Preparing Preschoolers for Spiritual Learning

Working with preschoolers can be a blast! Many are full of curiosity about everything and eager to explore. Even the more timid among them can become fascinated by relatively simple things: butterflies, silly sayings, trucks, rainbows cast by a crystal hanging in a window. They wonder about the world around them and look to trusted adults for help in making sense of their experiences.

Yet teaching preschoolers can also be intimidating. They have little experience with group dynamics and are still honing their social emotional learning (SEL) skills. They may struggle with the different rules and rhythms of home and group activities. And many miss their parents and caregivers when separated, which can result in tears or a need for reassurance.

Fortunately, there are a couple of things group leaders can do to prepare preschoolers for learning about spirituality together. Try one or more of these approaches (adapted from autism education guidelines) as you launch your fall programming or anytime you see young children floundering.

Social Story. Create a story about your organization or program that helps kids understand how things work and what they can do in your space. If your organization teaches yoga, you might put together a short video that introduces your teachers, demonstrates a few poses, and offers a visual tour of your studio. Share your video with families ahead of time or show it the first day and then send a link home for families to watch it again together. If you’re an arts or religious organization, create a printed or digital resource with labeled photos of materials or artifacts that children will encounter in your setting. Include a graphic of a child participating in routine activities so children can visualize how their time with you will unfold.

Assigned Roles. To help children work together in groups, assign each one a specific role, such as noticer, wonderer, learner, explorer, or surpriser. It is then their job to do whatever that name implies during group activities. For example, when you read a story, noticers share how they would complete the prompt, “I noticed…”, wonderers finish the sentence, “I wondered…”, etc., through surprisers, who respond “I was surprised…”. Model the different ways of engaging. For example, if you are reading a story about gratitude, you might say, “I noticed some kids stuffed cookies in their pockets” and “I learned there are lots of ways to say thank you” or “I was surprised that the adults said thanks less than the kids.”

Class Companion. Introduce a stuffed animal or puppet to the children as another classmate. Use this non-human companion to help children talk about their experiences. The companion might share how they are feeling about trying out a new spiritual practice, naming common fears or questions that you imagine the children might have. Then you might say, “I wonder how we might help [companion’s name] feel more comfortable trying [activity]?” and encourage children to suggest ideas (which they can also use to calm their own fears).

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