Walking the 8

As is true with many children in kindergarten, Michael has difficulty controlling his impulses and urges. He is also very clear about what he likes and does not like.

When presented with a preferred activity, such as Legos, letters or drawing, Michael is able to focus for 20 minutes or more at a time. However, when presented with a non-preferred activity, he will often communicate his refusal by screaming or knocking the activity off his work area. Since these behaviors are not socially acceptable, they are also not acceptable in our ASD classroom.

At first, taking Michael to the hallway just outside of the classroom was effective in helping him manage the powerful feelings he was having. We sat together and I coached him through a variety of ways to calm himself. We would breathe together deeply, he would rub his thighs while gently rocking his body, and I would count with him or sing the ABC song backwards. (Yes, that was soothing for him!)

After a time, I would ask him if he was ready to return to the classroom. When he said yes, I would remind him that it was time for a “teacher choice“ activity and then ask “what will we do at your work space?” When he could reply “teacher choice” we would reenter the classroom and attempt the non-preferred activity again.

This calming method worked for a while, but then something changed. One day, while going through the standard calming options, Michael suddenly became overwhelmed by the impulse to pull out of my handhold, run down the hall and scurry up the stairs to the second floor. After capturing him and slowly walking hand-in-hand back down the stairs, I attempted to return his focus to the calming choices that had previously been so successful. Doing so took much more effort than it had in the past.

Over the next few days, my co-teacher noticed that another of the children in the class was also wanting to run in the hallway. After discussing possible solutions, she used rubber tape to make a large figure 8 on the floor just outside of our classroom. Not only did “walking the 8” became another calming choice for our students, it became the most frequent choice. “How many times will we walk the 8?” is now a standard question in the hallway.

kirsten radivoyevitch

Kirsten Radivoyevitch

Another classmate has found the 8 helpful as well. Sometimes the two children walk the 8 together, silently, hand in hand. Michael is comforted by the

rhythmic walking, the repetitive, defined pathway, and the fact that an empathetic classmate or teacher remains by his side, holding little his hand the entire time.

Kirsten Radivoyevitch is a teacher in Hanna Perkins’ EPIC Classroom for children with autism spectrum disorders. Click here for more information about the EPIC program.


Understanding students’ behavior as communication

The Situation: While coloring, Sara turned to Elena and said, “I guess you don’t know what color dogs are, because you colored them purple.”

Elena was crestfallen. “My mommy told me I can use any color I want,” said Elena.

“Well, I guess its OK at your house, but we use dog colors at my house,” commented Sara.

Miss Toth was standing nearby and heard the interchange. As she approached the girls, she noticed that Elena stopped coloring and was tearful. “Elena you look like you had your feelings hurt,” she said.

“Sara hurt my feelings and said I was stupid!” whined Elena.

“I did not!” argued Sara.

Miss Toth spoke with Sara privately. She knew that admonishing Sara would not solve anything. Instead, she wondered out loud, “I heard what you said to Elena and you did not sound like the kind Sara I know. Is there something on your mind today? Did someone else hurt your feelings?”

Sara was silent and thought, “Does my teacher know what happened this morning?”

“Sara, I wonder what would make you unkind to your friend Elena? Sometimes people are unkind to someone they like, because someone else was unkind to them. Did that happen to you?” prompted Miss Toth. Sara froze. “My big sister said I was stupid because I didn’t know the name of my street. Now I know it so I’m not stupid anymore.” Miss Toth talked with Sara about her sister’s unkind words and her hurt feelings, saying “I’m so sorry your sister hurt your feelings, but it won’t help you feel better to hurt someone else. You are a very smart girl who can be proud of what you know and what you learn.” Miss Toth’s empathy helped Sara understand why she was unkind to Elena, and find a way to repair the situation.

