*** GUEST POST! ***
Nina Bosken is an English teacher from the US who teaches kids in Spain. She shares with us her top 6 tips for teaching tots!
They say the younger the better as far as language-learning goes. It’s so many parents’ dreams for their children to grow up bilingual. However when you’re on the teacher side of it, it can be daunting. How exactly do you keep young children entertained and learning?
Last year was my first year teaching English in Granada Spain. I opted to teach private lessons in the afternoons to earn extra money. One of the families was interested in two days a week teaching three 3-year-olds English. I love little children, so I was excited about the idea. Afterwards, however, it left me scratching my head. “What exactly do I do with three of them for an hour and a half twice a week?”
This year I’ve just taken on a new class with a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old. Since I have that experience under my belt, I thought I’d put together some of my tips as I’m sure many of you have googled “how to teach English to toddlers.” I know I did a lot last year.
- Establish a routine
At this age, repetition is key. They don’t quite have the capacity to remember a new topic with 30 vocabulary words each week. However they will learn essential things and learn them well if you repeat them each week.
Last year, I would sit my three students down at the start of every class and we would sing the same “Hello, how are you?” song every single week. Then we would sing the weather song. By about halfway through the year, I could ask them “what’s the weather like?” and they could all accurately tell me “sunny!” or “rainy!”
Kids at this age are very visual, so a weather chart is perfect. You could have pictures of each type of weather and pictures of different clothing. Each week you could have them choose the appropriate weather picture and clothing picture.
Decide on perhaps a 5-minute routine to start off the class and start it off that way every single class.
2. Change activities often
At this age, their attention span is not super long. It’s not bad to have them sit down, but just make sure that you mix that up with something more active. I would always alternate a song with something that had us up running around the room. Here are a few activity ideas:
- Hide and seek. Make sure to speak through the entire thing saying “where is Ana? Is she here? No!” Then once you find her, say “I found you!” You can even encourage your students to repeat “I found you!” when they find the person hiding.
- Hiding an item. This works much like hide and seek. Show them the item, have the go in the other room and then hide it.
- A color hunt! I bought these wood sticks that are different colors from a shop. I had one to each kid and we run around the room looking for that color. I have done this activity with lots of small children and they all LOVE it. They get so excited to find different colors yelling out “BLUE! BLUE! BLUE” or “RED! RED! RED!” This also has them repeating each color name at least 10-20 times.
- Simon Says. With this age, you will likely have to always be Simon. But they love it and catch on quickly.
- Songs with motions such as Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes and One Little Finger. You can also make up movements and hand motions to if there are none.
- Kids at this age already love to play house, cook, etc. If they have a kitchen set and fake food, you can use this! Just let them play but talk to them as they play.
- Matching and puzzles. They love anything hands-on that they have to figure out.
- Reading a story. We all know that listening is a key part of language acquisition. You could bring some of the same stories each week and read them. Find ones with pictures and try to be as animated as possible when reading them.
- Watching a video or song. There are tons of channels on Youtube with stories and videos in English for small children. Super Simple Songs is a great channel that I use all the time.
- I would do this carefully. It can be easy for the kids to get carried away coloring and 15 minutes have gone by with no speaking. I would make sure that the activity involves a lot of speaking and interaction. For example, I found a board game with a picture of a man in the centre. Each space said something like “legs brown” or “hand green.” You will have to read it to them and then tell them “okay color the hand green!”
- Don’t expect perfection
Keep in mind that they are still very young children You might try and activity, and they hate it. Don’t sweat it. Just switch to another activity. You really just have to learn to go with it because at this age, it’s hard to get them to focus for a long time. Instead create a “plan” but have backup activities. The more you can just go with the flow, the better your class will be.
- Note what your students respond too and what they don’t
Some students will do whatever you say. Others may prove to be a bit more difficult. Last year, one of the three 3-year-olds was a little boy who basically one day told me in Spanish “I don’t want to learn English. I think it’s nonsense! I just want to play.” I could have chosen to get mad. But I kept in mind that he was 3 and that I knew what he liked. In fact, it kind of made me feel like a ninja teacher because he was learning without even realising it.
This little boy loved to sing in English. He was the first to jump up and start singing “One little finger,” for example. He likely didn’t even consider this learning. But he was. So I made sure to plan more songs for his class. The second thing he loved was competition. He always had to try to win. So if I noticed him wandering off, I just turned it into a competition. I used to hide objects behind my back and then ask them to name the color going “1-2-3 … what color?” The first one to say the color got a high five. Once I started doing that, he was back in the group, engaged and trying to win.
- They get out of it what you put in
If you’re tired and not engaging, they won’t pay attention. However if you’re super animated and enthusiastic, they will have a lot more fun and want to follow along. Even though I likely caught a lot of germs (or built up a ridiculously good immune system), I was all about giving out high-fives. When my children did something like answer a question correctly or say something correctly, I would enthusiastically give them a high-five. They loved it so much that they started doing it with each other. It was adorable to watch. Other things you can do are to smile a lot, make big facial expressions and clap.
- Understand the language-learning process
You might teach young children for months and wonder why they cannot speak more. This is totally normal. Language acquisition comes in stages. Likely after a few months, they understand a lot. They may even be able to say words here and there. However for them to form sentences in English will take time. Just remember that and be okay with. More than anything, their parents are paying you to expose them to English at a young age.
Luckily the families I worked with last year also understood this. In fact, one of the moms brought it up first in conversation. If they don’t, there’s noting wrong with reminding them of this.
My favorite resources
There are many great resources I use for my classes. Here are a few favorites:
Websites with free materials
Have you taught small children before? What sorts of things did you struggle with? What sorts of things worked? Tell us in the comments below!
Nina Bosken is an American English teacher and travel blogger living in Granada, Spain. She writes a blog called aworldofdresses.com. You can also find her on Instagram and Twitter.