Author Archives: Sadie Bonifas

There’s more than one way to address a behavior

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It turns out preschool boys are full of energy and can team up together to create an environment that feels chaotic and out of control. One preschool program that I often visit has entered a challenging phase, where the boys seemingly run the room. It also seems like the child care providers in the room hardly have time to engage with all of the children meaningfully because they are constantly “putting out fires.”

What makes this situation difficult is that it’s not only one or two children who need some very intentional proactive strategies to feel successful, it’s like seven. What I have observed is, these particular children, who happen to be boys, like to impress each other. It’s almost like they feel peer pressure to act a certain way. It’s become a pattern that some children will run around the playground when it’s time to line up to go inside. Every day some children do this. They run around the playground and taunt the child care providers, saying things like “You can’t catch me!” At first the providers tried a trusted strategy—get to children before it was time to line up, to hold their hand. In some situations, this works for those children who are “runners” because they do not want to have to hold the teacher’s hand, so this method takes one or two times to be effective. However, in this particular situation, that strategy didn’t work. The biggest reason is there are more children that habitually run than there are providers’ hands to hold.

What we know about children this age is that they have become increasingly more aware of and connected to other children. Other children become much more important than they were in earlier years. Most preschool children have friends and value being a friend. Fortunately, this program has access to an early childhood professional that has a strong knowledge base on the social and emotional needs and development of young children. After observing the behaviors and interactions of the children all day, he had a great insight that made perfect sense. Instead of talking to the children about their own good or bad choices (which I have used as an effective strategy in similar situations), talk to the children about what good friends would do. Whether the behavior was running around the playground when it was time to line up or hitting another child, most children of preschool age (and in particular the boys I’ve been referring to) know what kind of behavior is right and what kind of behavior is wrong. Good friends help their friends do what is right. Children at this stage are still learning what it means to be a friend. If asked, these particular children would likely say that the other boys are their friends. They would also say they want to be a good friend. So, encouraging them to help their friends do what is right might be effective. While they are focusing on supporting their friend, they are also doing what is right themselves.

In any situation where children are “misbehaving,” it’s important to be flexible. Just because one strategy to address a behavior worked with a different child (or group of children), doesn’t mean it will work every time. Sometimes you need to be open to trying a different strategy!

How to embrace teachable moments

teachablemomentOne of my favorite things to observe is when a child care provider takes an opportunity to make a meaningful learning experience out of something unexpected. I was in a program recently and was pleased to observe this a couple of times.

One child was very interested in looking for rocks on the playground. I observed this child get a bucket from a nearby shelf when lining up to go outside. He put pebbles and rocks in the bucket as he went around on a hunt during nearly the entire outside playtime (other children also helped fill his bucket) and then, when playtime was over, he placed the bucket, filled with rocks, back on the shelf in the classroom. At some point during the work time, when the children chose their activity, a provider approached the child. She asked about the rocks he had collected. She began telling him about rocks—that there are different kinds and so on. I later asked the provider about the bucket (purely out of my own curiosity) and found out the child takes the bucket home every day, adds the rocks to his collection at home and brings it back empty the next day.

I was visiting that same classroom another morning. The provider was sitting at a table with several gallon-sized Ziploc bags, filled with realistic-looking, miniature animals. She was pulling out several water animals and several animals that fly for a sorting activity she was planning to add to the work shelves. Three children came up to see what she was doing and naturally became very interested in looking through all the bags and playing with the animals. One child was hunting for and pulling out all the turtles. Another child had an alligator that was “eating” other animals and seemed quite content in his dramatic play. The third child was going between the other two children, offering up what he knew about the animals each one was working with, such as, “That’s not a buffalo, that’s a yak,” and “That’s a mommy turtle and those are her babies…they are the same kind of turtle.” The provider did a lot of watching and would ask questions from time to time. She asked about where the animals lived, which were similar, which were different, etc. She would add in some names such as “leatherback” and “Galapagos” when appropriate as well.

