- List characteristics of environments that support children’s learning about guidance.
- Explore resources that provide information on supporting children’s positive guidance.
- Discuss how you can foster relationships in your classroom environment.
Think about yourself and your life for a moment. What are some ways you help yourself navigate busy days within the different environments in which you live, work, and spend your time? How do you ensure you stay on track, attend meetings or appointments, and complete your tasks? Perhaps you use an agenda, a planner, sticky notes, to-do lists, electronic devices, or other ways to help remind yourself of what you need to be doing? We all depend on these different “supports” to help us keep going, stay on track, achieve goals, and ultimately be successful.
Now think about how you feel when you are certain about what you are doing, what is going to happen next, and when you have organization and structure in your daily and weekly life? Do you feel happy? Content? Calm? At ease? And what happens if you don’t have all the supports that allow you to have structure and organization in your day? You may be able to function for a day or two, but in the long run, you are probably going to feel frustrated, confused, anxious, or even angry and upset at some point.
Just as you need supports to be able to function successfully and to navigate your day-to-day experiences, children need structure in their daily environments. Children thrive when placed in organized environments that provide structure and predictability while allowing for flexibility and respect for individual differences.
Creating Environments that Support Children’s Guidance
Your classroom environment should be a nurturing and supportive space that encourages positive interactions between children. It should be safe, stimulating, and developmentally appropriate. High-quality environments provide opportunities for children and adults to interact and play together in a variety of settings while using a variety of materials. These environments make children feel welcome, validate children’s thoughts and feelings, and provide children with numerous opportunities to practice and learn. High-quality environments capitalize on relationship-building, appropriate expectations for behavior, predictable schedules and routines, and actions that address the needs of all learners. The remainder of this lesson will discuss each of these elements.
Positive Relationships with Children, Families, and Colleagues
As a preschool teacher, it is your responsibility to create supportive environments that foster and promote relationship-building and a sense of community. Developing positive relationships with children, families, and your colleagues is the first and most essential strategy for preventing challenging behavior. All guidance occurs in the context of these relationships: Children and adults understand one another, value one another, and respect one another. Teachers that actively work on relationship-building are likely to have fewer instances of misbehavior because children understand that adults are there to help rather than to hinder. If a child in your classroom is frequently acting out in the presence of a particular adult, the interactions that precede this should be examined to determine where improvements could be made.
You can encourage positive social interactions by demonstrating mutual respect toward children. This includes modeling respectful forms of communication, respecting the decisions children make, and respecting overall differences in others. You encourage these positive interactions by modeling them yourself. Respect your colleagues, and show this respect in your words and actions.
A relationship is a sustained interaction with emotional connections over time. Relationships take time to develop and have important meanings among the individuals involved. Fostering relationships is an ongoing process that enables children to learn things about themselves, others, and their environments. Practices that promote nurturing and responsive relationships include supporting children’s play, responding to children’s conversation, providing positive feedback, encouraging appropriate behavior, building relationships with each child and family, and collaborating with classroom staff members and other professionals (Fox, Lentini, & Binder, 2013).
Appropriate Expectations for Behavior
A set of positive expectations can set the tone for guidance in your classroom and program. These expectations must be age-appropriate for children in your care. Preschool children can benefit from having a set of three to five positively stated expectations that guide all interactions in the classroom. You must understand these expectations yourself, teach them to children, and talk about them throughout your day. You may also want to ask children in your classroom to brainstorm ideas when developing these expectations. Then, you should work with children to remind one another of these expectations. You will find some examples of expectations in the Safety Course.
Classroom Physical Design
Preschoolers need access to materials that encourage dramatic play, construction, writing, art, science exploration, music, and sensory materials. At this developmental stage, it is important to plan activities that incorporate fine- and gross-motor skills both inside and outdoors. For example, if a young girl is having difficulty sitting still during story time, constantly redirecting her to pay attention is likely to result in a behavioral outburst. Instead, encouraging her to release energy in a tumble area set up in the corner would be an example of developmentally appropriate guidance. Likewise, rather than forcing a reluctant young boy to participate in a game of kickball, it would be more appropriate to encourage him to explore the leaves and insects within the grass beneath him using a magnifying glass. He could then report to others what can be found beneath the grass on which they are playing. The attached Learn section handout, Physical Space Design, provides suggestions for consideration when it comes to classroom physical design in preschool. Additionally, in the Explore section of this lesson you will have an opportunity to reflect on how your classroom physical space and design may be contributing to children’s behaviors. You can also find much more information on developmentally appropriate environments that support positive guidance in the Learning Environments course.
