Teaching Self-Awareness to Preschoolers

Instructor: Abigail Cook
Preschool students are an energetic group of kids who often lack the self-awareness skills they need to play nice and follow directions. Teachers can help them develop these skills through a variety of fun and engaging activities.


Preschool is a fun and challenging time for young kids. Three and four year olds are learning how to play, communicate, and follow rules. They may also be experts at fighting, getting into trouble, and pushing each other's buttons. Part of the fun (and difficulty) of teaching this age group has a lot to do with their development in social skills and self-awareness.

Self-awareness is understanding your own feelings and actions and how they affect yourself and other people. Private self-awareness is when a child understands something about themselves that other people don't know. Public self-awareness is when a child understands how other people view them.

Self-awareness affects all areas in a child's life, including communication, learning, and social interactions. The following are signs that a child lacks self-awareness:

  • does not recognize mistakes in schoolwork or make edits
  • can't put their feelings into words
  • does not recognize that other people may feel differently than they do
  • does not see how their behavior impacts other children

It is easy to see that these symptoms could keep children with self-awareness problems from making friends and doing well in school. It is important that teachers learn to recognize when a lack of self-awareness is causing problems for a student. They should then follow up with appropriate activities for teaching and practicing self-awareness skills.

Teaching Self-Awareness

The following sections include suggestions for teaching preschoolers basic self-awareness skills. These activities may need to be adapted based on the level of cooperation and understanding of your students. The purposes of these activities are:

  • to help students see how everyone has similarities and differences
  • to teach students that when they do good things they feel good about themselves
  • to demonstrate appropriate ways to control their own behavior and reactions
  • to model appropriate responses to difficult situations

Same or Different

To help students begin recognizing similarities and differences in the people around them, create activities where they can learn 'same vs. different'. Choose an item in your room (like a toy car), and set it on a table where everyone can see. Ask them what color it is (let's say it's blue). Fill a bag of different items that are a variety of colors. Have students take turns pulling something out of the bag and telling the class if it's the same color or a different color from the toy car.

You could also make 'same vs. different' part of morning circle time. Point out the similarities and differences in what the kids are wearing each morning. Everyone will be wearing shoes, but some might have sandals and others have sneakers. Explain to the kids that it's ok to be different from each other and that having differences is what makes the class a fun place to be.

Class Helpers

Preschool teachers often implement a class chore chart where students rotate through different jobs. Some of these jobs could include picking garbage up off the floor, wiping off the white board, feeding the class fish, or passing out papers. As students complete these jobs, teachers can give them specific verbal praise to let them know they did well. For example, after Jimmy pick up the garbage his teacher might say, 'I love how you picked up all that garbage! You are awesome!' Over time, Jimmy will see that when he helps others it makes them happy, and it makes him feel good about himself, too.

Some children may need more than praise as a reward. If this is the case, teachers could create a reward chart where students get a sticker for doing their jobs well. The added visual of a sticker chart reinforces good behavior.

Role Play

Young children may have a hard time applying skills that they're learning to actual situations. Teachers can facilitate role play scenarios to practice skills like sharing, resolving a fight, or saying sorry. With three and four year olds, the teacher will need to take a leading role in order to show examples of good behavior. A role play scenario may look something like this:

Ms. Hank is playing blocks side by side with Tom, a student in her class. She takes a block off of his tower and it falls apart.

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