Birthday party lists and other social interactions

If you are a provider in a room full of preschool children, the chances that you have heard the words “you can’t come to my birthday party” are about as good as the chances that you have seen rain the past few weeks. I was in a preschool classroom recently and had an interesting observation. A three-year-old child walked into the classroom and went straight to the writing center. He announced to other children who also walked to the writing center that he was making a list of children that could come to his birthday party and another list of children who could not come. He started pointing to each child, saying their names and identifying which list that child would go on. He then made some marks on a piece of paper, depending on which list that child was going on. Naturally, as children heard their name being announced, they came to see what the child was doing so after just a minute or two, he had quite a crowd. Children who were on the list to be able to come to his party seemed proud, while the others seem disappointed. I began thinking.

Learning how to interact with other children is part of social emotional development!

Learning how to interact with other children is part of social development!

While this interaction and similar interactions can be very hurtful, it’s also part of social development. Probably, this child won’t grow up to be a bully. He was starting to explore power within his friendships in the classroom. I noticed that all boys made the list of coming to the party and all girls (with the exception of one) made the list of not coming to the party. I wonder if this was a way of showing loyalty and protection of his relationships (versus intentionally trying to exclude children). That being said, caregivers and teachers have a role in supporting pro-social behavior; that is to help this child and others who have said similar things be aware of how their behavior can be hurtful.

As I was reflecting about this experience, I recalled a blog I had once read about “girl-power” that had five suggestions that would be very appropriate in an early childhood program or for those working with children (as this is not a gender specific issue):

  1. Teach language that is respectful. Help children hear the difference between “I don’t want to play with you” and “I’m not ready to play with anyone yet.”
  2. Show children how allowing others to play versus excluding could add to their play. “If you let a friend help you build the tower you may get it even taller and you’ll have a friend to help clean up.”
  3. Talk about qualities of being a good friend. (In the classroom mentioned above, the children are reminded to ask themselves two questions, “Is this kind? Is this safe?”)
  4. Ask children who are using hurtful language how they would feel. This isn’t to shame the child or single them out. Get on the child’s level, speak in a soft voice that only he or she can hear.
  5. Encourage children to play with new friends and try new things.

If wasn’t long before the teacher in the classroom walked over to the writing center to talk to the boy making the lists. She reminded him of the questions to ask; is this kind and is this safe? She also asked him how he would feel if his name was on a list to not go to a birthday party. He didn’t say anything for a moment and then said it would make him sad. The teacher asked how he thought the children were feeling who were on the list to not come to his party. He said, “Sad.” He then said all the children could come to his party and put the lists away before choosing another work.

Invisible child

Do you know what it is like to feel invisible? Have you ever been in a room full of people and wondered if anyone would notice if you decided to leave? Have you ever made a comment or suggestion and minutes later hear someone else repeat your words as though you had been talking to yourself? Now think about the quiet, easy-going, and/or shy children that may be in your care.

Just because a child is quiet, don't let them fall through the cracks when planning for your classroom.

Just because a child is quiet, don’t let them “fall through the cracks” when planning for your classroom.

It could be the child that rarely asks for help. Perhaps they are the one who continually sits quietly through group time. Maybe they are more likely to wait patiently for lunch or give up easily for a chance to take turns with a new toy. Sometimes children with flexible or fearful temperaments will watch from a distance and resist joining large groups. They may be more willing to “go with the flow.”

It was common practice in my toddler classroom to write individual notes on each child’s daily sheet. We also wrote anecdotal notes on an on-going basis to document their learning. While finding a routine for these processes, I remember struggling to write detailed notes for all of the children in my care. I noticed that I could document all kinds of learning for some children, while straining to recall instances for others. I realized that these children were typically those that did not “stand out” for any particular reason. Perhaps they were less likely to “throw temper tantrums” or often times preferred to play on their own. Sometimes after the morning greeting, these children demanded a lot less from me, whether it was one-on-one attention, help with tasks, or behavioral guidance. I didn’t mean to ignore them but I realized that I was unintentionally doing just that.

