I was recently introduced to the concept of taking large groups and breaking them into smaller groups. I thought that sounds like a good idea. However, is it even possible with the limited time that Early Childhood teachers have? The more I began to think about this concept the more I realized what an amazing impact it could make.
Let’s think about your large group, what do you typically do: Calendar? Weather? Read a story? Are all the children actively engaged with these activities? In the 10-15 minutes that you have are you able to respond and engage with all the children that want a chance to speak? My guess would be probably not. After all, there is one of you and usually about 20 children.
Now let’s think about reading a story to six or seven children instead. You could engage and be present for each child in the group, because of this you would be able to scaffold conversations to further their understanding of the content. You might find yourself inspired to be more intentional in the small group activities you plan, and your observations would be more reflective of where each individual actually is. Most importantly it gives you time to get to know and connect with your children. I would even go as far as to say that real learning cannot begin until there is a strong relationship between teacher and child is established.
You may be thinking about logistics of it all. First of all, I want to clarify that this time would not take the place of the academic-focused small groups, but would take place when you typically would do a large group. Get creative with how you break up your groups! One way that you could try is while you work with one group on a story, have the teacher/para work with another group on another circle time activity like the weather or project work. The last group of children can do an independent work group. You will want to make sure that the materials needed are accessible to them and it is an activity they are familiar with.
I am in no way saying to completely rid your classroom of large group. large group is necessary to build the classroom community. To discuss what is coming up and what we have done. We need that time to dance and be silly with children to continue to build those relationships that are vital for children to learn. I’m suggesting spending a little less time in large group, and a little more time with smaller groups of children.
Are you willing to think outside the box and do a little less large group time? Take a chance, you might be surprised by the outcome.
Cecilia Mintz, B.S. Ed, is an Early Childhood Resource Specialist for STARnet Regions I & III. She has worked in Early Childhood since 2007. Cecilia has worked with a diverse population at Head Start. While working with Head Start she guided children with Project Approach. Cecilia worked at engaging families in their child’s education by encouraging their input on family goals involving their child.