Differentiating in a Preschool Setting

by Debbie Keiser

It’s Sunday night and you have just finished creating the perfect set of lesson plans, filled with exciting activities to evoke interest and engagement in all of your little ones. Your children arrive the next day and within the first hour you realize that everything you had planned is not going to happen. What do you do?

You adjust on the fly! You change some of the activities to better fit the needs and levels of your children, meaning some may take longer, but they will be done. You decide to omit an activity or two because your children are not quite ready for them. Suddenly everything settles, children are happily engaged, and your stress level goes from ten to two.

This scenario happens every week for providers around the world. Every activity we plan will not be perfect for every child because all children are different, with varying needs and abilities. The need for differentiated instruction is real. The good news is you are already differentiating in your classroom naturally!

Here are a few ideas to help you intentionally plan learning experiences to help you meet the wide range of abilities and interests that exist in your classroom:

Choose a Theme
The first thing you consider in lesson planning is a theme. The theme should be concrete and based on things about which children are naturally curious. Examples of appealing themes include farms, baby animals, community helpers, sports, etc. When you select a theme, do so with the interests of your children in mind.

Vary Activity Types
When creating differentiated curriculum, it helps to intentionally plan variety in groupings, settings, tempo, and cultural diversity.

  • Groupings: Be sure to plan for large and small group activities, as well as times for independent exploration and play, and one-on-one time with you. You should also plan more child-directed, play-based learning experiences than teacher-directed experiences each day.
  • Settings: When you plan activities, think about rearranging the setting; this will keep children engaged. Set up center areas such as dramatic play, art, writing, reading, blocks, etc. Be sure to plan plenty of outdoor experiences when weather permits.
  • Tempo: Children need plenty of active time in their day, but balanced with periods of quiet. Lively activities include outdoor and dramatic play, music and movement, etc. Quiet activities might include reading, writing, and art areas, as well as rest time.
  • Cultural Diversity: There are so many fun ways to add cultural diversity to your setting through music, foods, games, books, visitors, and materials. Be sure to invite parents to share their home culture with your class — they are a great resource!

The perfect set of lesson plans does not exist because our children are all different. Be sure to note what works, and adjust your differentiation strategies accordingly. Happy planning!

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