It became apparent that I was going to have to be very intentional on finding ways to observe children with quiet and/or fearful temperament types. I realized that I had to make adjustments in my practice. I made sure that I sat near them as they played. Sometimes to watch and observe, other times to interact and make sure they knew I was there for them too. If I knew they liked to read books, I would invite them to read. If I noticed that they preferred to play somewhere else in the room while there was a small group activity available, I would allow them that time. The trickiest part was helping children stand up for themselves when other, more persistent children would take their toys, so I would gently let that child know it was okay to say “mine” or “no.”

Once I became more aware of my own behavior, I was able to make changes. It is the teacher’s responsibility to make sure that all children’s needs are being met. We have to be flexible and understand that not every child is going to fit in the same mold and it is our duty to make sure that no child falls through the cracks.



“Good job!” …Good job doing what?

Many kindergarten teachers will tell you they want their new students to come to school with many tools in their toolbox, but at the top of their list is emotional confidence and social skills. Current research demonstrates that children with strong emotional and social foundations are more likely to be successful learners for a lifetime. Early childhood educators recognize how important this is and try to help foster these skills in many ways. One of these ways is through praise. I often hear teachers use statements like, “Good job!” or “Great work!”, but are these phrases enough? What does a child internalize when an adult says “Good job!”?

What does it mean to a child when you just say "Good job!"?

What does it mean to a child when you just say “Good job!”?

As children go through their day hearing these same phrases repeated to everyone in the classroom, it becomes generic. It’s not meaningful, it’s not concrete. Some children may not even realize what they did to earn that praise. By using these generic statements, we are missing an opportunity to help build a strong foundation for emotional and social development.

Praises should meaningful to that individual child, they should be concrete, and they should re-enforce what that child did that was so great. Praises should be encouraging and create motivation within the child. Attaching the child’s action to the phrase “Good job” is a great way to make this praise authentic and personal. This strategy will also allow other children to hear positive statements regarding classroom expectations and social interactions.

Think about what that child did that was impressive before speaking. Did the child use their words to problem solve or offer a hug to a classmate feeling sad? Did the child write the first letter in their name or build a tall structure in the block area? Or did the child explore paint in a new way by mixing and creating new colors? All of these accomplishments feel big to the child. If educators acknowledge these accomplishments in a concrete way, it will empower the child and promote emotional and social development. Children’s emotional and social development will flourish as they begin to genuinely understand WHAT they did that was “great!”

Assessment can happen anywhere, any time!

When I was a preschool teacher working with children ages 3 to 5, I was really focused on planning based on each, individual child. Not only is this best practice, but it was a requirement of the program. I knew from my time in college that the most effective way to do this was to continually assess the children, which felt very daunting at first. “Assessment” is such a heavy word. What I mean by that is, the word “assessment” has so many meanings and connotations. It felt very formal, like sitting down with a child so I could “test” him or her, then having to communicate what the results meant to the parent which probably would be very serious. What I came to find out is that assessment isn’t always formal, and it can be a very effective way to plan for each child.

Classroom assessments don't have to feel like tests!

The first thing I did was set some goals. I am the type of person who needs guidelines and parameters or else I am all over the place. In an effort to get organized, along with the other teachers in the room, we set a goal. We would each write an anecdotal record for six specific children at least once a week. An anecdotal record is a very short story about a significant occurrence you observe the child experience. It includes what was happening before the occurrence, the occurrence and what happened after. For example,

Eden was playing in the block area with Hannah. She said to Hannah, “We need four more blocks to make the cage for the zebra.” Hannah handed Eden three blocks. Eden set them up around the zebras. Then she pointed at each one and counted one by one. She then said, “We need one more block.”

In our program, we used a sheet that included a space for the name of the child, the date and listed the areas of the classroom to indicate where the child was during the observation.

We also wanted these observation notes to be conveniently located, so when something happened that we wanted to write down, we didn’t have to go far. We each kept some notes on us, in our pockets. We also set up clip boards with blank paper and pencils in “hot spots” around the room. These “hot spots” were in areas that generated rich discussion and interactions amongst the children, such as the dramatic play area, block areas and the art center. This easy access meant that as soon as we observed a milestone or a particular interest peak, we could write it down. I learned quickly that observations can happen anywhere, any time. I have over heard counting for the first time in the bathroom, seen pro-social skills develop while walking to the playground and witnessed literacy skills being practiced on a fogged up window.

