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    • List characteristics of environments that support children’s social-emotional development and learning.
    • Explore resources that provide information on supporting the social-emotional development of all children in your classroom.
    • Discuss how you can foster relationships in your classroom environment.




    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, using many types of materials. High-quality learning environments make children feel welcome, validate their thoughts and feelings, and provide them with numerous opportunities to practice and learn social skills. As you learned in Lesson One, social-emotional skills are integral to children’s overall development and learning. In your daily work, you should consider how your classroom and school environment support children’s social-emotional learning.

    Creating Environments that Support Children’s Social-Emotional Competence and Development

    The following are characteristics of environments that are supportive of children’s social-emotional development and learning.

    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, going to the bathroom or washing hands with “buddies,” sitting near friends during snack time, 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 course for detailed information about creating and maintaining a safe classroom environment. Each learning center is easy to enter and exit.
    • Each learning center is easy to enter and exit.
    • 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).

    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 (i.e., 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., smaller portions are provided for snack so children engage in interactions to ask for more).

    Responsive and Nurturing Adults:

    • Teachers support sharing and taking turns with materials.
    • 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 share their feelings about events or situations.
    • Teachers validate children’s feelings and thoughts.

    Fostering Relationships

    Establishing and maintaining relationships with others is a critical component of children’s social-emotional development. As a preschool teacher, it is your responsibility to create supportive environments that foster and promote relationship building and a sense of community. Remember that your goal is to be nurturing and responsive to all children’s needs in your classroom.

    Relationships are central to children’s development because relationships enable children to safely explore their surroundings and learn how to be members of their social and cultural worlds. It is through relationships that children learn appropriate ways of responding to emotions and expressing their own emotions. Relationships in the preschool years help children learn to play, interact with others, and develop friendships.

    A relationship is a sustained interaction, with emotional connections, that lasts 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 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 ties with each child and family, and collaborating with classroom staff members and other professionals (Fox, Lentini, & Binder, 2013). In the Learn, Explore, and Apply sections of this lesson, you will have the opportunity to learn about and reflect on additional practices and strategies to build relationships in your classroom and program.

    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 the strategies at the beginning of this lesson regarding schedules and routines, activities and materials, and responsive adults. Not paying attention to these areas ahead of time can significantly affect children’s behaviors and actions in your classroom. There are many reasons why children may exhibit challenging behaviors in preschool. For example, they could be spending too much time doing an activity (e.g., sitting too long for circle time when this is not developmentally appropriate), not knowing the expectations for what they need to be doing (e.g., not knowing how to use certain materials at a particular center), waiting 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 having specific directions or expectations about what they need to be doing during the day.

    Challenging behaviors often involve conflicts among children. Being able to resolve conflict 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 social-emotional growth. There is also more information on preventing challenging behaviors in the Guidance Course.

    Meaningful Family Participation in Preschool Children’s Social-Emotional Development and Learning

    It is critical in your work with preschoolers to acknowledge that families are their first and most significant teachers. Families play a significant role in supporting children’s early social-emotional development. Children learn social skills from members of their families. Families teach children how to be social, how to treat others, and what appropriate behaviors are. Family involvement can help teachers incorporate family values, cultures and beliefs in their classroom and school environment. Along the same lines, involving families helps them understand what is happening in the classroom, which promotes consistency of practices between school and home. High-quality family-teacher relationships fostered through mutual respect and ongoing communication serve as important models for young children.

    Consider the following strategies to engage families in their children’s social-emotional development:

    • Ask families to share their philosophy or thoughts on children’s social-emotional development. Gather information about their backgrounds and beliefs.
    • Make children’s books that discuss feelings and social interactions available in your school lending library.
    • Provide resources for families in your classroom library or school resource library.
    • Invite families to come to your classroom and observe experiences and activities that promote children’s social-emotional learning.
    • Be responsive to families’ needs or concerns about their children.
    • Be sensitive and respectful of individual families’ preferences or life circumstances.


    Being a Nurturing and Responsive Teacher

    Watch this video to learn about being a nurturing and responsive early childhood care provider.

    Unrealistic Expectations

    Watch this video to learn about unrealistic expectations in preschool that may contribute to children’s challenging behaviors.


