Read about how 4–6-year-old children learn and develop.

Characteristics Implications Need
Pre-school or just beginning school Not used to classroom conventions Training in class routines
e.g listening to teacher
Limited motor skills Clumsy control of pen / scissors etc. To develop motor control
e.g. colouring, copying
Learning holistically Whole child needs stimulation Opportunities to move, sing, play, explore, touch, etc
Cannot distinguish between different parts of language Cannot analyse language Exposure to chunks* of language, e.g. chants, stories, classroom language
Limited reading/writing skills in L1 Introducing reading/writing in English Lots of listening, speaking activities
Fun introduction to English letters and words
See no need to communicate in English Students use L1 exclusively Reasons to speak English
e.g. games, chants
Love stories, fantasy Bored with many topics Stories, fantasy, fun

*chunks of language = words that naturally come together – e.g. ‘thank you very much’, ‘glass of water’, ‘have a nice day’ – that are easily learnt, repeated and do not need analysis. 

Chants

Chants are great, as children:

  • learn to work together
  • pick up chunks
  • get to listen to lots of meaningful language
  • have a reason to use English
  • find them funny
  • move their bodies
  • enjoy repeating them

Chants are easy to make up. I made this one up for my 5–6-year-olds. They had already begun learning animals. We chanted it together and did actions for the different animals. (pretended to splash water, etc).  

My name’s Fred and I’m a frog – jump, jump, jump

My name’s Kate and I’m a cat – miaow, miaow, miaow

My name’s Fergie and I’m a fish – splash, splash, splash

My name’s Micky and I’m a mouse – squeak, squeak, squeak

My name’s Benny and I’m a bird – flap, flap, flap

This is a lovely chant with a rhythm that children enjoy. They can stretch their arms out to show ‘big’ and bring their hands close together to show ‘little’. It also helps to develop the following: 

Motor skills

Children will enjoy colouring in the pictures that come with the chant. Colouring demands concentration, eye/hand coordination and hand control – all important pre-writing skills.  

Word recognition

When beginning word recognition, they can draw a line between the animal words – cat, mouse, etc – and the pictures.

Songs

Classic songs like Old MacDonald had a farm are very popular with young children. Farms are pretty universal. Young students enjoy making the animal noises and farm animals are a nice lexical set.

To create a nice wall display, get children to draw their favourite farm animal and the teacher (or a child who draws quickly and finishes their animal) can draw a big farm to paste the animals onto. More animals can be added later, as well as a farmer, etc. Once they begin writing, students can label the different animals.

Stories

There are many story books based on animals. Children love listening to stories about animals, especially If there are colourful, child-friendly visuals to help them follow the story. You can also use cuddly animal toys while story-telling to get and hold the children’s attention.  

Games

Children all love games. 4–6-year-olds have still to develop cooperative skills, so introducing games that involve turn-taking helps to develop these skills. Do not despair if they get impatient or want to take each other’s turns – they are still learning to be less egocentric and need lots of opportunities to allow these skills to develop.