Having this collection of observations from throughout the week gave us lots of information to begin planning. We had an idea of what each child was interested in or working on. When it came to planning experiences and activities that would support the development of each child, we were prepared.

Stop calling me “sweetie,” my name is Tracy.

In the past I have attended social functions where I was referred to as “sweetie.” Instead of finding this “pet name” as a term of endearment, I found it insulting. My name is Tracy. Calling me by anything else takes away my individuality. It’s a generic term that makes me feel as though people do not see me for all that I am. As I sorted through these thoughts and feelings, I couldn’t help but think… How does this make our classroom children feel if we refer to them as “sweetie”?

When we interact with children,

How do we ensure that we are doing everything we can to help children become successful problem-solvers and critical thinkers?

I also began to wonder… How does this leave the child feeling when you forget to call them by these “pet names”? Could they be keeping track of how often you call their peers by these pet names, but not them? What if these pet names such as, “sweetie, honey, or baby,” are terms of endearment to you but could be construed as something negative to the child? For example, what if this child is told to stop acting like a “baby” in other environments? Instead of this being a positive thing for the child to hear, it could actually have a damaging effect on the child’s emotional development.

As educators in this field, we have many goals for the preschool children in our classrooms and programs. When I was teaching in the classroom, one of my main goals was to help build children’s emotional and social development. I did this by nurturing them as they gained their independence and became self-efficient. I wanted to assist them as they built their confidence as young children and found their own identities. One of the ways I did this was by calling children by their real names. By using children’s real names we are demonstrating respect for them as individuals. We are helping to mold them to become successful problem-solvers and critical thinkers. How can we help children successfully develop their own sense of who they are if we don’t call them by their real names?

Again, my name is Tracy, that’s what you may call me.

Kind vs. Nice

When I was a toddler teacher, during a supervision meeting with my director, it was brought to my attention that I was telling children to “be nice.” I was told that the program preferred to help children learn to “be kind.” I was confused. I was under the impression that these two words were synonymous.

My director challenged me to look up the definitions of the words and think about it. What I found was that “nice” can mean the same as “kind” but not necessarily in reverse. Flowers are nice, such as, they look nice or may smell nice, but flowers cannot be kind.

Should we just tell children to "be nice" or should we model that behavior?

At our next meeting, we discussed this topic further. We talked about how the word kind holds a very specific meaning in regards to a person’s nature or disposition; it also encompasses attributes such as being considerate, helpful, mild and gentle.

I really liked this idea of thinking and began using the word “kind” rather than “nice” when it came to helping young children learn about themselves and each other. If I noticed a child giving another a gentle touch or hug, I made sure to tell that child, “You are being very kind when you give hugs.” When I saw children sharing or playing cooperatively, I let them know what they were doing was an act of kindness and point out how good that must feel.

When I first transitioned into being a coach at 4C for Children, I have to admit, that using the word “kind” was so engrained into my practice that it became a little bit of a hot button to hear teachers telling children to “be nice.” I wanted to explain my thinking and convince teachers to come over to my side. My belief was that this was best practice and important to the social/emotional development of children.

Recently, I have had another shift in thinking. Does it really matter which word is used? Isn’t it more important to help children learn about what it means to be nice or kind? It is more beneficial to help children facilitate a conversation about a conflict versus just telling them to be nice or kind. When a child sees a teacher sitting on the floor to read a book and they run over to join the group, pushing through the children that are already seated, is it that child’s intention to be unkind? No, they just want to join in. Simply telling a child to “be nice,” does not teach them to find ways to ask to join or say, “Excuse me, please scoot over.”

We have to go beyond telling children how to act or behave. We have to model for them with our own behavior. It is important to give positive feedback to children, at all ages, when we see them being kind and cooperative. Most importantly, we have to remember to interpret children’s actions with the best of intentions in mind. If there is a worry that a child is hurting another, go beyond stopping them and explain what they can do instead.


“If they only spoke some English…”

In this guest post, Debra Chin, 4C Early Childhood Specialist, shares some thoughts about our work with young dual language learners.

