Tips for Working with Young Children (Pre-K – 2nd Grade)

By Iris Zeng

  1. Be excited about everything

There will be times when a student doesn’t want to participate in an activity. Whether they’re refusing to read a book or pushing their carrots to the side, it can be difficult to persuade them to join the rest of the group or try a few pieces of their uneaten vegetables. When this happens, it’s important to remain as upbeat and enthusiastic as possible. If you’re passionate about The Very Hungry Caterpillar and chat excitedly with the students about your favorite parts of the book, they’re more likely to gain interest and join you in reading the book together. Seeing your enthusiasm can be contagious, and even if carrots aren’t your favorite vegetable, pretending they are can be enough to convince a child to try a bite.

  1. Let them take control (occasionally)

Kids are not usually in positions where they get to be in control. At home, their authority figures are parents or older siblings, and at school, it’s teachers or faculty members. However, there are many opportunities for students to lead; for example, if you’re demonstrating a dance routine in the gym and a child isn’t paying attention or begins distracting other students, ask the child to come up with a dance move of their own and have the whole class follow. This not only gives the student an opportunity to have control in the situation, but also helps them refocus on the group activity.

  1. Give them options

“What do you want to do?” is probably not the best question to ask a younger child as the answers can range from “play outside” to “braid your hair.” Although it’s important to let students have freedom in their choices, it’s best to give them several different but productive options in the classroom. Asking a child if they want to “do a puzzle” or “play house” gives them the freedom to choose but also limits their options to more relevant and constructive activities.

  1. Find other ways to say “no”

Kids hear the word “no” so often that they start to become desensitized to its meaning. By finding other ways to express “no,” a child is more likely to receive the message and the actual word can be used in more serious situations.

There was one instance when I noticed one child knocking down another child’s tower of Legos every time he finished building his tower. Instead of saying “no, stop doing that,” I told the first child that his friend probably didn’t like it that he kept destroying his work. After asking him to apologize, I offered to build a Lego tower with him that we could knock down together afterwards.

  1. Respect them

Young children gradually move towards asserting their independence as they grow older. Although they’re still young, they have their own opinions and, to some extent, are aware of their own choices and actions. Whether it’s having them assist during snack time or granting them the responsibility of line leader, it’s important to let children know that you believe in them and what they’re capable of doing.

Iris ZengIris was a member of the Spring 2016 Street Team; she was also a student in Child Intervention & Treatment, a Service-Learning course, and served with St. Stephen’s Youth Programs. Previously, she has also taken Nutrition Service-Learning, during which she served with United South End Settlements. 

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