I frequently get asked how we help children in our program engage in gentle interactions, respect our materials and pets, and continually and consistently love coming to school. Here is what I have noticed, the adults (Teacher Gaby and I) set the stage in our setting and we build the foundation for how children engage and participate. We accomplished this by connecting lovingly and creating strong relationships from day one (actually, from tour day).
Relationships! I can't emphasize this point enough. We connect with the children countless times a day; Eye contact, smiles, hugs, warmth, encouragement, acknowledgement, and paying close attention to desired behavior. Starting with our very first interaction at arrival, “Yay, you are here! I am SO happy to see you! Can I get a hug?” to the moment everyone leaves our program each day WE, the adults, are intentional at making each and everyone feel important, valued, and noticed. When children feel safe, supported and valued they can concentrate on exploring, learning, and making friendships, instead of finding ways to get attention.
Once relationships are established the environment comes in. We created an environment that supports our philosophy that children learn best from natural, experiential interactions with real-world experiences. However, each day we must keep an eye out to see if it is developmentally appropriate, stimulating enough but not too stimulating, cluttered or too busy, aesthetically pleasing, soothing and peaceful, comfortable for all children, warm, peaceful but also engaging to further support each child’s learning and daily needs.
Then, we look at the children's daily needs for developmental opportunities. Each day children are practicing, and noticing new skills and it is our job to find ways to allow them to practice them. Children who have strong connections, and an engaging environment do not have the need to get attention through “misbehavior”. If a child is throwing or kicking our resources all over that means they need more opportunities to engage in this behaviors so we provide additional opportunities for throwing, dumping, tipping and pouring in a way that is appropriate for our space, and safe for all.
Children do not struggle with our routine because our day is open, and flexible allowing them the freedom to play, explore, and engage in activities as long or as little as they like. Nothing in our program is mandatory with the exception of a few rules, AKA expectations:
1. We must be sitting down while eating but children eat as much or as little as they want. Somehow this way all of our kiddos eat a lot!
2. We must be respectful of our materials and cannot destroy them. However, all toys can be used in all types of play (including mud and water), as long as it is a part of their play and advances their learning.
3. All children must rest in the middle of the day. We have a wonderful, relaxing transition that helps set the stage for naps (Darker rooms, white noise machine, and classical music.
When a child is forceful with other children we look at the why behind that behavior and give them strategies to help them move through their play. Depending on the age and situation it could look many different ways: redirection, having a few duplicate toys, learning to use the appropriate words, and at times, removing the object, or the child involved.
One of the most frustrating interactions adults have with the younger kiddos are tantrums…The way we look at it is, children continually have to deal with strong feelings that in their mind come out of nowhere. And to add to this mix their prefrontal cortex has not yet developed and the have very limited amounts and tools to self-regulate. A tantrum is usually all those feelings escaping! When encountering tantrums we work on redirection and once the emotions have calmed down we talk about what caused the strong emotions. Sometimes redirection isn’t enough so we provide space and time for them to express those strong feelings in a safe place. We do not use time-out and do not isolate children however, at times may need to ask a child to move away from their friends to not interfere with everyone’s play and allow a child to work through their feelings. If they need to scream and yell we give them opportunity to do so. We let them know we are here to acknowledge and love them when they are ready to be supported (big feelings can be scary!) We never shame or blame a child for having a tantrum. They are a normal and healthy way to express emotions until their prefrontal cortex starts to kick in later on in life.
Finally, when planning our daily activities we think about the whole child and the whole family unit. What is happening in each of our kiddos’ world? Have there been changes and stress? How was their sleep? When was their last meal? Then we offer them the gentle rhythm that they need. To eat when hungry, sleep when tired and to play freely with a supportive and loving, engaged adult nearby who is ready to gently guide and support them through this fun rollercoaster called LIFE <3