Volunteer As Pre-School Dharma Teacher
Guest contribution by Stella Cheang
One year and five months ago, I was plunged into close contact with pre-school children for the very first time in my life. It took quite a bit of courage on my part to take on the role as volunteer teacher. The initial reluctance came from my lack of interaction with very young children of the age 2 to 4 years old.
During my moments of hesitation, I came across a sharing1 by His Eminence the 25th Tsem Rinpoche which reminded me that how lucky I am in this lifetime. I do not have to work 17-18 hours a day and can afford to put food on the table with time to spare sometimes. As I contemplated on what have I done to deserve this luxury, I realized that I can expand my role into bigger scheme of things, reach out and help spread Buddha Dharma to people instead of focusing on the enjoyment for just ourselves. And so the journey began.
Two months into teaching, my classes were frozen by my method of communication with the children. As simple as the lesson module might sound, the children were not following me. Most of the time, I found them incredibly excited to tell me something totally irrelevant rather than being engaged by the lesson. I had no choice but allowed them to butt in even though we were in the middle of something. But I quickly realized this was a way the children sought attention.
Many a time, they also exhibited tantrums and disappointments during social conflicts with their peers. It was hard to calm them without being a disciplinarian, and by being one, I quickly lost their trust because it was evidential that they plead for guidance rather than being reprimanded. This was when I discovered each and every one of the children felt very strongly about their sense of entitlement. It was really disheartening because each week felt like a blow of failure to the perfectionist in me who wanted very much to instill Dharma values in the little ones. I felt I had let everyone down.
Then, I read that “A good teacher must be able to put himself in the place of those who find learning hard”. I took a step back and analyzed the situation. I was being reactive most of the time, lacking in the correct composure when interacting with children. I also realized the fact that I was always thinking in my adult capacity and trying to project my thoughts and communications onto 2 to 4 years old. I did research and proceeded to confirm my comprehension and ameliorated methods with seniors.
And so, in the following months, a variation of enriched methods were applied during the classes.
One of the most important adult-children interaction is to be at the same level as the child. During class activities, I started looking for natural openings in children’s play and then join in at their physical level, perhaps as a pretend play partners. One game I found very handy was letting the adult played patient while the children took turns to play doctor. This removed the barrier rapidly because the children were suddenly placed on a levelled position with an adult and of one that they can relate to.
It was correspondingly important to focus on helping children become familiar with words and language that project Dharma value. I found role play an effective way to accomplish this. Role play is deemed as the safe way to explore strong emotions, which directly help children understand frightening events like sickness, pains and even death in mock up circumstances. Acting out the emotions and overcoming it through rationalization is, in my opinion, the foundation to building emotional resiliency in the future.
As educator, the children naturally looked up to our words for instruction and guidance. Aware of the impact, I started making conscious effort to only use encouragement instead of praise. I avoided statements that evaluate or judge, but focus on making objective, specific comments that encourage children to continue their good effort, or halt their bad behavior. The main objective is to expand their descriptive language and let them think about what they are doing.
It is good to always thrive to use vocabularies that the children are comfortable with, it helped make the reading, singing, storytelling and role play more fun for both adult and children. Pre-school children tend to learn better with singular words that are made up of different letters, syllables and sounds, and the words should be accompanied by colorful pictures.
Knowing when to stop and how to stop the lesson is significant as well. I had learnt to pay attention to children’s reaction to the lesson, and stop when I noticed many of them are not enjoying it. I like to play bubble games or balloons with them when the energy level dropped and attention wandered. It is helpful to make a simple routine on when and how to stop the lesson, the children will gradually grow to follow the pace of the lesson.
Now, looking back, I am glad that I took on the role and did not give up. We can all make a difference in the lives of children, through perseverance, innovation and consistency. My heartfelt gratitude to His Eminence the 25th Tsem Rinpoche, Kechara Pastors, kind sponsor and all Kecharians; without which, I would not had this opportunity to contribute for such a wonderful cause.
Please support us so that we can continue to bring you more Dharma:
If you are in the United States, please note that your offerings and contributions are tax deductible. ~ the tsemrinpoche.com blog team