I don’t consider myself an expert in teaching young learners but I have been teaching ESL for 4-6 year old children since September 2010. Here is why I think teaching 4-6 year old children is a big challenge (not in a particular order).
4-6 year old children don’t understand why they need to speak English and they only use their first language when communicating with the teacher or with each other. In order to have them using English they need a reason. Using English in games and chants might be a good reason for them.
Not very long time ago my daughter asked me: “Dad, why do I have to speak one language with you, another language with mom, and another language at school?” I had no idea how to explain her.
They love stories and fantasy and are easily bored if things are not interesting. They learn English better through listening to stories, imagining and becoming the characters from the story. This makes them want to use English.
Now, I am going to give you an example (a real dialogue) of how 4-6 year old children think:
Me: Sonia, let’s study English for 10 minutes.
My daughter (5 years old): Oh no, please, I don’t want! Let’s play!
Me: Ok, let’s watch the movie “Home alone”. You are Kevin and I am Kevin’s father. We have to speak like they speak in the movie.
My daughter (5 years old): Yes, yes, yes! I like that!
Children learn by doing, seeing, listening, touching, playing, exploring, discovering. All of these must be included in our teaching. Opportunities to move, sing, play, explore, touch etc is what they need to learn English.
They have very limited motor skills which makes using a pan or scissors a difficult task for them. Activities like copying, coloring or making different thing help them a lot to develop these skills.
4-6 year old children are in pre-school and they are not used with the classroom environment. They have to be trained in class routines. It is a big challenge to have them sitting on their chairs or listening to the teacher.
They are kids, they can’t understand grammar and they can’t analyze language. They just listen and reproduce chunks of language such as: stories, songs, classroom phrases etc. Reading and writing in English have to be introduced but first they need more opportunities to practice listening and speaking. Fan activities that help them learning how to read and write should be introduced later (closer to 6 years old).