The Lesson: What looks like bad behavior often is an expression of some deeper feeling. Miss Toth knew Sara as a kind girl and used that knowledge to help Sara know herself better. In an attempt to ease her own hurt, Sara had made someone else feel as she felt—little and stupid. We want to make things right when a child is unkind by admonishing or reprimanding, but those responses only result in greater hurt. By being kind in the face of unkindness, Miss Toth helped Sara know and express her feelings, resulting in a step toward mastery.

When we find meaning in behavior, the behavior makes sense. With that understanding we can figure out the best solution to promote learning and progressive development. For example, we can help Sara find relief by using words to express her feelings, and then help her make things right with Elena.

In her comments to Elena, Sara took the position of the seemingly stronger person, her sister, and then repeated her sister’s behavior. This is a typical, human response for children and adults alike. Miss Toth knew this dynamic with young children and was able to help Sara feel understood. Then Sara could manage her feelings and be a kind girl again. It is so helpful to Sara that she is learning about her emotional life at a young age and in a safe place.

Learning Points:

  • When children cannot find the right words, they tell us their thoughts and feelings through their behavior.
  • Behavior almost always has meaning. Inappropriate behavior can mean that children are struggling with feelings: sad, mad, jealous, worried or scared.
  • Children and adults can work together to figure out the meaning of behavior.
  • Young children often have trouble answering questions like:  “What’s wrong?” or “Why are you upset?” or “Why are you crying?” They may not always know how to connect a feeling to its cause. So they respond better to questions like: “How are you feeling about what happened? or “How can I help you?” or “You look very upset.”
  • Children who are not behaving appropriately might be scared or worried about something.
  • Children who seem angry might really be scared, worried or sad about something.
  • Children who behave inappropriately to get adult attention might need attention.
  • Children calm down faster and behave better when they are helped by calm, understanding, loving adults.
  • Think about times in your life when you were upset and needed help from someone; what helped you?

Collaborating with a student to change a behavior

Michael (not his real name) is a 5-year old boy who has autism. He loves playing outside. During school recess each day he smiles as he digs for worms in the dirt, shovels and sifts in the sandbox, and gleefully rides on the swings. Our school playground has areas that are both open to the elements and covered by a roof, allowing outdoor play regardless of weather.

As the temperatures began to get colder, Michael was quite willing to put on his coat, but he adamantly refused to keep his head covered with a hat or a hood. This was becoming a point of struggle at home, and his mother expressed concern about it. She also wasn’t sure what we might do to keep Michael’s head covered during recess.

I was intent on working with Michael’s mother to solve this problem because we both know how important outside time is for Michael’s his ability to focus during the day. Making a visual aid seemed to be the right first step.

Searching Google, I found the two photos I needed: one of a boy wearing his winter hat and hood, and one of the same boy without his head covered. I copied the images, side by side, into a Word document. Below the first photo, I wrote “YES playground” and below the second I wrote “NO playground.”

The next day, when the struggle first presented itself, I showed the page to Michael and we read it together, while noting the difference in the pictures. Then I pointed to Michael and asked, “Yes playground or no playground?” He replied, “Yes playground.”

I pointed to the photo of the boy wearing his hood and said “Hat on.” Michael took his hat out of his cubby and handed it to me. I put it on his head and we enjoyed a full recess period outdoors, playing in the snow.

kirsten radivoyevitch

Kirsten Radivoyevitch

Michael’s mother was happy to hear how well this had worked, and she took a photo of the page so that she could reference it as needed when not at school.

Kirsten Radivoyevitch is a teacher in Hanna Perkins’ EPIC Classroom for children with autism spectrum disorders. Click here for more information about the EPIC program.


Understanding upsetting behavior as communication

I had just brought Sammy (not his real name) in from the playground at the end of our school day. His mother was usually in the hallway by this time to greet him and take him home. On this day, since she wasn’t there yet, I suggested to Sammy that we could get his backpack from the cubby and wait for her together, sitting on chairs in the hallway.

The very moment we got his backpack, his mother arrived. They have a very loving relationship, so I was surprised when Sammy threw a fully physical and verbal tantrum.

