Author Archives: Sadie Bonifas

Birthday party lists and other social interactions

Friends

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

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.

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.

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.

From Chaos to Calm

Playing with the children in your care is very important!In my years in the field, I have been in calm and relaxing classrooms where the noise level was just right and the children and child care providers seemed happy. I have also been in classrooms where it was very loud and the children were very active, and neither the child nor the provider seemed content. In most situations, it wasn’t the children causing the chaos, but the environment.

To have a peaceful classroom, there must be structure and predictability. Children will do better and be more successful in the classroom if they know what will happen. Keep in mind that some disruptions from the daily schedule are appropriate when they are lead by children’s interests, like going outside after the first snow fall of winter or listening to a parent visitor who has come to sing songs.

Try to keep a balance of “active” activities and “non-active” activities when you’re planning your day. If you take the children outside to play and then bring them in and expect that they’ll be ready for a nap, they will have a hard time calming their bodies. In this situation, you should have a “cool-down” activity such as reading books or doing yoga. Transitions can also be a time where children become restless so plan for those times, too. Talk or sing with children and limit the “waiting time” as much as possible.

Never underestimate the importance of free-choice! Children love to explore at their own pace and decide what to do next. Some programs I’ve visited implement a “center management” system that helps children remember how many children are allowed at each center at a time, which also reduces volume level and stress! Put up signs that indicate the amount of children allowed in each center with large polka dots. It will be easier for you, and for them, to keep track.

Keep your voice and body low when speaking with children. This not only helps to keep the room calm, but also helps to keep your conversations with the children private, especially when they need a little redirection. Remember also that too many displays on the walls can cause over-stimulation, especially for those with sensory issues. Even the color of the walls can affect a child’s stress level!

Sometimes life happens and we don’t have as much control as we’d like in our classrooms. However, these guidelines will set you up for success and a better chance of having a calm classroom where children are best able to learn.