As an early childhood educator, you’ve likely heard of a learning group before — but do you know how to incorporate them into your classroom, or why they’re so important?

At ChildCare Education Institute, we’re dedicated to providing teachers like you with the highest-quality resources and training for your classroom. And because we’ve got a number of courses that touch on childcare and learning groups (including this one), we’re spilling the beans on everything from the importance of small groups in the classroom to how you can implement them easily and effectively.

What is a learning group?

A learning group is exactly what it sounds like: a small pod of students (usually between three and six) who work together with an adult to improve specific skills. Unlike the traditional “whole group” method of teaching, learning groups allow teachers to better meet the needs and skills of each individual student.

Why should you incorporate learning groups into your classroom?

Incorporating group learning activities for preschoolers into your classroom routine can have a number of benefits for you and your students including:

  • Developmental Growth: Because preschoolers are still developing socially and cognitively, they can easily become overwhelmed in large group settings. By separating your students into smaller pods, it’s easier for them to interact with one another as well as the teacher assigned to their group. The small group setting also provides them with a safe place to practice expressing their thoughts and needs with each other to complete tasks.
  • Interaction Between Peers: By separating your students into small groups, you’re also encouraging them to build relationships with students they might not normally interact with. This structured interaction can help create a more inclusive classroom and can help expose students to other children with different backgrounds and points of view.
  • Cooperation Between Students: When students meet in small groups, they get to practice working together to achieve a common goal. By doing that, they’re able to practice their cooperation skills, along with their communication and sharing abilities. Finally, the group setting is a great way to introduce students to compromising (and the fact that everything won’t always go their way in life).
  • More In-Depth Observation: Small groups also make it easier for teachers and staff to more closely watch each student and observe their behavior when working with others. Not only does this allow for more accurate growth assessments, but it also makes it easier for teachers to note which students need more help in certain subjects.
  • Differentiated Learning: Every student learns and develops at their own pace. By separating students into learning groups based on ability, you’re able to meet children where they are and introduce ideas/activities that are on-par with each student’s skills. These groups can also help you provide specific support to each child to help them move to the next “level” of learning (often called scaffolding instruction).

How should you group your students?

Once you’ve committed to incorporating small group instruction into your classroom, it’s time to decide how you’ll create each group. If your primary goal is to help each student improve their skills, we recommend grouping your students based on similar abilities. You can do this using anecdotal evidence or assessment data.

Other ways to segment your students include mixed ability groups (so they can help teach each other), interest-based groups (to help promote individual interests and foster relationships) and self-selected groups (to allow students the opportunity to select their own peers).

Once you’ve segmented your classroom, set aside a designated space for small group time so your students know where to go when it’s their group’s turn. Be sure to have all materials prepared in advance so students don’t have to wait on anything once they get into their group.

How should the time be structured?

It’s important to remember that childcare and learning groups shouldn’t just be unstructured play time. Instead, have an adult direct students through an activity that requires collective effort from the group. Then, once the task has been introduced, take a step back and let the students work independently to complete it (using the time for individual observation and to give help as needed). While your students complete the activity, be sure to encourage them to work together.  

When should the groups meet and for how long?

Group learning activities for preschoolers are the most effective when they happen daily, so try to schedule in a regular block of time for your groups to meet. Select the duration based on the attention spans of the children within the group — and increase it throughout the year as your students grow and mature. We recommend starting with 10 minutes and then adjusting accordingly.

What group learning activities for preschoolers are best?

When selecting learning group activities for your preschoolers, it’s best to start by determining which skills the members need to work on. Once you’ve settled on the skills, you can then select interactive activities that help develop them. It’s also important to remember that each activity should be adjusted to meet the needs of each individual group. Some of our favorite activities include:

  • Clothesline Names: This literacy project from Pre-K Pages is the perfect way to help students learn letter recognition and fine motor skills. The game can be done with each student’s individual name, or they can tackle it as a team using sight words from earlier lessons.
  • Pass the Ice Cream: Help instill the importance of sharing (while also working on motor skills) with this activity from Sunny Day Family. Your students will have a blast — and they’ll love getting to bring one of their favorite stories to life.
  • Roll and Dot the Number Math Activity: This interactive game from Fun Learning for Kids is a great way to practice math skills with your group. Have students take turns rolling the die and have the rest of the group mark off the corresponding numbers.
  • Imaginative Play: These imaginative play scenarios from Crafty Kids at Home are a fun way to get your students to express their creativity alongside fellow group members. Watch as your students assign different roles to each other and play in their given roles.

Want to learn more about how to best support your students’ growth and development in the classroom through childcare and learning groups? Our online professional development courses can help! Click here to learn more.