Teaching EFL in the KindergartenAsk any child development specialist how young children learn and they could answer it with one word - PLAY. In the core early learning standards for many states and schools the one and only learning goal that stretches across every learning domain is PLAY (1). From reading and arithmetic, science to social studies, social emotional development to physical well-being children learn through play, specifically child-initiated play. In the moment a child is stacking those blocks with unbreakable attention, designing with his pal the best way to lay down that top block, this child is learning in more ways than one. He is learning physics, practicing concentration, thinking critically, communicating his thoughts and respecting his friend's ideas as well. When you walk into a play-based kindergarten during free play your ears become filled with the buzz and hum of conversation, laughter, conflict, resolution. These kids are learning and more importantly they are happy, relaxed, engaged. So whether a Kindergarten is either bi-lingual, a complete EFL classroom, or just includes blocks of EFL classes, it seems imperative that these programs use the best tool teachers have available in encouraging not only language acquisition, but healthy childhood growth and development as well.
are undeniably efficient at learning new things. They soak up information at an incredible rate and are not as afraid to take risks like their older counterparts (2). Scientists have also made it clear that the younger a child learns a language, the better (3). For all these reasons, EFL in Kindergarten seems like a match.
Children work best when their natural development is respected and given the time and tools and space to flourish. In a study described in a research article by Alliance for Childhood, scientists found the huge benefits of basing early childhood experiences around play (4).
'A study compared 50 play-based classes with 50 early learning centers and found that “by age ten the children who had played excelled over the others in a host of ways. They were more advanced in reading and mathematics and they were better adjusted socially and emotionally in school.' (2)
It seems fitting that if play can have such an astounding effect on normal childhood growth, that it would also have an equally positive effect on EFL learning goals. Especially considering Kindergarten is often the first school experience and in addition, keeping in mind the added stress inevitable in a child learning another language, play offers the opportunity for children to practice the language in a way that learning is natural to them. Play is the perfect activate experience - it is when children compile all that they have absorbed in their every day experience and funnel it into their own authentic creative expression. They are in effect designing their own role plays and performing them simultaneously. To take away this natural element of childhood would be throwing away the most productive learning tool in our lesson kit. Even if all the children in a class are EFL learners, incorporating free-play is a great way to lower their stress and anxiety and keeps them fresh and ready for more school (5).
So how exactly would an EFL teacher incorporate this into the classroom, you might ask? If the class is entirely EFL, free play might need to share a little more time with teacher-guided activities such as a circle time with songs, games and fingerplays. As much as possible movement should be included. Storytelling should be daily and a great tool in providing language, context and play inspiration (1). Songs, rhyming, and games should all be accompanied with hand gestures as there is research to support language acquisition and hand gestures are linked (6). The days lessons must be done in a playful way. And lastly, if EFL is only part of the daily schedule, it should be woven into the regular steady flow of each day. Rhythm and routine are key in the life of all young child and should be present in the EFL classroom as well (5). Combining sound developmental expectations with a great EFL kindergarten is a perfect mix for creating the next generation of happy, well-educated, school-ready bilingual children.
1. Rhode Island
Department of Education. RI Early Learning Standards. Rep. Providence: n.p., 2003. Welcome to the Early Learning Standards. Web. 15 June 2012. .
2. International TEFL and TESOL Training. "Unit 19: Teaching Special Groups." 120-hour
TEFL Course Book. N.p.: n.p., 2011. 5-6. Print.
3. Letter, Duke G. "Cognitive Benefits of Learning Language." The Duke University Talent Identification Program 8.1 (2007): n. pag. American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages. Web. 15 June 2012. .
4. Almon, Joan, and Edward Miller. "The Crisis in Early Education: A Research-Based Case for More Play and Less Pressure." Comp. Alliance for Childhood. (2011): n. pag. Web. .
5. Louv, Richard. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin of Chapel Hill, 2005. Print.
6. Marion, Tellier. "How Do Teacher's Gestures Help Young Children in Second Language Acquisition?" Diss. University of Paris, 2005. UFR Linguistique Laboratoire ARP. Web. 15 June 2012. .