Preschoolers, especially students in a pre-K class, have a very short attention span. At their age, they are curious and eager to explore. They learn best through hands-on activities and concrete manipulatives because they cannot yet grasp abstract concepts. When you are teaching, engagement with preschoolers should be a top-most priority. So, think carefully. How do you put all these facts into play when planning your lessons and implementing them in the classroom?
Here are the top five ways you can increase engagement with your preschoolers:
1. Set Routines
Repetition is the key when teaching engagement with preschoolers in order to have them retain more easily what they have learned. The first thing you need to do during the first month of your classes is to establish routines in the classroom. What do the kids do once they arrive? Some are taught to place their bags in their cubby holes, insert their names into a pocket chart, and proceed to choose a toy, game, or set of manipulatives laid out on the tables and floor.
It is important not to change your schedule during this critical month, or the routines will be disturbed and the students may get confused. Follow a strict class schedule, careful to let your preschoolers know what is expected of them during each period as well as during transition times.
Sometimes it may take more than a month for the kids to get settled into the class routines. But do not be impatient, for setting routines is very essential in holding these children's attention all throughout the class. Even after they have learned these routines, you still have to remind them from time to time.
2. Limit the Time
Since preschoolers have short attention spans at this age, it is but natural for the teacher to take this into consideration. On average, you must limit the time for each activity to only 10 minutes, unless it is free play time. When you are telling a story, doing circle time, or discussing a lesson, make sure to finish after around 10 minutes or students may start to wander about. If you really need to extend for some reason, just be certain to have various visual aids and hands-on mini activities to keep the kids engaged. For art time, you may extend a bit if necessary, but make sure to prepare an extra activity for those who may finish fast. And if you are implementing learning centers, then it would be good to have each group complete one center in less than 10 minutes.
As you progress and you notice improvement in your preschoolers' engagement and attention span, you can stretch the time limit accordingly, too.
3. Transition Smoothly
Shifting from one activity to another is crucial with preschoolers. You may lose the interest of these kids if you are not able to transition properly. One great and effective way of transitioning is through an appropriate song with some actions or movements. For instance, if you are moving on to circle time from free play, then you can teach the children a song that tells them it is time to sit on the mat and gather in a circle. You continue singing this until everybody is in the circle. Another transition method is the choo-choo train in which you start making the sound of a train while having everyone line up and get ready to transfer to a different area (e.g. playground). Ask the kids to also do the choo-choo sound with you as they line up.
Be creative! Think of different ways to transition for the different periods of the day. However, be sure not to change these so that kids will associate them with the movements.
4. Use a Variety of Hands-On Activities
Make the kids get up and move and get busy with their senses, instead of having them listen while you drone on about something. They are active and energetic by nature, so do not try to curtail these tendencies but use them to your advantage!
For example, prepare simple mini-activities within your storytelling time to make it interactive. Have the kids try out sounds from the story or repeat some words. Have them match pictures and share their thoughts about it. Have them put on name tags of the characters and act out some parts. There are many ways to keep them engrossed!
5. Employ Visuals and Manipulatives
Young children are visual and concrete learners. They need to constantly use their senses in order to learn well. Thus, you have to employ a lot of visual aids, preferably big ones that are at their eye level, as well as age-appropriate manipulatives for different purposes. These visuals and manipulatives go together with your hands-on activities.
Engagement with preschoolers can be achieved through the use of visual aids such as blown-up pictures and actual objects. At times, you may even let them create their own visuals and then use these to reinforce lessons or enrich their knowledge about a certain topic. Moreover, manipulatives are not merely limited to the readily and commercially available ones such as blocks, pegs, and puzzles. You can come up with your own materials which you can customize to suit your theme and your lessons! It can be as simple as bringing food samples to study the various tastes or putting together and bending pipe cleaners to come up with letters and shapes.