Saijo Temple in Minami Ashigara City, Kanagawa Prefecture

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Saturday, June 02, 2007

Teaching Young Children

“….teachers are finding themselves at a perplexing crossroads
between teaching and playing.”
--Tania MacDonell, English Teacher

Our newest teacher at Kevin`s English Schools is a natural children`s teacher. He has a knack for being a big kid himself and that comes across in his classes. It is something that cannot
be taught. We all have that inner child inside of us and some are better at connecting with it
than others. He is an allstar. Doing our best to connect with this child, will help us to be better
teachers of children in general and young children in particular.

Dr. Montessori felt that by allowing children freedom in an environment that suits them, they will blossom.

*For all your students, learning and remembering their names is very important. How would you like to be called “Bib” for a year when your name is Bill? Some of our “phopaws” of name mistakes have meanings in Japanese, sometimes negative meanings. Children will quit
if you don`t learn how to pronounce their names. Ask them to teach you how to pronounce
their names, it will show that you care.

The ESL teacher should endeavor to make his or her classroom inviting. One thing one can do is organize materials so that the children are free to choose what they will do next. They will
be stimulated by the spoken language around them.

We should also remember how much bigger we are. Crouching down to get at their eye level
makes us less threatening, and more of a friend.

If parents are allowed in the room, the parents must speak only English. Allowing parents to
speak Japanese will diminish the impact of the class. It is extemely important for young children to hear their parents attempting to speak English.

Get into a routine that the children and mothers enjoy. Repeated positive experiences form strong connections in the brain and give a child a sense of security. (2002) MacDonell

Some recommended activities for teaching young children aged 3-5:

Play doh: Used for introducing and repeating new vocabulary. Ie)

“Have you made a red crow?”

Making a cake with play doh:

“Can I have some?” “Here you are.” “Thank you.” “You`re welcome.”


Reading to them opens up a whole world to them. It helps with pronunciation, intonation, and vocabulary.


Making a collage individually or together. Praising all works of art is important.
“Making a collage is ideal for 3-5 year olds according to Tania MacDonell.

Mixing Bowls:

Using mixing bowls and a spoon helps to draw a connection for the child between what they are doing with this activity and what Mom and Dad do in the kitchen.
The English taught during this activity can be reinforced at home by the parents.
The activity helps them form a sense of belonging in the class.


“They begin to develop an understanding of task completion and perseverence. If the puzzles are self-correcting, then no adult intervention is required…The language that
occurs is as varied as the puzzles used. But when a child chooses this kind of activity it would seem he or she is moving away from the interactive atmosphere to work alone. This choice should be respected.”—Tania MacDonell

At our schools we have puzzles with many different themes including: the farm.
A lot of activities can go around that. English teacher Ikumi Kishiya has often
told a story about it or asked what various animals or people are doing. Of course
this depends on their ages and abilities.

Blocks and Building:

Use building blocks to build things and play and talk about them as you do it.

Cut up old boxes –fashioned by the children into cars, tunnels and peek a boo houses
Also generate cheap, effective play equipment.

OLL – Outdoor Language Learning:

Take them outside! Children get restless and need to move around. Take them to the park if possible and teach them vocabulary on the way. “Show me a ___________.”
is an effective activity on the way to the park and at the park. Question/Answer
tag is a long time favorite of my classes. I pre-teach the children questions and they
ask a question after they tag a student. The student answers then they are it and do the
same thing. To increase the English being spoken, in large classes of six or more I
often make two people “it.”

This article is based on an article which appreared in Snakes and Ladders, Summer
2002, “Learning Through Play: Language Teaching Techniques for Very Young
Learners,” by Tania MacDonell, and some of my own ideas.

Kevin Burns

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