Behavioral Expectations in the Preschool Classroom
As teachers of three-, four-, and five-year-olds, it is important to understand how development translates into behavioral expectation in the classrooms. What behaviors should be expected of three-, four-, and-five-year-olds in school? Can they be expected to sit and listen for a sustained amount of time? Should they work only in small groups? Teachers’ expectations of three-, four-, and five-year-olds influence the way classroom activities are planned and organized.
Anyone who has spent time with three-, four-, and five-year-olds understands that they have limited attention spans. Typically, three-year-olds have the most difficulty with activities that require sitting and listening. For three-year-olds, stories need to be engaging and finger plays can help motivate or keep children’s interest in activities. In contrast, four- and five-year-olds can sit and listen to a story or watch a science demonstration that precedes a hands-on activity for about 10 to 15 minutes. Anything longer, and they are fidgeting, looking around the room, or talking to a friend. In order to keep on task and focused, four- and five-year-olds need to be actively engaged in their learning.
Three-, four-, and five-year-olds are filled with energy and need to be active and to have productive avenues to direct this energy. Keeping a steady and even pace to the activities in the classroom will help channel children’s energy in the appropriate direction. Too many activities that require sustained attention will result in the children losing interest. Also, there needs to be age-appropriate transitions for one activity to the next. Using a familiar song, jingle, or physical movement to indicate transition from one activity to the next can help reduce the confusion in the classroom.
Three-year-old children can follow simple, one-step directions. Four- and five-year-olds can follow simple two-step commands with success. Mrs. Hope asks the four-year-olds in her class to clean up the center activity areas and line up to go outside. The children scurry because they are anxious to play on the playground. However, when children are given too many directions to follow, they will not be able to process all the information. Situations that request more than what a child can do result in frustration and give the appearance that children are not following directions. This is especially true when children are transitioning from one activity to another, as following directions can be difficult with the added activity in the room.
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