.
The most important thing is to have fun
Your year of teaching abroad will fly by in no time and you will want to look back at the time at your kindergarten with happy memories that you will treasure. Your school will likely give you a curriculum to follow with monthly content, and sure, you will want your students to learn the target vocabulary, but what I will say is don’t get too hung up on that. When I first started teaching my KS students, my lessons were extremely rigid – two lessons consisting of teaching and eliciting vocabulary with a target language game, every day – not the most intriguing of lessons and it quickly they went stale. I needed to change it up a bit and so I stopped taking myself and the onus on teaching the content meticulously, so seriously. In time we were doing experimentation with skittles, taking rockets into space, make ice lollies, sailing to treasure islands, having picnics, flying to different countries and learning new dances. Also, whilst yes, the paying parents will want to know that their children are learning and progressing with the English language, the most important thing to them is that their child is enjoying their time there.
If you’re thinking about teaching kindergarten children, then you are in for a challenging, highly rewarding and unforgettable experience. Be patient and have fun!