Since teachers at Hanna Perkins view behavior as communication, I considered what Sammy might be telling us – and what might have happened in such a short time to bring on such a strong response.

As is true for many children, Sammy has difficulty with change. It occurred to me that he had been hit with several changes at once: outdoors to indoors, teacher care to mother care, mother waiting to us waiting, school work to leisure time, etc. Maybe this was just too much for him, so I considered which specific change to address first to help Sammy begin to get his tantrum under control.

The last change I had introduced was verbally preparing Sammy to wait for his mother on the chair in the hallway. She was visibly relieved when I explained this, and when I took Sammy to a hallway chair to enact that situation, he began to calm down.

I asked Sammy if he was ready to go, but I think I spoke too soon. He started screaming and thrashing on my lap. Since he takes comfort in the reliability of numbers, I told Sammy “We will count to 10 and then it is time to go home with Mommy.” I began. “One… two… three… four…” but Sammy shouted “It’s a rocket ship! It’s a rocket ship!” It was his way of saying he didn’t like this idea.

“OK,” I said, “we will count down from 10 to zero just like on a rocket ship.” Sammy listened quietly until I had gotten to number seven, at which point and he whimpered sweetly “100?”

“OK,” I tried again. “I will count from zero to 100 by tens, and then you will be ready to go home with Mommy until tomorrow.” With every multiple of 10 I named, I could feel Sammy relax a bit more. The numerical sequence was known to him, the ending value had been predetermined, and the expected action had been clearly stated.

During much of this time, Sammy’s mother had been listening, watching and waiting patiently a short distance away and down a short flight steps. Once I got to 100, I helped Sammy to his feet and his mother calmly approached. It was just as I had told Sammy it would be – us waiting for his mother on a chair in the hallway.

kirsten radivoyevitch

Kirsten Radivoyevitch

Sammy’s school day ended peacefully as he held his mother’s loving hand and calmly walked out of the school building like a big boy.

Being a teacher for young children with autism can be a challenge, both physically and mentally. But if we are willing to learn from them, they can show us a new way of thinking – one that challenges us to use our reasoning skills in a new way.

Kirsten Radivoyevitch is a teacher in Hanna Perkins’ EPIC Classroom for children with autism spectrum disorders. Click here for more information about the EPIC program.


Taking time to learn from a student with autism

My student Sammy (not his real name) began looking up briefly from his desk in the classroom. At first these movements appeared to serve the purpose of relieving neck strain or perhaps eye strain from looking down at his table work. But I soon realized that he was catching quick looks at the clock on the wall.

I pointed to the clock and asked him, “Clock?” which prompted a longer gaze at the classroom fixture. I asked again, “Do you see the clock?” He replied “Yes” and then went back to his work.

While he worked, I fetched our teaching clock from the classroom cupboard and brought it to Sammy’s desk. It was a large clock with visible gears, and hands that move in relation with each other. He began experimenting with the clock, then handing it to me and asking me to make it display certain times. “Nine o’clock?” “Twelve o’clock?” “Five o’clock?” He became more and more intrigued with the idea that I could make it show any time he wanted, so I handed the controls over to him.

After a short time, Sammy looked up, asking “Math? Math?” I assumed he was ready to move on to the addition work we had been doing, but I was wrong. He got up from his chair and sought out a specific set of 12 blocks, featuring animals of sequential heights. A tiny ladybug is shown on the block labeled as 1, a tall giraffe is on the block labeled as 12, and other animals are shown in their relative heights on each of the blocks in between. We have used these blocks in the past to work on sequencing numbers, heights and lengths, but that is not what Sammy had in mind.

He began placing the blocks on the table in a manner that looked like a clock face, but he got discouraged after the sixth block. “Circle? Circle?” He put paper and a marker on the table in front of me and asked again, “Circle?”

I understood where this was going; I drew a large circle and handed it to Sammy with the marker. He wrote each of the clock-face numbers around the circle and then positioned the twelve animal blocks accordingly.

