I have been blessed with the opportunity to tutor 4 year olds at Classical Conversations for 3 years. When I was first given that age group, I was a little nervous. How was I going to handle a room of 4 year olds? I’m sure I’m not alone at thinking it is a daunting task. Not that I mastered this age group by any means, but I wanted to share some strategies that worked for me with this fun-loving bunch.
Here are some ideas for introducing and practicing new memory work (for CC, we call this “new grammar”, but if you are teaching a Bible verse or the 10 plagues to a Sunday School class, many of these strategies would work as well). If anything I say contradicts tutor training, please follow that. I’m not an expert at this, and I don’t want you to think I have it all perfectly figured out. (I also haven’t had tutor training yet this year – our practicum is in August.)
In my quest to figure out how to teach new grammar to my class of little non-readers, I read a suggestion from someone that really made my life easier. I wish I knew where I read it, but since it was 3 years ago, I really have no idea. The suggestion was to use the same strategy with each subject each week. So, while we use different ideas throughout the new grammar time (motions, songs, silly voices, puppets, etc), the same technique was used with the same subject each time. This made for easier planning and helped a routine to form in class.
So with my 4 year olds, here’s a rough idea of how I cover the new grammar.
We would just review the timeline motions our director already taught in opening. Sometimes the ASL (American Sign Language) hand motions are tough for little hands, and I would try to help them. Also, we practiced pronunciation if I thought they were saying certain words incorrectly.
I read parts of the sentence and taught them motions for each piece. Then we sang the song (with the CD or mp3 player) together with the motions. Kids stood for this. (We sat at tables so we also learned how to push in our chairs.)
Cycle 1’s declensions have songs: We practiced the pronunciation and had little hand motions or picture clues to remind us which declension started with which sound (from CC Connected, I think).
Cycle 2’s 1st conjugation endings: We said each ending to make sure we had the correct pronunciation and then sang the songs. I had little clues to help them remember which was which so we practiced the clue a few times before singing.
For the first part, we tossed a stuffed horse between me and each student as we said the word pairs. Me: “in”, then toss to first student who said, “in” and tossed back to me. I’d say “apud” then toss to 2nd student who’d say “with”. (Really, we all said all the parts of the list, but the tossing just made the repetition more fun.) Later in the year, we practiced what our director had already taught in opening (I think using silly voices).
Some years, I used silly voices with this. I have a “voice bag” with cards that say things like “squeaky mouse”, “high”, “low”, “whisper”, “loud”, “cheetah” (which meant fast), “turtle” (which meant slow), robot, and so on. We drew cards and said the memory work in that voice.
Sometimes I used a motion with English like “to beat” – we would tap on our leg or arm as we said the verb tenses. This one was fun to review while waiting for our art location or if we had an extra minute. The verb tenses really did well with a rhythm so I think we tapped our heads, arms, legs, tables, etc as we said them in rhythm.
For all the skip counting songs, we used little finger puppets. Everyone had a finger puppet, and we’d sing through the song once, then pass the puppet along and sing with a new one. For some reason, the kids were perfectly happy to sing these over and over again waiting for that “one special” puppet they wanted. One year, the shark was the favorite. Another year, I think students wanted the dinosaur. I moved around to different students with my finger puppet “singing” along with theirs and then facilitated the passing of the puppets until it became routine.
Later in the year, we sang or did motions with the different pieces of math memory work.
We always stood up for science. I would (in an exaggerated way) ask the science question and then demonstrate how to turn that question into a complete sentence answer. For instance, I would say, “What are four types of tissue?” with my hands up and shoulders raised in a questioning motion, and then motion to the class to join me saying, “The four types of tissue are…” Then we would add one piece of the list (with a motion from CC Connected or our tutor meeting) each cycle through the question. We’d go back to the beginning of me saying “What are four types of tissue?”, and then I’d add on a 2nd item. After we added on all the parts of the list (and practiced our pronunciation), we would run through the question and answer a few more times before heading to get our maps for Geography.
Different years, I did this differently. We used dry erase markers to find and trace (or color) each location (with sometimes a lot of excess coloring by 4 year olds). We would point and repeat the geography terms over and over again, learning as we went. Last year, we primarily used small plastic animals, and the students would place their animal on the right country or city. The animals allowed for more practice time but had less tracing.
Ok, there you have it: what to do and try to complete in 30 minutes. For the young class, I found that switching from sitting to standing, adding in a motion, and raising or lowering our voices were all ways to engage the students and regain their attention (if it was lost).
Some quick notes on the youngest class:
- I had non-readers. If you have readers, there are lots of different strategies you can employ (and probably heard about at tutor training).
- If the class is being too quiet (not repeating memory work), try letting the “best” one erase the memory work from the dry erase board or using popsicle sticks like microphones. (It’s amazing how much more participation I would get.)
- I really did have to re-direct children often. They wouldn’t remember how to sit in a chair, to close the bathroom door, to wash hands after using the bathroom, to keep hands to themselves, and so on. These weren’t bad behavior issues as much as little ones trying to sit relatively still and be engaged for 3 hours. Some children who were great most of the time would come in one day tired or grumpy and just need more attention.
- Tin whistles with little fingers can be challenging. I literally had to put my fingers over the holes and have them blow to play songs.
- If the class seemed to be losing attention or was a little sleepy one day, I would sometimes think of a way to add in movement on the fly. You don’t have to move all the time, but when they are tired, it’s a great way to wake them up.
- Some 4 year olds don’t have good pencil control yet so the first 6 weeks of drawing can be interesting. Keep your instructions simple.
- If there is a picture book you can read the class (as part of fine arts or science projects – not new grammar), the kids love it. (For drawing, some books I used were The Dot, The Pencil, Ish, and Not a Box. Even Can You Find It? America is great since you can look at American artwork and search for basic shapes (OiLs) and perspective.)
- When I listed anatomy books a few months ago, I mentioned using them with my class.
- It’s easier for 4 year olds to color their body parts before mom helpers and I cut them out (Cycle 3 weeks 7-12). (The tears over them cutting incorrectly made me realize that they shouldn’t do the cutting.)
- While pictures “aid” in memory tricks for us (i.e. the pictures on CC Connected for the states and capitals), often the kids don’t have the prior knowledge to find the picture useful. (If you have to explain that the hair on a horse is called the mane, the picture isn’t going to help a child remember the state Maine.)
- Games or non-games can be very simple for review time and still be fun (some review ideas)
- While words that are unfamiliar to me seemed like they’d be harder to teach, most of the words are unfamiliar to the 4 year olds. (Uniformitarianism wasn’t any trickier than Augusta, Maine.) Break down the big words into their syllables.
- Every year at orientation, one of my 4 year olds would cry. Just because they don’t like orientation (where their moms are in another meeting), it doesn’t mean they won’t do well in class. They all did great when we actually started class.
And the biggest thing (that I often would lose sight of) is that you are modeling for the other moms. There you have it: a little bit I’ve learned in my years with the youngest CC members. Now, if I’m ever with older students, I’ll be back to not knowing what I’m doing.
What would you suggest?
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