As English becomes more important to a child’s future, many parents are sending their children to preschools that offer English as a subject. Furthermore, English courses for children are becoming more popular, with a number of teaching methods being used to teach English. Nevertheless, how effective are these methods for students at an early age?
Most English institutions for children use rote learning. This is an approach to learning English where the alphabet is introduced as a visual representation of the symbols for the purpose of memorizing letters from A to Z. Once the child is able to memorize these letters, the next step is to link them to make up words like dog, house and bus. During this learning stage, a child is expected to be able to encode the letters, meaning to convert a message into code. In this case, a memorization approach is needed for the preschool child to learn basic vocabulary. Usually, flash cards are used initially before a child learns letters.
The rote learning method is repetition in which the teacher repeats the words so that pupils memorize them. This method is effective in a way of picking up the materials through exercises such as vocabulary building. However, the memory capacity of each child differs from that of another and too much repetition can create boredom in children.
The implementation of games and songs can avoid such boredom. Many preschool teachers use songs as part of the learning process. The rhythm of music creates an enjoyable atmosphere for preschool students, especially for children ages two to four.
Games like puzzles, flash cards and rhymes have proven to be effective in helping children focus more in learning the language despite its vocabulary enrichment. Through the use of various pictures from a set of flash cards, a creative teacher can create many games to encourage kids to utilize the brain to boost their creativity and intuitive thinking. Furthermore, other activities such as coloring, counting, tracing and sequencing will benefit the child’s motor skills and memory development.
Rhyming words is a form of words having the same end sounds such as house and mouse, fat and hat, look and book, etc. Since it takes some time for children to understand what rhyme means, the teacher needs to play the game repeatedly, especially in applying longer sentences. This rhyme activity is sometimes silly in the meaning sense; a big mouse hides inside a small house to get a blouse. Children older than four years old should be able to participate in this game, but younger children will merely enjoy the sounds of rhyming words.
Furthermore, once the child is able to sit, understand what the teacher asks and knows basic vocabulary, he/she is ready to develop his/her communication skills by socializing with classmates through the use of the English language. At this stage, conversation can be a spontaneous process.
Reading and writing are highly significant in learning English and are not part of a spontaneous process like conversation. Reading is something that needs to be learned through many processes. The implementation of the phonics system has recently become popular in teaching children to read even though phonics itself is not sufficient to teach children so that they master the language.
Phonics is a relationship between written letters and spoken sounds. It is not a memorized driven approach, but is a method to teach children to pronounce words accurately by learning phonetic sounds. Despite the fact that many preschool English institutions have adopted the phonics system, many of these schools do not apply the method toward teaching children to read.
Even though grammar is essential in reading, it is not appropriate for preschool children to learn grammar as the fundamental of a reading lesson. Grammar will only confuse a child and create boredom. An interactive learning process of a reading lesson does not have to include grammar.
In many cases, story telling can be a psychologically effective tool for preschool children to instill a love of reading. Class discussion about a story can get students to comprehend the text well.
Learning to read is significant for preschool children in preparation for primary school. Once a student has become an independent reader, then he/she is ready to learn to write, and grammar is essential at this stage.
By Aulia Rachmat, published in The Jakarta Post, April 2, 2006.