Growing up I had the advantage of having a Dutch speaking mother and an English speaking father. From a very young age during my early years at school, I noticed very quickly that it was more of a struggle for the other children to learn and speak English at school than it was for my siblings and me.
This is why I feel it is very important that, if given the chance, to let (your) children start learning a new language as young as possible. I believe children soak up a new language much easier and faster than an adult. That being said, I also strongly believe that the way a child learns a language is of utmost importance: bringing children to a nursery school or a daycare center a few times a week is a far better and a much more effective approach than teaching them a language for two hours a week at school where usually a deductive teaching method is followed.
Taking these reasons into mind, I would focus on a course specifically adjusted to young children, aged 2-6. Of course, a very important aspect to take into consideration would be: ‘what are the needs of these little ones?’ The new language has to be learned through a series of topics that need to be interesting for the little learners. Obviously they would not care to learn about politics, world disasters, etc. They would rather enjoy fairy tales, songs, games and social activities. So for children, I believe in the importance to keep it playful. Using the total physical response method of teaching is a good way to teach when working with (young)children, since it involves all their senses. It involves skits, games and songs, thus exactly what children need and like. The auditory style of learning is a good way to get children familiar with a new language. They hear things being recorded, things being said and sung. Also, the kinaesthetic style of learning can be used to teach children, as they get information through movement, hand gestures and body language.
Very importantly as well, is bringing visuals, games and board-games to class, tell fairy tales, create drawings, construct something and use music to teach. Make sure the classroom is a pleasant environment, a colourful and magical place in which learning and having fun go together. A place where children feel welcome, comfortable and can be themselves and express themselves.
Motivation for young kids will not be a huge issue, I believe, since they will not realize that they are learning and are being schooled. They will constantly be motivated while doing different activities. If you use fun games during the lessons, the kids will be happy to come to school. They won't even realize that they're learning English. All they will think is that they are having fun!
Different personalities also is an aspect to keep in mind. Most kids probably are more confident than adults, they experience less stress and don’t mind or don’t notice they make the occasional mistake or two. However, you always will be confronted with shy kids that would need (some kind of) special attention. Do this by involving them in activities they feel comfortable with and I am sure they will become less shy and open up very fast.
Something we have to plan very well is an appropriate syllabus for kids. It has to be relevant for their level, but also needs engaging vocabulary from the children’s world and needs to involve around games. The learning-through-playing approach is very recommendable. Don’t think about using difficult grammar structures and giving difficult explanations, forget about exams and think about what you liked when you were a kid.
What I would include in a syllabus for kids is basic vocabulary such as numbers, the alphabet, shapes, colours, animals, family, days of the week, months,… Every week work around a different theme and introduce the vocabulary by using flashcards, a song, a game,… after reviewing the vocabulary do a few quick activities using the new vocabulary. I would also include a few simple things which we can start with and that can be repeated every day. For example a good morning song, asking them how the weather is, what day of the week it is, what date it is (counting), etc. The so called ‘circletime’.
Example of what a day would look like:
Circletime - Routine: Kids sing a good morning song, we check the weather, we talk about what day it of the week it is. Also we introduce the season it is, spring for example, with a poster (and then explain all the things we see during spring like bees, flowers, birds and butterflies). And teach and sing a song about spring;
Show image of flowers, let the kids draw a flower using only the colours red and green;
Let the kids build a tower and in the meantime they can count how many blocks they are using;
Construction games: puzzles, playdough ( make triangles, circles,…);
Let the kids smell different kind of flowers;
Let the kids act as if they are birds and fly around in class;
Play a game like ‘I spy with my little eye…’ to practice colours, etc…
The learning goal would be to have the kids speak as much in English as possible using the new vocabulary. Make the kids familiar with English and make them understand that this will become a place where we only speak English together. Each week a new goal should be achieved, new vocabulary should be taught and used. I would never talk to the children in their native language, but I understand that for children it is difficult to start talking in English from day one. However, I would never reply to them in their native language and I will always repeat their question in English. For the ones that I am sure of that they know how to ask it in English, I would definitely ask them to repeat the question but in the English language. This way they will get used to the fact English is the main language used in class.
At the end of every week I would practice the target language (the vocabulary we have been using during that week) with flashcards or a fun game. This way I can see if we need more work around that theme or if we can move on to the next theme.
Regarding the macro skills, I would definitely focus mainly on speaking and listening. No reading. Writing, from time to time can be done, for example by showing the kids how to write their own name and let them imitate or write down the letters of the alphabet. This would be a good start to introduce them to writing, but it would not be my main focus. As for micro skills, obviously vocabulary would be most important, followed by pronunciation. Spelling would not be taught and grammar definitely not in a deductive way.
I think it is very normal there will be no exams during this course, neither will I give grades. For children, it is important to see their progress during day-to-day activities, and monitor this week-by-week and month-by-month. Have a look at each individual and see what their strengths and weaknesses are and work from there. Check the target language often during games, songs, … to see if all is understood. Children should definitely not get the feeling they are under pressure and being evaluated. All they have to do is have fun while ‘learning’ English. After all, happy children make a happy teacher and vice versa!