A) You can start the school year by rushing into the classroom five minutes before the children arrive. Frantically reading over a lesson plan, you search for the crayons with one hand and the juice pitcher with the other, wishing you had some way of knowing each child’s name in group time.
B) You can make a few plans and take some notes for the upcoming year. This will allow you to enter that first day of class with a sense of delight in the children, a welcoming classroom, and a lack of panic—and begin a school year that is beneficial for everyone.
If you go with Plan A, I suggest you ask your guardian angel to be at your side! For Plan B, get a notebook and pen, and read on. (Angels are always welcome, however!)
Goals and plans:
This will be more enjoyable that the title suggests, so relax! Ask yourself: why do I want to teach? Look into your heart for the answer. This will lead you to recognize what you truly want to give to the children. Is it that you want them to begin thinking of Jesus as a loving and ever-present friend? To explore scripture stories with them? To celebrate the liturgical seasons? To help the children become aware of others as their sisters and brothers in Christ?
Establish your goals and write them down in the first page of your notebook.
Whether you are new to teaching or a veteran, you know you will need routines during class. Preschoolers need them to feel comfortable and confident. You need routines to keep the noise to a dull roar! Think carefully about the time you will have with the children, be it a day or an hour. For example, how long will story time last? Where will that take place? Is there snack time? How do you engage early arrivals and late leavers? How will you transition from one time to another? Do you want to have a ‘time to clean up’ song? Once you’ve answered your questions, create the routines you will need for these transitions and activities. Write this down on another page in your notebook. Having this plan will make the first day go much smoother.
Like routine, a ritual is something you will do regularly with the children, but it speaks to their souls, not their actions. How can you best bring out a child’s sense of the spiritual? Using spontaneous or traditional prayer is a given, but what gestures will you use? How will you involve the children’s senses? Will you use candles, statues, music, color? Will you introduce a prayer ritual that a child can lead as the year progresses? Create the rituals, writing down what you will say, do and need. Be ready to implement the ritual on the first day. This will create a calming time for the shy children and establish the tone for the year for all the children.
The learning environment:
If you are so blessed that you have your own room for teaching, think about how it looks. (If you are especially blessed, you might even get into the room in July, but don’t expect miracles!) Is this space inviting to young children? Are the colors cheerful but not overwhelming? What will you bring into it so it will be obvious that they will learn about Jesus here?
Preschoolers learn by doing. Are there areas that invite children to touch, create, explore, and pretend? Rocking and bathing a Baby Jesus doll may be more spiritual to a four-year-old than any verbal instructions. Some teachers find that a child left alone at an easel creates amazingly spiritual paintings.
If you share a teaching space with another program, consider how you can make the kind of classroom you want that can easily be set up, taken down and stored. Cloths for a prayer table, a blanket for the floor to gather on for prayer, or a bedspread hung on a length of clothesline can quickly change a space.
Tri-fold display boards offer ways to allow for posters, photographs and children’s artwork to be in the classroom. One display board could be designated just for the liturgical seasons. You can make these boards during the summer, enlisting older children to help if desired. Use the boards to create new spaces, too. A disadvantage of these boards is that they topple easily, so think about what they can be placed near (such as a bookcase) to prevent this.
Get your creative juices flowing, and put your ideas into the notebook.
Doing this task now will save you time and exasperation later! Look over your goals, your textbook, and your ideas. Then make lists of materials you will need that your parish will provide. Submit a list to the person in charge of purchasing—do this soon, but keep a copy! Make a list of books, blankets, dolls, etc. you may need to provide yourself and designate a box to collect, transport and store these items. Get this organized by the end of the month and you won’t have to fret over trying to remember the details.
Put your notebook in a safe place and tell someone with a good memory where your safe place is!
Ready your teacher’s heart:
Now comes the best part! Do a little reading on the amazing spiritual depths of children. Try The Kindness of Children by Vivian Gussin Paley, The Spirit of the Child by David Hay with Rebecca Nye, or The Spiritual Life of Children by Robert Coles.
Savor and enjoy these books. And look forward to a year of being awed by your little ones!
Check out Anne's website at www.anneneuberger.com.