As he did this, Sammy sang and hummed quietly to himself. So I took the activity in a different direction by singing 12 consecutive tones of a major scale while bouncing my finger up the gradated blocks. He followed my lead and we played this way for several minutes.

Sammy then jumped up from his seat, saying “Ruler? Ruler?” He found the ruler and bounced his finger up and down the 12 inches, singing tones of a major scale. Watching this, I challenged myself to come up with a related activity to introduce the next day. I decided to bring in a calendar so we could connect the 12 inches with the 12 months of the year. The experience made me realize that several things in our lives come in sets of 12, or dozens, such as eggs, roses, and doughnuts.

Kirsten Radivoyevitch

Other than the fact that Sammy was born in 2012, his mother and I are not certain what significance the number 12 has to Sammy. It remains a mystery, but by being patient, curious and genuinely fond of Sammy, I was able to experience an alternative perspective, and the two of us were able to enjoy learning together.

Kirsten Radivoyevitch is a teacher in Hanna Perkins’ EPIC Classroom for children with autism spectrum disorders. Click here for more information about the EPIC program.


The importance of talking with children about feelings

The situation: Four-year-old Michael was misbehaving. The teacher, Mr. Carpenter, was speaking quietly to him, helping with feelings the young boy could not express verbally.

caring-teacher-1622554-1280x960_freeimages_Heriberto Herrera“Michael, if you are missing mommy and feeling sad, we can talk about her, think about her and make her a picture,” Mr. C said. “You can miss mommy and still feel like a big schoolboy who can manage and be safe.”

Nearby, Alex had been watching this interaction out of the corner of his eye while building with blocks. Unexpectedly he lashed out at Julia, who was working next to him, knocking over her building. Julia yelled,” Alex is mean and being bad!” Alex appeared unconcerned about what he had done and continued building.

The assistant teacher, Ms. Dowd, approached Alex and Julia, hoping to find out what happened. Frustrated, Julia described the incident. Ms. Dowd turned to Alex, wondering why he would do such a thing and not apologize.

She asked, “Are you angry at Julia?” Alex refused to speak, then teared up and put his head down. It was only when Mr. Carpenter approached that he looked up, longingly, ready to speak.

He reached out to Mr. Carpenter and sighed, “I wanted you to help me with my missing-mommy feelings the way you helped Michael.”

The lesson: Every early childhood classroom should include the “language of feelings.” Addressing behavior (what a child is actively doing) is different from addressing feeling (what a child is experiencing on the inside).

As adults, we tend to focus on the doing instead of the feeling, because it seems easier. It takes a little extra time to help a child listen to the feeling voice inside, and find a constructive way to express that feeling voice.

We might think we know how a child feels, but often the child surprises us.

Alex’s actions seemed angry and unfeeling, but inside he was longing and hurting. His teachers might have thought he acted out because he wanted “attention,” but Alex needed some kindness and compassion.

He did not know how to express his lonely, missing feelings. He saw Michael receive comfort and consolation from Mr. C, and Alex wanted the same for himself. What a good idea to want to feel comfort from a compassionate person you trust.

Learning points

  • Help the child figure out ways to express feelings safely: Use words, get a hug, take a walk,
  • spend some time calming down.
  • Praise the child for using words instead of acting out (yelling, tantrums, hurting others).
  • Help the child with difficult feelings while you are calm.
  • Use the “language of feelings” in your classroom.
  • Label specific feelings: happy, sad, jealous, mad, excited, surprised, lonely, hurt, scared…
  • Trust that when the child knows the words for feelings, he or she will use them – though it may take practice.
  • Upset and anger directed at a child creates more upset and anger.
  • Remember, the adult is always the model for the child; you are the model for your student.

Image courtesy of Freeimages.com/Heriberto Herrera

Cross-cultural test of anti-bullying program

trinidad-w-bell-0716While team members at The Hanna Perkins Center for Child Development were preparing this summer for the first broad-based rollout of “My Mad Feelings,” a bullying prevention curriculum for children as young as 4, Clinical Director Kimberly Bell was giving the program a cross-cultural test at a school in Trinidad and Tobago. While the test was informal, the results, she said, were strongly positive.

