March 2024 preschool MFL article Communication
Missions Discipleship

The 3 C’s of Working with Preschoolers, Part 1: Teaching Preschoolers to Communicate

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

—Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

The need for learning to communicate begins at birth.

Babies communicate through crying, smiling, and body language. Ones and twos begin adding verbal language — simple words and short sentences — to express their needs and feelings. All preschoolers gain more sophisticated communication skills as they interact with others, practice speaking, make mistakes, and imitate role models.

A child needs to communicate every single day. That’s the way of life. When preschoolers come into our classrooms, we must continue to teach them to communicate with each other and with those around them. How important is communication? Very! We must communicate if we are to teach preschoolers about missionaries, missions areas, and Bible concepts.

No unwholesome Talk

As you interact with preschoolers, remember that we are responsible for how we talk to others. How we speak to preschoolers and how we allow them to speak to each other provides teachable moments for appropriate verbal and behavioral interaction. Model words of positive social interaction, such as please and thank you, and ways to ask for help or share a toy.

What Is Helpful for building Others Up

Preschoolers are just beginning to develop beyond an egocentric worldview. They are learning they are part of a community where others are to be treated with kindness and consideration with words and behaviors. Help guide them with choices that highlight the feelings and needs of others.

According to their Needs

Preschoolers provide a unique opportunity for us, as leaders, to help them learn empathy. Observing with your words what others may be feeling will help preschoolers begin to understand the needs and feelings of others.

That It May Benefit Those Who Listen

Your Mission Friends are observing how you treat other leaders and adults. They are learning how to talk to other preschoolers by watching you and listening to you. Clearly verbalize words as you interact with each adult and child so preschoolers can learn from you.

How You Communicate Matters

    • Use terms and vocabulary preschoolers understand. Use words and descriptions that can be experienced with the five senses. Avoid generalities and be specific. “Please use your inside voice,” communicates much more effectively than, “Stop yelling.”
    • The limited vocabulary of younger preschoolers means their communication is often expressed physically rather than verbally. Throwing a toy tells you they may be frustrated. Snatching something away from another child means they are not getting what they want.
    • Use simple words to give preschoolers vocabulary for their feelings. “Levi, I see that you would like to have the book Lydia is reading, but it isn’t a choice to take the book away from her. But you may choose another book.”
    • As older preschoolers begin using words to express themselves, it is important to listen carefully. Preschoolers respond well when we listen with our ears and our eyes. They are very keen to the nonverbals of others, as their language is just developing. As you observe them beginning to develop language, help them along the way.

Reading books, singing songs, providing opportunities for preschoolers to work and play together, and asking questions that require more than a yes or no answer will help you fill each session with language-rich activities. And you will be equipping preschoolers to grow in their communication skills!

by Teri Ussery