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Why Structure is Important in Early Childhood Programs

Routines, structure and learning to follow directions are extremely important in the early childhood years. Routines and structure in the classroom will help children feel safe and secure.  When children feel safe and secure, they walk into a classroom knowing  what is expected of them they are  ready to learn.
Trust is extremely important in the  relationship between the teacher and his/her students.  How do early childhood educators build trust with their students?  It is called consistency!  Teachers do this by setting guidelines within the classroom and students learn the guidelines because the teacher is consistent in what he/she says.  The teacher guides students to social behavior through group discussion, talking about feelings, role modeling and role playing.  

In order for children to have gratifying human relationships, they need to build social skills.
Of course this is not something that happens quickly.  By teaching and guiding children these skills will be developed with help from parents and teachers.   These skills are developed through instruction, practice and reinforcement. Some of the most important aspects of socializing that individuals may initially have difficulty grasping include turn-taking during conversations, maintaining eye contact, being polite, maintaining attention, repairing misunderstandings, finding a topic that is of mutual interest, and distinguishing social cues (both verbal and nonverbal). These subtleties, however, are not impossible for individuals to learn (Interactive Kids, 2012).

Laying the foundation of socialization can be taught at home and in school.  Discussions, role playing and modeling are wonderful ways of teaching social skills. Often these skills require additional small group instruction in a safe environment, led by trained professionals (Interactive Kids, 2012).  
At school, teachers build trust by being consistent with rules of socialization.  For instance, while in circle time (also known as morning meeting), if someone is speaking, it is important that children learn to listen to the speaker without interruption.  Children learn about taking turns and that others listen to them as they speak.   In our classroom, children sit quietly as someone is speaking and they raise their hands if they have a question for the speaker.  Preschoolers are capable of learning to wait patiently, listen to others and wait their turn to speak.   It is one aspect of social behavior.  

Today we are going to talk about listening to others while they speak.
In our classroom, we have a chart on the wall with pictures on it (as we know, preschoolers are just learning to read), The pictures show what our rules are for circle time. 

Rules of a Good Listener

  1. Eyes are watching (picture of large eyes)
  2. Listen when someone is speaking (shows a big ear)
  3. Lips are closed (it is rude to talk when someone else is  speaking and it is not fair, picture of large lips with finger saying shhhh).
  4. Hands are to self ( touching others causes distractions and it is not fair to the speaker, picture of child sitting with hands in lap
  5. Feet belong to self ( picture of child sitting criss-cross applesauce)

 I always go over the Rules of a Good Listener before we begin by pointing out each picture and the children name each rule.  We talk about what each rule means and how important it is to listen while others speak.  I tell them we are being polite and fair when we listen to others speak.
If a student talks while someone else is speaking during my morning meeting.   I never point out a child by name, I just guide everyone back to the speaker, using visual ques, like a finger to my lips, or my assistant gently taps a shoulder to remind the student about listening.

When a child learns to be a good listener, he builds vocabulary and the ability to focus improves.  This is so important for young children to learn, for soon they will be entering their formal education.

What do you do to help children learn to listen? 

The most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen.  Just listen.  Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.

Rachel Naomi Remen