Schedules and Routines
Managing time and the daily sequence of events is an important part of positive guidance. A predictable schedule can prevent behavioral outbursts and reduce anxiety in children, especially those who are resistant to change or surprises. Providing structure and predictability helps everyone know what is to be expected throughout the day. This is best achieved by posting a daily schedule.
A daily schedule should be displayed and followed closely. Higher-interest activities (e.g., such as free choice or outside time) should be scheduled after lower-interest activities (e.g., whole group time) to ensure the children’s interest and motivation. Of course, the children’s physical needs should always come first. This includes meals, bathroom breaks, safety, and opportunities for rest throughout the day.
Once children become familiar with the daily schedule, changes can cause discomfort and confusion. Special care must be taken to inform children of any changes to the schedule. Warning should be given well in advance for weather interruptions, special guests, and special events.
Transitions between activities should be minimized. The daily schedule should be examined and any unnecessary transitions should be eliminated. For example, compare these two early-childhood schedules from the Head Start National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning Front Porch Broadcast Call series (Artman-Meeker & Kinder, May 2014; https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/tta-system/teaching/practice/fp/fpseries.html):
Transitions should be made as calmly and orderly as possible. There are a number of ways to add structure to transitions. For example, children could be called to line up based on the color of their shirts or hair. Or a song could be sung or played with the expectation that children are where they need to be by the end of the song. When a group transition is necessary (e.g., when preparing to get on the bus for a field trip), you should be prepared before the transition so children do not need to wait. Make sure you have all materials ready, the bus is parked out front, etc., before you begin the transition. Consider leadership roles for children (can a child be responsible for distributing program T-shirts?) and ways to involve the children in the transition (children count themselves out loud as they line up).
Preventing Challenging Behaviors in the Classroom
High-quality environments send powerful messages to children about the ways they should conduct themselves and treat others. Think about what you have read in this lesson related to schedules and routines, relationship building, classroom design, and appropriate expectations. Neglecting to pay attention to these elements ahead of time can significantly affect children’s behaviors and actions in your classroom. There are many reasons why children engage in challenging behaviors in preschool. They might spend too much time doing one activity (e.g., sitting too long for circle time when this is not developmentally appropriate), not know the expectations for what they need to be doing (e.g., not knowing how to use certain materials at a particular center), wait aimlessly and too long for things to happen (e.g., going through too many transitions during the day that take too long), or simply not have specific directions or expectations about what they need to be doing during the day.
Consider some of the areas in your classroom and regular activities: busy-center work, large-group activities, lunch and snack time, potty time, free-play time indoors and outdoors, or other classroom and program happenings. Take a few seconds to consider what you are currently doing during these times to ensure children understand what is expected. Further, ensure they know what is and what is not acceptable.
Challenging behaviors often involve conflicts among children. Being able to resolve conflicts and solve problems are important social skills for young children because these skills enable them to make and keep friends, complete their daily routines without problems, and engage in meaningful learning experiences. Children who are able to solve problems and resolve conflicts with peers are more likely to engage in positive interactions with peers, make and keep friends, and have a more positive transition to kindergarten. Problem solving and conflict resolution involves self-regulation, communication, identifying and talking about emotions, and working together with other children. Teaching children to problem solve can help reduce impulsive behavior, help children control their behaviors and talk about emotions, and prevent aggression and other challenging behaviors. In the Apply section of this lesson, you will find resources to help support children’s guidance.
Addressing the Needs of All Children in Preschool
Children in your classroom who have developmental delays or who experience challenging life events or circumstances may also experience challenges with behaviors. These challenges may influence their ability to benefit from high-quality early education and to engage in positive social interactions with peers and adults. Even though challenging behaviors are typical for young children, some children show persistent challenging behaviors that may affect their overall school experience. It is important to provide children with the support they need so they can benefit as much as possible from their school experiences. For these children, you may need to adapt your curriculum, environment, and classroom experiences to enable them to be successful. Think about busy-center work, large-group activities, transitions, lunch and snack time, potty time, free play time indoors and outdoors, or other classroom and program events. What are you doing during these times to ensure you address the needs of all children in your classroom?
You will also have to work with children’s families to ensure consistency between school and home. Families may benefit from your classroom strategies that support children’s positive behaviors. Some children in your care may have conditions that affect their social-emotional development, including developmental delays, autism, neurological and perceptual disorders, or language and communication delays. Children with individualized education programs (IEPs) have a specific plan to help them meet their education goals. Very often, these children will need changes or adaptations to curriculum, classroom environment and daily preschool routines.
