Terror or Treasure?
"I've decided to give you the little ones, they're two and three years old." my employer stated matter-of-factly.
"But, but" I spluttered "I've only ever taught adults in the past." The blood drained from my face and I felt a sweat coming on.
"Don't worry, you'll be fine. It's a pilot project so you'll have plenty of leeway and we'll provide you with a syllabus."
He was serious! My imagination exploded with visions of a classroom full of screaming babies, bottles of milk and soiled nappies, while I calmly tried to teach possessive pronouns on the white board.
A week later, syllabus in hand I set about lesson planning. The material appeared advanced and I questioned, "Can three year olds string a sentence together? Surely they can't read?" I decided to gauge their level in the first two lessons and prepared for them.
Lesson one in the stark English lab commenced with me arriving early and terrified. Five minutes later the door opened and twenty-four red and white clad midgets poured into the room.I froze. Some ran around the room screaming, others stood timidly just inside the door, while at least six took one look at me, and burst into tears. My confidence shattered and I spent most of the lesson trying to regain some form of order. It was a disaster!
Later that morning I visited their homeroom.Everything was dwarfed. There were little tables and animal shaped chairs all colourfully painted. The walls were beautifully decorated with everything from the sun and the moon, to elephants and flowers. I immediately requested that future lessons be conducted in their homeroom.
For lesson two I mustered up some courage."They're just kids," I reasoned and walked in confidently. The tots, seated on the floor, looked calmer than the previous day. They stared at me blankly and only two started crying. I greeted them enthusiastically and standing, proceeded to attempt my lesson commencing with a warmer. Within one minute they were talking, playing or looking really bored. I'd lost control again! My confidence crumbled.
Two days later, my confidence in tatters, I reassessed my, and their, performance. That night I indulged in some retail therapy and bought, two children's nursery rhyme Cd's, some puppets, a bag of assorted plastic insects, yellow crepe paper and cotton wool.
The following day I entered and boldly seated the tots in a "U". Then I got down to their level ( I sat on the floor) and sang "Good Morning Teacher" to the tune of "Happy Birthday". They responded and tried to sing along! I then retrieved the large smiling crepe paper "Mr Sunshine" from my bag and with a music CD taught them "Good Morning, Mr Sunshine". They loved it and my spirits soared! That was the turning point, I realised I had had the wrong approach and attitude. Over the following months I implemented the following points, and they worked for me;
1. Bare in mind this is their first experience away from their mothers and their homes. Keep little ones in their comfort zone, their homeroom.
2. Remember they are three. They are innocent and have not learnt how to be naughty yet, which is good! They can be moulded!
3. They are still learning their mother tongue, so be patient.
4. Keep a strict routine as it makes them feel secure knowing what's coming next.
5. Get down to their level, literally. Imagine how you would feel if an alien looking giant mumbled incoherently above you everyday.
6. Make use of music. All children love to sing and dance and it helps develop many other mental and co-ordination skills.
7. Try to make use of all the senses. Tots are very curious and are discovering a world outside their homes.
8. Divide your 50 minute lesson into six segments (they have a shorter span of attention). Greeting, singing, lesson, activity, revision and goodbye.
9. Make it fun and active. Tots have an immeasurable amount of energy.
10. Develop a strong stomach. They will vomit next to you (quite spectacularly I might add). They will wet and soil themselves ( just hold your breath). Green snot will stream from their noses and hang over their lips (pretend they're not there). The fingers first home is in the mouth, then any available nostril.
11. Forget being prudish. Tots are tactile. Your breasts will be felt frequently. They will lift up your shirt for a better view. Your groin will be pinched, prodded and stood on, and if they discover your underwear, they will try to remove it...over your head!
What started out as a terrifying ordeal, with dedication, love, teaching aids and materials, and the right attitude, transpired into one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. They are little sponges, and absorb everything. Although too young to read, they can recognise letters of the alphabet. They can definitely put a sentence together like, "I want to sing Incey Wincey Spider!" at the top of their lungs. Nothing can surmount the knowledge that every word of English they utter, I taught them! A treasure indeed.