I’m such a planner. I know I sometimes get uncomfortable when something is happening that I hadn’t planned on; especially when I hadn’t thought of good questions to ask or vocabulary to provide. And there is a lot of planning that is involved in an early childhood classroom. However, there is something to be said for letting things just flow in the moments when the children are a captive audience (even one or a few) to facilitate a learning experience. The provider in this room really understands the importance of these teachable moments. Neither of the above experiences were planned, yet the teacher engaged with the children to create an experience that was meaningful and supported their development.

Be where the children are!


Children learn a lot through interacting with each other—and with their teachers!

I was recently thinking about my time as an Early Childhood Education student. I chuckled remembering my practicum in an infant room. I thought I might share some reflections on these first experiences.

I had a lot of experience in a preschool room, but really, close to zero experience in an infant room. As a student teacher, I did not directly set up the materials in the room, but I did have a role in using the materials in the room to encourage and facilitate the infants in interactions and experiences that to support their emotional, social and motor development.

Some of the older infants liked to get on top of the mats and pretend they were on stage and clap their hands. I interacted with them when they were doing this by singing along and clapping my hands with them. One of the most popular materials in the room was a container that played music every time a ball was dropped down one of the holes. When the children were playing with this toy I would try to encourage development such as vocabulary by saying what I saw them doing. I remember really struggling to come up with questions or statements that would encourage a higher level of thought. That was a skill that definitely came easier with time and experience.

Another favorite area of the room was for building perceptual skills. There was a shelf with colorful blocks on it, a mat and a mirror. The blocks were soft so they didn’t hurt if a child dropped one on them or hit another child with it. When an infant was in the area by the blocks, I loved to go over and try to model how to stack them. I set one on top of another and then would take it back off. I really enjoyed it when an infant tried to copy what I did.

I think one of the most important things I learned during my time in the infant room, was that no matter where the children were in the room, it was important to go there and be with them. I just got down on the floor and used every opportunity as a time for meaningful interactions. The text book I used during that student teaching experience was Infants, Toddlers, and Caregivers, by Janet Gonzalez-Mena and Dianne Widmeyer Eyer and it included a list of ten principals for care giving (Which can be applied in working with all age groups). They are:

  1. Involve infants and toddlers in things that interest them.
  2. Invest quality time.
  3. Learn each child’s unique ways of communicating and teach them yours.
  4. Invest time and energy to build a total person.
  5. Respect infants and toddlers as worthy people.
  6. Be honest about your feelings.
  7. Model the behavior you want to teach.
  8. Recognize problems as learning opportunities and let (infants and toddlers) try to solve their own.
  9. Build security by teaching trust.
  10. Be concerned with the quality of development in each stage.

Science experiences in early childhood

Several years ago I attended training about science and how to incorporate it everywhere in a program which inspired a previous blog of mine. Just recently I was in a program and made an observation that had me thinking back to that blog.

The children were all crowded around a small garden where a butterfly had landed on a flower. The children were very quiet, just watching. I asked a teacher in the room to tell me about what was happening. She said, “That’s our butterfly. He has been visiting for a couple days and he has been on that flower most of the day.” I asked what the children have been doing with it. She replied “They just watch it…they keep each other from touching so they mostly just watch.” I walked over by the children who were watching the butterfly. I heard thing like, “Guys you have to be quiet because the butterfly is sleeping,” with a response, “No, butterflies don’t sleep, besides his wings are moving.” One child wondered out loud if the butterfly was a boy or girl. Another child wanted to move it to another flower but the other children insisted that he keep his hands off it in case it would get hurt. Most children went about playing on the playground, but they returned every so often to check on the butterfly. I thought to myself “What a wonderful opportunity for children to experience science!” These children are so interested in this butterfly, with lots of questions.

How can you enhance the science experiences in your ECE classroom?

How can you enhance the science experiences in your ECE classroom?