While most anti-bullying programs focus on adolescent children, the origins of bullying can be recognized at a much younger age – when children first go to school or child care, and are learning to advocate for themselves in a social setting.

When angry, scared or otherwise bothered, young children “share” the way they feel by grabbing, hitting or saying hurtful things –acting out the feeling so others feel it too.

This is normal behavior, and it signals a developmental readiness to begin learning how to express themselves verbally instead. Otherwise, their behavior makes others angry and invites disciplinary action, creating a downward spiral in self-esteem. By adolescence, these behaviors may become habitual, and are recognized as bullying. (Learn more about My Mad Feelings here.)

“My Mad Feelings” is classroom curriculum for children age 4-7 to support the emotional learning process. It’s being taught in all preschool classes in the Shaker Heights City School District for the 2016-17 school year – the first time the program is being used across an entire public school system.

But as that effort was being prepared, Bell put it to use in July with a class of 5-year-olds at the Naomi Chin Kit Memorial School in Pt. Fortin, on the island of Trinidad. Bell was invited as part of a free dental clinic by volunteers from the dentistry programs and social work programs at Buffalo State College and the University of Buffalo.

Conditions for the cross-cultural test were less than optimal. While the program is designed to be taught in 12 lessons, Bell had only four. So she worked in advance with Victoria Todd, author of the curriculum, to select which sections to teach.

It’s also intended for small-group discussion, not a full classroom.

Bell observed the class before beginning the program, and said typical behaviors included impulsiveness, difficulty managing big feelings, and finding words to express feelings. She also noted a general confusion between the emotions of anger and fear.

“Their culture contains a drive to obtain limited resources, so concepts like waiting in line and taking turns don’t come naturally there,” Bell added. She described “a mad rush and a lot of crying” when crayons were placed on the table for coloring. One boy, unhappy with his picture, cried inconsolably because he didn’t think there would be any extra paper so he could start over.

“Even in the toughest possible conditions, these children responded like they were hungry for it,” she said. “After the last day, when we said our goodbyes, I’ll be darned if the two children with the biggest behavior problems weren’t sharing equipment on the playground, pushing each other on the swing. They were actively identifying feelings and seeking help in problem-solving.

“In the end, it was very clear the basic tenets of what we do at Hanna Perkins are universal,” Bell continued. “You get a tremendous response from young children when their feelings are acknowledged and when you help them give voice to those feelings.”

“The teachers were hesitant at first to believe a non-authoritarian approach was going to work. But the little 4-year-old who spent the first two days crying, screaming and running away came in on Day 3, put his backpack down and prepared for class. That’s when the teachers came to me and asked for a copy of the “Mad Feelings” teaching materials, so they could continue the process.”

Since the experience, the school director has traveled to Cleveland to observe operations at Hanna Perkins School. She is working to raise funds for teachers to travel here to receive formal training on the “Mad Feelings” curriculum.

Following is a video about the experience. Brief discussion of Bell’s work with My Mad Feelings begins at 7:10.

An alternative to punishment for misbehavior

boy closeup-conscience_ Serge Bertasius Photography_freedigitalphotosThe Situation

Five-year-old Thomas sat in his chair at morning meeting. During the “Days of the Week” song, Thomas rocked in his chair to the music. He knew it was against the rules because it wasn’t safe; chairs tip over easily. But when no one seemed to notice or comment on it, he did it again. Still, nobody paid attention.

When morning meeting ended, the children were free to choose an activity. Thomas chose puzzles, his favorite. But when he couldn’t get the pieces to go in correctly, he picked up a piece and threw it across the room.

His teacher was surprised. “What’s wrong, Thomas? You seem angry. You usually love puzzles,” she said.

“You’re mad at me,” Thomas said.

