A year ago, I left my AmeriCorps position at an inclusive preschool and child development center for my first true librarian gig. My time with AmeriCorps was one of the most rewarding, confusing, challenging, and life-changing years in my life. For a moment, I thought I would ditch librarianship altogether to become a preschool teacher. Instead, my experiences kindled the special passion I have for early literacy in my library work.
Here is a list of things I learned from working alongside early childhood education and early intervention professionals:
- Inclusion is everything. Separate is never equal. Children of all abilities learn from each other and are better for it. And everyone benefits from a visual schedule.
- It’s really hard not to fall in love with the most challenging students. They will break your heart but their behavior is happening for a reason. Listen to their actions.
- Behavior is communication. Sometimes children don’t have the words/skills to express themselves in any other way. You can try to teach proper behavior by modeling (e.g., “If you want something, hold your hand out.”)
- Sometimes, choices are more effective than directions. If you do give a direction, make it positive (e.g., “Walk!” instead of “Don’t run!”).
- Play comes first. And exploration. And curiosity. Encourage children to pretend. Make comments instead of asking questions (unless questions are open-ended) to build on play. Comments are more likely to yield dialogue and imaginative play.
- Pay attention to nonverbal cues. Touch, vocal tones, and showing/pointing can also be incorporated into dialogic reading.
- For the best results, get down to kid level. It tells them you’re on their side and not a scary giant.
- Validate feelings. Not just for kids. By talking about and naming feelings (e.g., “You’re stomping your feet and crossing your arms. You look really mad.”) you can be a better listener and teach kids about the complexity of emotions. It’s important to honor what the other person is feeling.
- The best way to teach is to model. Start with the least intrusive prompt (e.g., “What do you need to do?” or “Hold out your hand to share.”) before moving onto gestural or physical prompts.
- Early childhood educators are heroes. The early years are so important, and those who have dedicated themselves to creating positive experiences for young children are doing important, life-changing work.