First, let me say that I’m glad the children were given the time to just observe—and sometimes that’s enough. Another way to add to this type of experience and extend it a bit would be to provide some clipboards with paper and pencils. The children could write observations, maybe do a time log (since the butterfly had been visiting all day) or draw pictures of what they were seeing. I also wonder about the extensions that could be brought into the classroom. Children could be provided with books about butterflies, both fiction and non-fiction. Small group discussions could be about different types/colors of butterflies, charting favorites. A free choice activity could be to sort the parts of the life cycle of the butterfly.

I think the point here is that sometimes opportunities for science experiences just happen, unplanned. And that is the perfect time to encourage some wonder. As I said in that previous blog, “There are many ways to do science everywhere; to look for ways that allow children to make their own discoveries of the world around them. Children are born scientists; they already have lots of questions and want to explore. It is simply our job to let them…”

How to keep staff motivated

I recently facilitated a workshop on how to keep early childhood education program staff motivated and inspired. We are experiencing some beautiful weather and that alone is enough to increase one’s apathy not to mention all the other factors that can contribute to a lack of motivation. I once was a director of a child care program where we could literally hear the roller coasters at a nearby amusement park. It’s super hard to retain the motivation of the seasonal support staff when they can hear their friends screaming in joy down the street.

How can you meet the needs of your staff and keep them motivated?

How can you meet the needs of your staff and keep them motivated?

We had some really solid discussions during the workshop that we framed using an article I found called 8 Deadly Ways to Kill Employee Motivation that can absolutely show up in a child care program if we let them. We talked about 7 of the 8 motivation killers. Hopefully some of these can help you figure out how to keep your staff motivated:

  1. Toxic People. We have all worked with them; the negative Nellie’s. The ones who find something negative to say about any and all things. They find faults in the lesson plan you are super excited about and are never on board with changes. And being excited about aiming for the next star in the quality rating system? Forget about it. Surround yourself with positive people. And if someone is that unhappy in a program, maybe it’s time for them to move on.
  2. No Professional Development. Since this is a state regulation, it may seem like a moot point, but it’s not. At 4C for Children, we hear time and time again that folks come to a workshop because they need the hours and their year is almost up or they don’t even know what the topic is because an administrator signed them up. Motivation will increase when training is meaningful. Encourage staff to give input on their own professional development based on their individual needs and interests. Search through the 4C online workshop calendar together, and call us any time for help with developing a plan.
  3. Lack of Vision. All programs should have a vision. It’s a plan for why we do what we do. Why does this business (for-profit or not-for-profit) open its doors everyday and where is it going? Once the vision is clearly communicated, it should be displayed everywhere (i.e. interview, orientation, reviews, newsletters, etc.); it gives focus to the work.
  4. Wasted Time. In our discussion during the training, what rang loudest and clear, are staff meetings. Staff meetings are necessary. It’s important to get everyone together and on the same page, but it’s also important that staff feel like their time is valued. Some tips we came up with are to allow staff to add to agenda items, have a set meeting time and place so staff can plan accordingly, and add food and fun. Ask a different room to “host” each meeting and what they do with it is up to them. Add team building activities. Sure, you may have some who think those activities are a waste of time (see point number 1) but most will appreciate the bonding, which inevitably will lead to motivation in the day-to-day.
  5. Inadequate Communication. There is no such thing as over-communication. Remember, whether you are in a classroom or running a program, people receive messages differently. If you have something important to say, say it a hundred times in a hundred ways (email, newsletter, posted near clock-in area, in-person, etc.).
  6. Vertical Management. Everyone wants to have a say. No one likes to just be told what to do all the time. Find ways to empower your staff to help make decisions and feel safe offering up ideas. And if you aren’t an administrator, let your voice be heard. Share ideas in an appropriate way and if you aren’t being valued, start looking for a new place to work.
  7. Lack of appreciation. This is the single, easiest way to keep staff motivated. SAY THANK YOU. Let folks know you appreciation them and what they do. Just saying it goes a long way but there also affordable, endless possibilities to show it. You can find lots of ideas on Pinterest for fun, affordable ways to show you are grateful for the work of your staff.

