Small Group Spaces & Routines

What is Small Group Instruction?

In preschool, we meet children’s needs through various avenues, including small group activities, large group activities and center time or free play time. Each has a slightly different purpose. 

Large groups bring everyone together to establish a classroom community, greet each other, introduce new materials and review or practice social rules.

Centers or free play areas of play for the children to explore like the block area, art center, library or literacy center math, science and nature, dramatic play area or sensory center. Centers allow children to make choices and learn through play with their peers or independently.

Small groups are for deeper learning. Focusing on 2-4 children at a time, the educator can foster open-ended conversation, differentiate learning and customize activities and follow the children’s interests.

Why Use Small Group Instruction?

Connect with Children Individually

Small group time is an opportunity for children to work collaboratively in small groups (3-4 children) with teachers and peers to explore a topic, materials, or activity. During this time intentional focus can be given to allow for individual instruction and peer teaching that deepens the learning experience. 

Differentiated Learning

Small group time allows teachers to differentiate learning by providing experiences that are at just the right level of familiarity and challenge for each student. Additionally, by intentionally grouping students by their needs, teachers are able to create a social environment where learning for each child happens. 

During small group activities, opportunities for open-ended conversations are present, allowing children to expand on their vocabulary and cognitive processing, as well as opportunities for children to explore their individual interests through personal interactions.

Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory supports the notion that social learning and interaction is important to help children understand the world around them and that children can learn from teachers as well as peers. 

Build Skills

Using small group experiences allows the teacher to plan groups and activities that can support children in their zone of proximal development. For example, if a teacher provides a counting activity with open-ended materials and encourages children at two similar but different levels, the children are able to interact together, teaching and learning new skills from each other.

Setting Up Small Group Spaces

Create spaces for small group instruction consider:

  • Are you the only educator or if you have an assistant? If you work with an assistant, you can split the group and divide responsibilities, working with more than one small group at a time
  • Where will the small group activity take place? You may need a table or perhaps space on the floor where small group instruction can take place.
  • Can you see the rest of the room to supervise the other children? When the children face you it reduces distractions.
  • What materials do you need? Prepare for small group instruction and assessment with required resources nearby in a basket or caddy

Maintaining Small Group Spaces

The resources and guidance you need for your toddler or preschool small group spaces are provided in the Experience Early Learning curriculum. Each month, open your kit and pull out the Teacher Guides, related materials and assessment resources for each activity.

Maintain small group spaces, by refreshing them with new materials each month from Experience Early Learning and following a consistent schedule and routine that incorporates small group activities. 

Small Group Routines

Take a 3-step approach to small group times.  Whether setting up a math or literacy experience, you will discover that children are often at different developmental levels. By using this 3 step process to implement small group experiences, you will engage all learners at their unique levels.  

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