Character education for preschoolers is often a topic that is overlooked by educators and caregivers. Just as important as learning the ABC's, teaching good character can help preschoolers make good decisions, begin trusting others and learn empathy and compassion.
Why Teach the Concept of Trust?
When parents enroll their children in a preschool program, they are most likely hoping that their child will learn the ABC's, colors, counting and other skills that will help children succeed in an elementary school classroom. While these skills are no doubt very important, there are other lessons a child needs to learn to be successful in group situations.
Building trust in a preschool classroom is one of main concepts of character education that will benefit both children and teachers. When children learn to trust their classmates as well as their teachers, the class is more able to function as a cohesive unit and squabbles and behavior difficulties actually diminish. While you cannot force the children in your class to trust you or their classmates, there are several activities and lessons you can use to help build these relationships.
Begin at the Beginning
Keep in mind that preschoolers may not completely understand the concept of trust, and you may need to explain what the word means before you can teach any lessons or engage in any trust activities with your class. One of the simplest ways to define trust for preschoolers is that trust is by believing in the honesty and reliability of the other children. Even this simple definition may be more than some preschoolers can understand, so it is often helpful to discuss some examples of trust. Try and keep your examples simple and related to an everyday occurrence in the children's lives. For example, you can say "When I gave Max the job of feeding the classroom fish, I trusted that he would do that job." Or, say "When you go outside on the playground, I trust all of you to keep your hands to yourself." These examples can help explain a rather abstract concept in simple terms.
One of the first ways you can begin to establish trust in your preschool classroom is to begin to assign daily jobs to each child. There are several ways to accomplish this task. You can create a job board, listing several daily jobs that need to be done each day in the classroom. These jobs can include feeding the class pet, helping to clean up the tables after a snack or meal, watering plants, line leader and caboose, or circle time helper. To ensure that each child has a job each day, add some fun or silly jobs to the job board such as calendar helper, song chooser and toy inspector. Explain to children that you trust each and every one of them to do their jobs each day. As children become used to doing a classroom job each day, begin to hand out "Trustworthy Awards." Allow each child to earn his award by completing his daily job without prompting.
Activities to Help Build Trust
Once children begin to understand the concept of trust, you can plan some fun activities and lessons that will help build on this concept. Remember that you are an important part of the classroom family and be sure to include yourself in these trust-building activities. The children must learn to trust you as well as their fellow classmates.
Buddy Walk: Create a simple obstacle course on the playground or other outdoor space. Include obstacles that will need to be stepped over, crouched under, climbed or jumped on. Separate your class into teams of two students and tell them that they must complete the obstacle course together. Pair yourself up with a child and tell him that you trust him to help you get through the obstacle course safely. Give preschoolers the option of closing their eyes while navigating the obstacle course, while their partner uses words to guide them through safely. As this may frighten many preschool age children, do not make this a requirement. Close your eyes and allow your child partner to direct you safely through the obstacle course. When you reach the end, ask your partner "Do you trust me to walk you through the obstacle course safely?" If the child answers yes, it is your turn to be the leader. The rest of the class will follow these same directions. Each student will complete the course twice; once as the trustee, once as the truster.
Group Dynamics: Watch your class closely for signs of children who tend to be more outgoing and helpful, as well as children who are slow to warm up. Try pairing these two opposites together for a small group project or lesson. An outgoing child tends to be more eager to help out a classmate, therefore earning respect as a trustworthy friend.
Outdoor Exploration: Try taking your preschool class on a simple nature hunt with a twist! Before the activity, prepare picture books with several different things you may see while on a nature hunt on the school playground or surrounding area such as leaves, acorns, pine needles or other natural items. Tell the class that if they find each item in the picture book, there will be a special treat, such as Popsicles for a snack. Give each child one or two items to find while they are outside on the nature hunt. Explain to the class that they must trust their fellow classmates will find their items so that they can all participate in the Popsicle party. Encourage the children to work together while outdoors, hunting for their objects.
Character education and building trust with preschool children are important concepts to consider including in your daily preschool curriculum.
Rivkin, Mary S., The Great Outdoors. The National Association For The Education of Young Children (1995).
Katz, Lilian G. and Diane E. McClellan, Fostering Children's Social Competence: The Teacher's Role. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (1997).
Emily McCloy http://morguefile.com/archive/display/221819