The importance of intentional teaching

I ran into my mentor teacher from my preschool practicum recently and it had me reflecting on what I learned from her about being intentional in my teaching.

Intentional Teaching

How do you make time to individually plan for each child in your care?

When I was smack dab in the middle of my practicum, I was a college student, just trying to get through it. I would have a good idea that I saw on the internet or remembered from somewhere and want to try it out. I would run the idea by my mentor teacher and she would ask me what felt like a hundred questions. Why did I want to do it? How was it relevant? How would I implement it? How did it align with the state standards? What questions would I ask? How would I introduce it? How would I wrap it up? At the time it really felt nit-picky and unnecessary.

Not only did she have me reflect on my activities, but she also taught me how important details of the implementation are. For example, when making a literacy interactive chart, the words needed to be two finger lengths apart. She taught me there are certain fonts that support children’s development more effectively than others. I learned how it’s as important to plan for transition time as it is to plan the activities and experiences around the classroom. For example, instead of ending circle time so all the children can line up to wait to wash hands, plan a song that sends some children to wash hands and some stay. I learned that even time outside and time in the muscle room need serious consideration about what materials to put out. The longer I spent in the classroom, the more I came to understand how important all those details are. We have to be very intentional about what we plan for children and it has to be based on the individual needs of the children, not just some cute idea I saw on the internet.

I have to admit, at first it felt very overwhelming. The prospect of being in a classroom someday, writing my own lesson plan for every day of every week of every year felt impossible. In a classroom full of children, how was I going to have time to plan experiences for individual children and think about all the questions I know my mentor teacher would ask? It was hard at first but gets smoother with practice. The best first step is to be aware of the things that need to be considered when planning for your classroom.

Are you communicating effectively?

I recently overheard an interaction between a child care provider and a preschooler that had me reflecting on the best ways to talk children so that it’s both respectful and effective. It was during pick-up time and the pair was in the gym. The provider was on one side, sitting down, picking up materials and the child was on the other side, playing, not wearing shoes. The provider said, “We wear shoes at school.” It wasn’t what she said, it’s how she said it; her voice was raised louder than was appropriate. She wasn’t yelling at the child and her tone wasn’t bad, it was just loud. But that’s all it was, loud. The provider didn’t leave her spot on the ground and the child still ran around the gym, laughing, not putting on her shoes.

Is your communication style effective?

One strategy for effective communication is to get close to the child on her level and speak softly, being very clear with the child what the choices are. If this teacher would have gotten up, walked over to the child and got down on her level, it may have gone a lot differently. She could have still begun with, “We wear shoes at school,” but then continued with options, “Do you want to put on your shoes or do you want me to help you?” “When you/then” statements work well too, “When your shoes are on, then you can play because it’s much safer to play in the gym that way.” The provider could have also made it about the safety, “I’m worried you are going to get hurt and it’s my job to keep you safe, so I am going help you get your shoes on.”

After telling the child several times to put her shoes on across the gym, the child ran up to the provider to give her a hug. The child care provider said, loudly and sternly, “No, I don’t want to hug you right now because you are not listening. Go put on your shoes.” The teacher remained on the floor and the child ran around the gym. It was obvious this preschooler was playing games or testing limits, but the way the provider reacted made it seem like not getting a hug was a punishment for not listening, which is not okay. Again, rephrasing would have completely changed the dynamic. When the child came over for a hug, a more successful and respectful response could have sounded something like, “I’m happy to give you a hug, as soon as your shoes are on. Would you like to walk over to put them on together?” It’s critical that adults are thoughtful in how we talk to children. I’ve written a previous blog about strategies to make sure interactions are nurturing and positive to guide behavior.

I walked to a classroom for a few minutes and when I walked by the gym again, the child had crawled into a large shelf, still shoeless, and the provider was still sitting on the ground. The child was in control of the situation. The provider was cleaning up which I know needed to be done because it was the end of the day, but sometimes that part of work has to wait. Perhaps once the provider supported the child in getting her shoes on, she may have been able to get her to help clean up.