Right and wrong aren’t typically conceived of as part of the “three r’s” of education, but moral conduct affects virtually every aspect of life. A preschooler who can treat others with respect will have fewer problems with friends and be better-equipped for learning. Preschool is an ideal time for children to begin learning about treating others fairly, and teachers play a key role in teaching such moral conduct.
Mastering Impulse Control
According to researchers Sandra Aamodt and Sam Wang in “Welcome to Your Child’s Brain,” impulse control plays a key role in moral development, and children with high impulse control score higher on tests of both moral behavior and intellectual development. Teachers can help children develop this skill by encouraging them to delay gratification. For example, if a child wants to play with a toy, ask her to wait two more minutes. Institute quiet playing and reading time, and reward children for remaining calm. When a child struggles to control her impulses, ask her to pause and think before acting, then reward her for doing so.
Empathy is the cornerstone of moral behavior because it enables children to place themselves in another’s shoes. Rather than rigidly enforcing rules, ask children to think about how another person feels. When a child hits another, ask her how she thinks this might affect the other child, then get her to explain why hitting is a bad thing to do. Children who understand that their actions affect others tend to weigh their decisions more carefully, according to the textbook “Child Psychology.”
Encouraging Critical Thinking
According to “Child Psychology,” children struggle with moral behavior when their behavior is presented in terms of rigid rules. Instead, children need to understand why a specific behavior is important. Talk to your students about classroom rules and solicit their opinions. You might even ask your class to jointly develop a classroom rule system because this makes them curators of the rules rather than just passive recipients of decrees.
Talking About Moral Dilemmas
Preschoolers aren’t yet ready for high-level ethical questions, but they can begin to sift through information about morality. Read stories that present ethical dilemmas — such as the choice between choosing another child’s cookie and letting her have it — and then have group discussions. Ask children to explain not only why something is the right thing to do, but what makes it right. Preschoolers can even begin to develop basic moral principles such as the importance of not hitting others. Encourage your students to make a class list of moral principles to which they can all agree.
- Welcome to Your Child’s Brain; Sandra Aamodt et al.
- Parents: Teaching Family Values
- California Department of Education: Social-Emotional Development Domain
- CriticalThinking.org: Critical Thinking, Moral Integrity, and Citizenship — Teaching for the Intellectual Virtues