3 Things You Can Do to Start the Year off Right in PreK

As the new school year begins, you are probably consumed with so many tasks as an administrator—planning PD, meetings (so many!), and getting to know your new teachers, children, and families! Here are a few practical suggestions for making the most of the time you have in your PreK classrooms this fall.

What should you expect to see in your PreK classrooms at the beginning of the year?

Let’s not forget that for many preschoolers, this is their very first time in a structured classroom setting. So don’t expect to walk in and see all the children focused and sitting quietly from day one. As we’ve discussed in prior posts, young children learn best when actively engaged. And for this to happen, teachers need to work hard at building a foundation of relationships and expectations that enable children to make the most of learning opportunities.

So what does this look like? Here are 3 things you should look for in your PreK classrooms this month.

#1 Teachers building positive relationships with children and families.

How do children who are separating from family (for the first time) feel safe, trust a new teacher, and ultimately take learning risks in a new, challenging environment? It all starts with relationships.

Building relationships sounds simple, but what does that look like for teachers of young children?

Make individual connections through conversations with each child and their family. Learn what’s unique about each child. What are their interests? Who lives with them? In what ways do they seek and need support? Using this information to individualize learning activities ensures that all children feel valued and experience success from the start.

Build on strengths through encouragement and specific affirmation. This brings children a sense of acceptance when they may be questioning, “Does this teacher like me?” and “am I good enough?” Always remember: Every child has strengths. It is easy to focus on what a child cannot do (yet), but we must begin with finding and building upon what they can do already do to help the child move forward in a positive way. This is never more important than the first 2 weeks of school when children have so much to learn. Focus on reinforcing efforts and the process of learning.

Become aware of children’s unique emotional needs. A young child’s first days in school often involve confusion, worry, and insecurity. When we closely observe children’s signals, we can notice and assist the child who is anxious about separation, the child who is voraciously hungry or overtired, the child who is running from the cafeteria because the sounds are overstimulating to him. We cannot jump in and begin teaching until that child has received an empathic response from us.

#2 Teachers creating a classroom community of learners.

Teachers shouldn’t be the only support person for a child—peers are important (yet often untapped) resources. Teachers have the wonderful opportunity to build a classroom community of learners who support each other’s learning and development. Teachers who take the time to teach and reinforce these skills from the start will likely save time responding to conflicts and challenging behaviors in the classroom.

What might this look like?

Establish routines, songs, and activities that help children get to know one another in whole group (morning meeting) times.

When children ask for help, get peers involved. For instance, “Maria needs help with her shoes. Does anyone else know how to tie shoes that can help Maria?” or “Justin needs to find the scissors—who can help him?” Tip: organize your materials on low shelves with pictures to allow children to help each other (and themselves) independently.

Explicitly teach children social skills, like how to make polite requests (“May I borrow that, please?”), how to join play (“Can I play with you?”), and how to give compliments (“I like how you shared with me”). Teachers should make a habit of reinforcing these and other friendly behaviors (e.g., sharing a toy, solving a social problem, helping a friend who is sad).

#3 Teachers teaching children expectations.

Entering a new classroom involves so many new transitions, routines, activities – each with different behavior expectations (and often different expectations from home)! It’s understandable that children need lots of guidance to learn what to expect and what’s expected of them across the daily schedule.

What might this look like?

Teach children expected behaviors by creating, posting, and practicing 3-5 positively stated classroom rules. Then, teachers reinforce children with specific praise when they follow rules. This positive guidance works a lot better than correcting behaviors with “no, stop, don’t”!

Teach children how to use materials appropriately. Gradually show children all the materials in the classroom that they will be able to use in learning centers. This takes time and patience on the part of the teacher.

Show and tell children what to expect before it happens using a daily visual schedule. Visual schedules that are displayed and referenced throughout the day serve as important reminders to all learners (and are an absolute necessity for children with special needs and dual language learners!)

What can I do?

Keep in mind that the new PreK students in your building are looking to teachers for comfort, a sense of belonging, and positive direction in this critical first month of school. Teachers who implement the 3 practices above can meet young children’s needs and start the year on a positive note!

Communicate the importance of these practices through check-in conversations with teachers during the first month of school.

For teachers who want to know more about these practices, share some helpful resources below.

  1. Building Relationships

Being Aware of Children’s Needs (ECLKC 15-minute Inservice Suite with a quick video, presentation, and resources)

  1. Creating a Community of Learners

Creating a Caring Community (ECLKC 15-minute Inservice Suite with a quick video, presentation, and resources)

You’ve Got to Have Friends (brief CSEFEL article that provides evidence-based strategies for teaching social skills)

  1. Teaching Children Expectations

Creating Classroom Rules (ECLKC 15-minute Inservice Suite with a quick video, presentation, and resources)

TACSEI Teaching Tools for Young Children (set of resources that include materials for making Visual Schedules)

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