“I’m not mad at you,” his teacher said. “But I don’t understand why you just threw that piece of the puzzle. Could you be mad at yourself? Or maybe trying to get me to be mad at you?”

Thomas face turned red, but it took a few more moments of conversation before Thomas finally admitted, “I rocked in my chair at morning meeting,” he said, “and no one saw me do it.”

“That must have given you a bit of a bad feeling inside,” his teacher said. “I’m glad you told me about it, and if I had seen it, I would have asked you to stop. But that was a small mistake. And Thomas, you know that you don’t have to wait for me or someone else to see when you’re doing something you shouldn’t. You can stop yourself.”

“I’m not sure I can stop myself,” said Thomas.

“It takes practice,” the teacher said. “And I can help. Everyone in our class is working on helping to understand how their inside helper works.”

The Lesson

Instead of scolding Thomas for throwing a puzzle piece, the teacher understood that his behavior was out of the ordinary and must mean something. She also knew that children in the 4½ to 5 ½ age-range are just learning about their conscience – the part of the personality that helps children learn to do the right thing. In fact, she had been using the term “inside helper” when talking about it with the children.

She spoke kindly as she attempted to understand the meaning of Thomas’ behavior. This allowed Thomas to learn something important without the shame of being disciplined. It also allowed the teacher to be trusted as someone who could help Thomas – rather than simply being the grownup who doles out punishments.

Learning Points

  • Children’s behavior has meaning; try to determine the meaning of a particular behavior.
  • Rather than shaming and punishing for misbehavior, guide children as a trusted advisor. Over time, this helps them learn to put their angry feelings into words – effectively giving them the chance to choose desirable behaviors rather than acting out every emotion.
  • Help children to understand that what they notice about themselves is important; they don’t have to wait for a teacher or parent to notice.
  • Help children to listen to their own inside helper. And generalize the importance of listening to one’s inside helper or conscience to all children in the classroom.
  • Help children practice this important skill.

Image courtesy of Serge Bertasius Photography/freedigitalphotos.net

The ‘inside helper’: Helping young children make good decisions and use their conscience

training wheels_1431529-639x745_ned horton_freeimagesThe situation: Five-year-old Abby pushed her way into the preschool line. She had been waiting all day to show her teacher how well she could ride a bike with training wheels.

“Hey, you’re pushing in front of me and that’s not fair,” cried Jack. “I want to get outside too!”

Abby started to cry: “Now I’ll never be able to show Mr. Martin how I ride a bike, because they’ll all be taken!”

Mr. Martin approached the children and asked what was going on.

“Abby pushed me so she could get a bike, but I was here first,” Jack complained.

“I just wanted to show you that yesterday I learned to ride a bike with training wheels,” Abby confessed.

“Abby, what a wonderful new skill you learned. I would like to see it.” Abby sighed with relief that her teacher knew what she wanted. “But Abby”, he added, “you know the rule about waiting your turn and not pushing in line.”

Mr. Martin turned to the class and thanked them for waiting while he and Abby figured out what to do.

“Abby, how do you think you could solve this problem?” he asked.

“Don’t let her go outside,” said Jack; Megan chimed in, “Make her apologize!”

“Well, those are not kind ways to help Abby,” Mr. Martin responded, “and I think she can decide what to do, because she knows about good choices. Abby can listen to her inside helper.”

Abby looked at Mr. Martin and said, “I know what to do; I need to go to the end of the line. But I want a bike. Can you save time for a turn on one for me?”

“Now you are listening to yourself and you are making some good choices,” Mr. Martin responded. “Of course we can save some time for you on a bike. OK, let’s straighten out this line and get outside!”

When they were outside Abby approached Jack and told him she would work hard to make a better choice next time and not cut in line again. “Thanks,” replied Jack as he ran off to play.

The Lesson: Abby knew how to use her conscience and needed the opportunity to use it to help her with problem-solving. She just needed a little time and the kindness of her teacher to look inside herself and find a kind solution.