    Some classroom toys and materials are more likely to promote children’s social interactions with others. As you consider available toys and materials in your classroom environment, incorporate some of the following in your daily plan, as these toys promote social interactions:

    • Blocks
    • Dress-up clothes and props
    • Toy vehicles (e.g., cars and trucks, trains, ramps, road signs)
    • Puppets
    • Balls
    • Wagons, tricycles
    • Housekeeping materials (e.g., kitchen, dolls, dishes, phone)
    • Water and sand toys
    • Large pieces of paper on the wall or floor and painting or writing materials and utensils



    Download, print, and complete the Social Environment Checklist and Relationship handouts. Take some time to reflect on how your classroom environment supports children’s social-emotional growth, and how you foster relationships in your classroom. Share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or supervisor.



    Use the following resources to learn more about fostering relationships in your classroom and arranging your environment to promote children's development and learning: 

    Welcome Children and Families to Your Classroom  

    Building Positive Relationships with Young Children 

    How to Communicate with Parents 

    What Does a High-Quality Primary Classroom Look Like? 

    For information on supporting children's social-emotional growth, review the attachment below.  


    RelationshipsSustained interactions with emotional connections with particular, important meaning between the individuals involved
    Social stories or scriptsShort stories that describe social activities and behaviors used to support children in learning and using appropriate social skills




    Your colleague asks that you observe his classroom and help him figure out why several children seem “out of sorts.” After observing, you share with him that…


    Which of the following materials or toys promote social interaction among preschool children?


    True or False? Teaching children problem-solving skills can reduce challenging behavior in the classroom.

    References & Resources

    Berk, L. E. (2013). Child Development (9th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

    Coleman, J. C., Crosby, M. G., Irwin, H. K., Dennis, L. R., Simpson, C. G., & Rose, C. A. (2013). Preventing Challenging behaviors in Preschool: Effective strategies for classroom teachers. Young Exceptional Children, 16(3), 3-10.

    Craig-Unkefer, L. A., & Kaiser, A. P. (2002). Improving the social communication skills of at-risk preschool children in a play context. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 22, 3-13. Abstract available from

    Division for Early Childhood. (2007). Concept Paper: Identification of and intervention with challenging behavior. Retrieved from

    Division for Early Childhood. (2010). Position Statement: Identification of and intervention with challenging behavior. Young Exceptional Children, 13(5), 47-48. Doi: 10.1177/1096250610388151

    Fettig, A., Schultz, T. R., & Ostrosky, M. M. (2013). Collaborating with Parents in Using Effective Strategies to Reduce children's Challenging Behaviors. Young Exceptional Children, 16(1), 30-41.

    Fox, L., Lentini, R., Binder, D. P. (2013). Promoting the Social-Emotional Competence of All Children: Implementing the Pyramid Model program-wide. Young Exceptional Children, Monograph Series 15, 1-13.

    Grisham-Brown, J., Hemmeter, M. L., & Pretti-Frontczak, K. (2005). Blended Practices for Teaching Young Children in Inclusive Settings. Baltimore, Maryland: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co., Inc.

    Hemmeter, M. L., Ostrosky, M. M., & Corso, R. M. (2012). Preventing and Addressing Challenging Behavior: Common questions and practical strategies. Young Exceptional Children, 15(2), 32-46.

    Koralek, D. (2010). Adapt the environment to meet differing emotional needs. Teaching Young Children, 4(2), 8-9.

    Martin, S. S., Brady, M.P., & Williams, R. E. (1991). Effects of Toys on the Social Behavior of Preschool Children in Integrated and Nonintegrated Groups: Investigation of a setting effect. Journal of Early Intervention, 15(2), 153-161.

    McLean, M. E., Wolery, M., & Bailey, D. B. (2003). Assessing Infants and Preschoolers with Special Needs. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall.

    National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2013). Beyond “I’m Sorry”: the educator’s role in preschoolers’ emergence of conscience. Young Children, March 2013, 76-82.

    National Association for the Education of Young Children. More than a Letter Home: Activities to send to families before the year begins. Teaching Young Children/Preschool. Retrieved from

    National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). Welcome Children and Families to Your Classroom. Teaching Young Children, 5(2), 6-7. Retrieved from

    Trawick-Smith, J. W. (2014). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective, (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.