A lot of new things at once is fun for adults but for children with limited information processing capabilities it’s just too much. This is how to make changes and introduce new things at preschool without overwhelming your young students.
I love putting new materials out in my classroom, I get SO excited about sharing materials I have made with my students and seeing their reactions. I will never forget when their reaction was not at all what I expected. My school like many follows a thematic calendar, and even though I don’t do everything themed I do change the sensory table, the color of play dough we put out changes and some of the tools do too and other small changes. One month this year I had so many fun new things I overdid it. This was too much change for young students. It was too much change too early in the year. They needed more security and predictability from their environment, I messed up.
Information processing theory tells us that young children can only process a limited amount of stimuli at any given time and as children develop their knowledge base changes (increases) and that lets the child create more relationships to existing information. When everything is new no connections are being made if there is too much new to take in. This is when you will see children at free choice or center time doing what I call “drive bys” they zoom from one area to another never really engaging, they have no existing knowledge to connect to.
How do you avoid this?
When you make changes in your classroom make them gradually.
When you are switching items in areas add new items, then remove the old a day or two, or a week later.
Give children a heads up about changes.
Not all classrooms are set up so that children can help you make the changes, but the next best thing is to tell them, especially the more resistant to change children. Even very young preschoolers can benefit from a teacher saying something like ” I know how much you like playing with the rice in the sensory table but tomorrow I will show you what beans look and feel like!”
Have them help make the changes with you.
“Tomorrow when you come to school you can help me make purple play dough for the play dough center!”
This is a great way to make the children feel connected and give them an active role in the class community.
Be ready to take out old favorites that you have put away to make your class more comfortable and predictable. The day that I had overwhelmed my students my assistant and I looked at each other and immediately knew we’d gone overboard with excitement at all the fun new things and quickly put some away, got out old favorites.
Another benefit of this approach is that children don’t need as much help with “old favorites” they know how to interact, and you can work on the important work of connecting with your students, weaving individual goals into those interactions, and modeling social learning instead of teaching a child how to use some new material. That is the real work of a preschool teacher.
Yes this may mean that you have a tea party, play dough and car ramps out every single day but it also means that your students will interact with the other free choice activities that you have created for them in a meaningful way instead of doing “drive-bys” and not connecting with anything.
So less is more, much more, in preschool!