Reprimanding her or depriving her of privileges would not help her listen to the kindness of her conscience. When children receive primarily harsh or punitive consequences, they develop a harsh conscience, which they turn away from in times of trouble.

Given the opportunity and adult support, Abby came up with good ideas. If her teacher had given in to the temptation to just take over, she might have been deprived of this opportunity for further conscience development, increased self-esteem, greater confidence, and a feeling of mastery. Lucky Abby; she had a teacher who understands that children need to develop this important skill – and who made it his job to give her the chance, even while juggling the busy transition to outside time.

Learning points

  • Children ages 3-5 (and older, too) want to do the right thing – even though sometimes their behavior seems otherwise.
  • Adults need to help young children make good choices and use their conscience – or inside helper. Children are not born with this ability.
  • Adults model good decision-making by using love, kindness and understanding.
  • Teaching children to make good decisions by yelling, punishing or humiliating is ineffective. These approaches make them feel angry, unsure of themselves, and develop a lack of confidence and low self-esteem.
  • We all want to be treated well and to feel good about ourselves. We want the same for children.
  • Modeling kindness, support for learning, appropriate behavior, clear expectations and loving
  • praise for good decisions will help children achieve a feeling of well-being.
  • Modeling good decisions will also help achieve a feeling of well-being.
  • When children have a feeling of confidence and well-being, they can use their conscience to make good choices.

Image courtesy of Freeimages.com/Ned Horton

A strategy for talking with children so they’ll listen

preschool-class-activities2-1-1439482-639x958_freeimages_anissa thompsonThe situation: Mrs. Parker called out to her preschool class, “It’s almost time to clean up and go outside to play.”

It was a cold snowy day and the children needed to put on warm clothes.

Laura looked up and said, “No, I’m not going.” Paul screamed, “I didn’t get my turn on the easel.” Rebecca ignored the direction, and two boys, Jason and Robbie, started running around the room chasing each other.

Mrs. P raised her voice. “It’s time to finish what you are doing and put on your coats!”

William, who was struggling to put on his snow pants, fell backwards, crying that he needed help, while Jennifer teased him that he was a baby to cry about his pants.

Mrs. P’s pleasant, productive classroom had suddenly turned to chaos.

The lesson: As every preschool teacher knows, at any given moment there is a great deal going on in the classroom. Early childhood teachers feel pulled in many directions at once. The most skillful teacher seems to have the ability to attend to the needs and desires of each child. What an amazing skill to have naturally or to acquire.

On this day, the activity that created trouble was to transition to outside play. It was tempting and seemed most efficient to give verbal direction to the whole class. Sometimes early childhood teachers miss the idea that the transition itself – in this case to put on outdoor clothing – can be an activity worthy of note on a lesson plan.

If she had thought about it this way, Mrs. Parker might have given an alert or direction about the transition individually to each student – just as she would when working on any other challenge or skill.

This allows each child an opportunity to respond with anything that might be on the child’s mind – possibly uncovering obstacles to a smooth transition. She might hear, “I need to finish my puzzle,” or “Mrs. P, my coat is hard for me to zip by myself,” or “Oh, I can’t wait to go outside and show you how I can shovel snow!”

Children can listen better and respond more appropriately when they have a connection with the teacher, even a momentary one. This approach takes time, but what a good use of a few minutes in a preschooler’s day.

Learning points

  • Look directly at the child.
  • Encourage the child to look at you, rather than demanding it.
  • Use a gentle, quiet voice.
  • Use an understanding voice.
  • Make some physical contact: Hold a hand, touch an arm, offer a hug.
  • Model good listening by paying attention to what the child wants to say, even if you do not agree. It always feels respectful.
  • Use feeling words with the child.
  • Praise the child as much as you can even for doing simple things that are expected, such as hanging up a coat, cleaning up, getting dressed and following rules.
  • Smile at the child; it’s contagious!

Image courtesy of Freeimages.com/Anissa Thompson