As I was enjoying an end-of-year team gathering at our office, my supervisor decided to facilitate a couple of games to celebrate. One of the games invited us to read a short statement or sentence, and then guess from which Christmas song, book or TV show/movie the sentence was quoted. Being a bilingual, having earned a graduate degree from US, worked in the professional fields for more than two decades, and lived in Cincinnati for almost 30 years, I thought I had been assimilated culturally and linguistically to the local environment. Yet, when I was asked to participate in this game, I felt I was a complete outsider.

Much of my previous life-experience is not rooted from the American culture. My early literacy and language experiences are not derived from the same books, TV shows or movies as most of my colleagues Watching them giggle and have fun talking with each other about their early holiday memories made me feel awkward. This experience reminded me of the young dual language learners (DLLs) in our ECE programs. I wonder how young DLLs would feel and respond when they were asked to sit through the story time or circle time in a language that they were not familiar with. Yet, many early childhood educators are concerned about why our DLLs seldom participate or volunteer to share ideas.

Tips about dual language learners in the classroom

I decided to get up and leave the meeting. Feeling as an outsider is no fun. I wanted to be part of my team, a strong sense of desire to belong creeping to my throat.  Yet, I couldn’t articulate how I felt.  I went to the bathroom, shut the door, and thought of how I could bring myself back to the group.

I am so thankful that my supervisor did not call me back across the room in front of the group when I had to leave the activity. I am so thankful there was a space where I could be alone for a few seconds. I am so thankful that my table-mates accepted my return with some conversation that was relevant to my experiences.  I am so thankful that I have an entire team back me up daily with their understanding and acceptance of me as a mom, as a fellow worker, as a coach, and as an ECE professional. Most importantly, my team has supported me as friends honoring who I am and where I come from.  They appreciate how much I have tried with passion to explore this “forever-new” environment.  I am embraced by a group of people that are always interested and responsive to my inquiry.

Like many children, some of our young DLLs express their feelings through behaviors as they are developing coping skills. Some may withdraw from the situation, and not “participate or engage”; some may fight against the environment, and “not follow the directions.”

In addition to all the learning areas where children are provided with ample opportunities to scaffold through meaningful interactions with their teachers and peers, teachers might also provide a “By Myself Area.” Children need an area where they are not required to be engaged through language, where they can watch how the world is working through a different window other than verbal exploration, and rejuvenate their power of learning. The block area, free art area, and sensory table are some of those locations. The “By Myself Area” becomes extremely crucial to our young DLLs. Posters, pictures, stuffed animals, and picture books added to those areas help young DLLs re-connect to the environment, language or experiences with which they are familiar.

As I was reading those Christmas statements with a stunting and confusing apathy, one of my colleagues noticed my detachment, and whispered into my ear, “Are you OK, Debra? This must be really hard for you. You have no cultural reference for these movies or books.” Many times, when in an unfamiliar situation, empathy is all that DLLs need in order to recover and re-bounce. I felt recognized emotionally because of this colleague’s comments. Young DLLs sometimes just need someone to play by their side, as my table mates had done with me. While developing resilience, like all young children, our young DLLs need support verbally and non-verbally through people around them and the environment where they are embraced. Teachers can ensure this by providing areas where young children can work side-by-side on meaningful activities/materials supported by people and interactions that facilitate their explorations while they are acquiring language, whether is a first or second language.

Young DLLs may not seem to have enough vocabulary in English to express themselves in a way that we understand, but they might have those important words in their heritage language. It is our responsibility to explore these opportunities by asking families to be our resources. Invite families to share their heritage languages as a bridge for DLLs to discover the world and acquire a second language. For example, ask the family to read in their heritage language some of those books used in the classroom. In this way, the young DLL will have an opportunity to construct some knowledge about the new vocabulary prior to being read in a language in which he/she is not quite proficient yet.

Young DLLs may not demonstrate their competence in a way that we are “accustomed’ to, yet their way of learning and reflecting is unique and powerful. As we teach, conduct observations, and nurture talents, we keep pushing ourselves to support all of our children’s development to the best. At the same time, the experience of working with DLLs enables both children and educators to expand horizons and generate multiple perspectives which increases the ability of comparison, contrast, and greater cognitive flexibility. Bilingualism or multilingualism is an asset for our local community and the global village. Developing bilinguals/multilinguals takes energy, patience and passion. It is a privilege to be part of this inspiring journey. May we all enjoy this ride to construct knowledge about our world through the work with our young dual language learners.


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