How 4-6-year-old children learn and develop

child playing at a kindergarten

Brave new world !

It is quite a challenge for a small child to go out into the world alone aged 4-6!

Children aged 4-6:

– Are new to school
– Cannot analyze language yet
– Have limited motor skills
– Have limited reading and writing skills in L1
– Learn holistically
– And don’t see any reason to learn English!

First, offer reassurance

To reassure your preschool pupils, smile, get down on their level, be gentle. Be patient while the children get to know you over several lessons.

Use plenty of classroom routines, like opening and closing rituals, circle time, story time, friendly toys and puppets, familiar chants and songs, since these are reassuring, all-inclusive group activities. Group kids together at tables rather than using individual desks.

Break down the difficulty

4-6-year olds cannot analyze language yet, so there is no point in attempting to explain grammar or parts of speech. Instead, teach vocabulary and chunks of language. Whole phrases like How are you? and the reply, I’m fine thanks, are perfect.  Rhymes, songs and chants are reassuring to kids because they can join in without feeling vulnerable, they can pick them up gradually through many repetitions, join in with meaningful actions, and create a bond with the group through this communal experience.

Chants are fun and easy to make up. For a sure-fire success, invent chants with your pupils as characters. Here is Juan, he likes football, kick a ball, kick a ball, kick, kick, kick. Here is Mercedes, she likes music, sing-a-long, sing-a-long, sing, sing, sing. All kids join in with the actions for each person. Just see how chuffed they are when it is their turn!


Songs are brilliant teaching tools. Kids can pick up chunks of language, participate through actions and play games to music. Old Macdonald Had a Farm has been a hit since it was composed, back in 1917. Wow, over 100 years later this folk song isn’t even out of date! I guess farms, cows, sheep, pigs, and horses are common around the world. It’s handy for long-vowel sounds, like moo and baa, and of course the ee-i-ee-i-o. It’s a classic and my own version of this song is musically pleasing, (because there are some pretty plinkety-plonk versions online) and I always laugh in the final chorus with all the animals joining in enthusiastically!

Listen to this lively extract of Old MacDonald Had a Farm from Teaching English Songs Album 1

Play this song for musical games, and fun song activities, of which lots are included with this Song Album.  Use it as background music while kids do simple crafts and make farm animals typical for their country.

Avoid getting bogged down in technical crafts

Preschool kids’ motor skills are limited so avoid scissors and keep any crafts simple, otherwise you will be flat out doing the crafts for 26 kids yourself, while everyone gets frustrated! Colouring, gluing, tracing around letters, help children develop eye/hand coordination and fine motor skills, and they can get on with these on their own, leaving you free to supervise.

Go gently with reading and writing in English

Their reading and writing skills are limited in their native language so rather than flogging them to read and write in English, it’s better to focus on listening and speaking activities. However, if teaching reading and writing is an obligatory part of the curriculum, then make it fun. Use reading & word recognition games, where kids match written words to objects, play musical word flashcards, run and touch written words, find another pupil with the same word, draw words out of a box and sort them into piles, spot the difference between two similar words…act words. For writing, tracing over letters and words is an excellent way to gently introduce writing in English.

artistic pictures showing preschool children playing and using their imagination

Motivation to learn English

At this age, children don’t understand that they are learning English to gain the capacity to communicate with a greater chunk of the world population, and perhaps even have better employment prospects. In fact, they will see little reason to communicate in English. Playing games in English is a way of making this new language have meaning. Since 4-6-year-olds absolutely love playing games, this is a dead-cert way to get them interested in using English in class. As well as learning English through games, kids will be learning to cooperate with each other, be part of a team, take turns and follow rules. I don’t recommend any form of competition at this age. It can be stressful and counter-productive. Children play for the sake of the game, not to win.

Don't sit back and turn the pages of a book

If you don’t involve your pupils actively in their learning, they will soon drift away. You’ll be abandoned, along with your book !

Children learn holistically, through pictures, movement, sound, music, singing, touch, and textures, stories, imagination, pretend play, fun, exploration, and games. Sitting in front of a book isn’t going to cut it! Stories are always popular, and especially popular are stories about animals. Children should get involved in the story-telling by acting the animals, making animal noises at appropriate moments, using cuddly animal toys as story characters, which only speak English, and thus give the kids a real reason to speak English, so they can communicate with the toy.

Fantastic preschool resources to make your life easy

Any of my story teaching kits will give you all of the above.Just follow the lesson plans and you’ll have all the ingredients to capture the attention of your class.Each kit has: – flashcards, – games, – stories, – lesson plans and role-play ideas and, – powerpoints with audio by native speakers. – Matching songs with masks of story characters are available too !Follow along and you’ll be a great success! Plus, your kids will learn English, enjoy it and like you as a teacher. Please find links to a choice of kits here.

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