It is critical that you get to know the children in your classroom to be able to support their successful participation in your program experiences. Make sure all children and families feel welcome and involved. The Kids Included Together (KIT) program can be a valuable resource for ideas. You can also consider Building Blocks and Kara’s Kit. These resources from the Council for Exceptional Children Division for Early Childhood provide practical, real-world ways to help children succeed in their environments.
The following are characteristics of high-quality environments that support children’s success in preschool. In your daily interactions with children in preschool, consider the following:
Schedules and Routines:
- The classroom schedule includes a predictable routine.
- There are visual reminders of the daily classroom schedule and routines.
- The classroom schedule includes a combination of small-group and large-group activities, both indoors and outdoors.
- Routines are arranged to promote interactions (e.g., children holding hands to walk outside, children going to the bathroom or washing hands with “buddies,” children sitting near friends during snack time, children sharing cubbies and interacting at arrival and departure times).
- The environment is safe and free of dangerous materials or potential for harm (e.g., there are no large open spaces or obstacles). Refer to the Safety and Learning Environments courses for detailed information about creating and maintaining a safe classroom environment.
- Each learning center is easy to enter and exit.
- There is a quiet, calm area for children to visit if needed when they feel strong emotions. These spaces may offer materials to help identify emotions (e.g., labeled pictures of people expressing different emotions in their faces) and promote self-soothing (e.g., offer strategies for calming, stress balls, or teddy bears). See the Learning Environments courses for more information.
- There are few transitions in the classroom schedule per day.
- Routines are structured and predictable to promote children’s independence (children learn to independently follow daily classroom routines).
- In addition to the predictable schedule, warnings are given before transitions, so children have a few minutes to adjust their thinking and prepare for the next part of the day.
Activities and Materials:
- Teachers rotate activities and materials to maintain children’s motivation and maximize engagement.
- Materials are developmentally appropriate and provide opportunities for learning.
- Learning centers and materials are clearly labeled.
- There are a variety of toys available that promote social interactions (e.g., cars and trucks, water toys, blocks, dress up clothes and props) as well as toys that promote individual play (e.g., puzzles, writing materials).
- Activities and learning centers are arranged to promote interactions (two to four children per center, depending on the activity).
- There are a sufficient number of materials for children to play with.
- Materials are purposefully arranged to create opportunities for children to engage in social interactions with each other as well as with adults (e.g., multiples of favorite items are offered to support children’s play, smaller portions are provided for snack so children engage in interactions to ask for more).
Responsive and Nurturing Adults:
- Teachers support negotiation and taking turns with materials.
- Teachers are themselves positive models for children by modeling kindness and respect.
- Teachers encourage children to use their words and to talk with their friends to solve problems.
- Teachers model developmentally appropriate language to help children deal with conflict or solve problems with each other.
- Teachers use clear warnings and transition signals to help children efficiently transition between activities.
- Teachers incorporate children’s interests and preferences into classroom experiences and routines.
- Teachers purposefully address the needs of all children in the classroom (e.g., using social stories or scripts for children who may have a hard time sharing materials with peers, using an individual visual schedule for children who may need supports during transitions).
- Teachers encourage children to express their thoughts and to share their feelings about events or situations.
- Teachers validate children’s feelings and thoughts.
It can be useful to ask a trainer or coach to observe your classroom environments and give you feedback on how these environments function. You can use this information to reflect on the appropriateness of your classroom spaces. Download, print, and complete the Observing Environments Activity. Share and discuss the findings with your trainer, coach, or supervisor.
There are many tools available to help you think about and reflect on your use of positive guidance techniques and environmental arrangements. The Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning has developed a series of Inventories of Practice. These Inventories can help you become aware of strategies that prevent challenging behavior and promote social and emotional development. You can download the Inventory of Practices handout here, or click on the link below for the preschool inventory. The inventory contains a wide range of strategies.
|Expectation||A guideline for behavior, like a rule except typically broader and applying to all the settings a child might be in|
|Relationships||Sustained interactions with emotional connections with particular, important meaning between the individuals involved|
|Routine||An event that happens daily like snack, toileting, diapering, arrival, departure, or clean-up|
|Transition||The movement between one activity and the next, usually involving stopping one activity and starting a new one|
|Visual support||An object that is used to communicate information to children through pictures, drawings, or images; examples include picture schedules, rule charts, classroom signage|
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