Most people face fears or social anxiety: public speaking, heights, spiders or rejection. Helping preschoolers understand and use courage to overcome their fears and the adversities they will face involves communication, play and other interactive activities. And, they will learn that fear can prevent them from making the wrong decisions in some situations, such as climbing too high in a tree. While courage sometimes means overcoming fears, it can also mean listening to fear.
To begin a lesson on courage, gauge and set the children’s understanding by asking what they think it means. You could frame it as a discussion about how each student felt the first day of preschool. Together, define courage as facing fears and doing what is right even when you are afraid. Discuss the implications of social rejection when a friend wants them to do something dangerous or wrong. Having courage sometimes means facing rejection by choosing to do the right thing. The tools students need to demonstrate courage include willpower, vigilance, composure and caring. Other topics to discuss are ways to demonstrate courage and how brave people do it (e.g., police officers, soldiers and historical figures).
Read stories that demonstrate each of these skills, relating the courage of characters to real-life preschool events. For example, the tale of “The Little Engine That Could” demonstrates the little blue engine’s willpower to get that load up and over the hill. A preschooler might relate this courage to independently riding the “big” slide for the first time. “Hansel and Gretel” shows how lack of vigilance can get you into trouble and “Lost! A Story in String” tells how a young girl keeps composure to survive a blizzard.
It is important for children to learn the difference between being courageous and reckless. Doing the right thing is not always about overcoming a fear. Fear can be useful in keeping them safe. To help them distinguish between courageous and audacious behavior, consider role playing. Use puppets or allow students to act out situations such as seeing a bully pick on a classmate. Ask students to tell you whether they will ignore the situation, join in the banter or tell the bully to stop. Role playing can also help children face fears. Have them open the closet and say whatever will make the "monster" go away, for example.
Look for opportunities to praise courageous behavior, even acts as seemingly simple as a child introducing himself to a new student. Modeling courageous behavior also teaches the right way to handle situations. Allow students to share personal stories or draw themselves overcoming adversities. You can also invite students to bring in pictures of things they fear or examples of courage to create a class collage. Never underestimate the effectiveness of singing about courage.
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