Tag Archives: social and emotional development

Conversations With Children

conversations-with-childrenWhen I was working in my center, by the time I got home I was absolutely done talking—at least for a little while. My husband never understood why until one day I explained to him I have conversations all day long. Engaging in conversations with the children was my favorite thing about teaching.  It was tiring some days, but I loved it. To listen to their stories, hopes, concerns, and jokes filled my bucket each day. Conversation is not just talking, but also it is about listening. Extending learning happens by having intentional conversation as well as daily verb exchanges. Children may have limited access with adults engaging in intentional conversations. As early childhood educators, we have the perfect opportunity to engage.

Intentional conversation is key. Positive relationships are created through intentional conversations. These relationships stimulate the building of vocabulary, help with interpersonal skills, help with social-emotional skills because their feelings are validated by your listening and responses, and build the foundation of their perception towards learning (check out my previous blog, Cling to the Positive).

I found a great resource with tips to help create a language-rich environment from UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute’s Blog, More than Baby Talk.

Below is their list of 10 ways to help create the environment to spark those crucial conversations that develop into lifetime learning for the children in your program.

  1. Get Chatty: Engage in meaningful conversations with children. “Hello, Charlie! How was your ride to school today?”
  2. Be a Commentator: Give descriptions of objects, activities or events. “I see that you are using the orange marker to color your picture today.”
  3. Mix It Up: Use different types of words and grammar. “Alice was aggravated that she couldn’t find the white rabbit”
  4. Label It: Provide children with the names of objects or actions. You can label shelves, coat hooks, cubbies, etc.
  5. Tune In: Engage in activities or objects that interest children.
  6. Read Interactively: Use books to engage children’s participation.
  7. Read It Again: Read books multiple times. This creates opportunities for sequencing/ problem-solving.
  8. Props: Introduce objects that spark conversations.
  9. Make Music: Engage in musical activities. Make your own instruments!
  10. Sign It: Use gestures or simple signs with words.

Bringing more of these new (or not so new) crucial conversation activities into the classroom and making it fun can give you more insight about what the children in your program need! Let the conversations start and have your listening ears (and listening heart) on!

Quiet Space, Happy Place


This sample quiet space has some great ideas for elements to include: comfy pillows, books, and calming lighting!

Full days at preschool can be long and tiring for children, just as days can feel long for caregivers. Provide the opportunity for children to have somewhere to go and calm down, take a break and relax by creating a “Quiet Space” in your classroom. Make it a space where a child feels safe, by creating rules to ensure the comfort of the space. Explain to the children that there are times when we are too upset to think or make good choices, so spending time alone can help them feel better.  Teach children to respect the area and use it one at a time, and for peaceful activity.  Make the area comfortable through the use of soft items such as pillows, bean bag chairs, and stuffed toys. Young children like enclosed spaces. To make it even more private, play huts and tents that still allow visible access to the teachers can be used. To optimize relaxation in the area, teach children breathing techniques and ways to identify emotions and calm their bodies.

When introducing this area to your students, make sure they know this space is not a “time-out,” but a place to go if they feel different emotions or become overwhelmed.  Creating a “homey“  environment in this area can put children at ease. Including small photo albums such as family pictures of the students is a great way to allow children to feel connected to their parents while they are missing them.

We as adults need to “get away” sometimes and leave the chaos behind. Children are no different, and if they feel that there is no place to go to get a break from the crowd, they will begin to feel frustrated just as we would. If a student needs to be supported while trying to calm down, make it a point to sit with them and help them identify their feelings and give them the attention they need. Taking care of a child’s social emotional health is so critical for their overall well being.

The ultimate hope is that as children become successful in using a quiet space, they will be able to find a quiet place within themselves and manage their feelings without needing the physical space. Teaching children how to have control over their emotions and self soothe will not only help them in preschool, but throughout their lives. Parents can use these relaxation techniques at home, as well as identify a space for quiet time. Teachers and parents can work together to support children when it comes to dealing with difficult emotions. For more information on breathing techniques and ideas for your quiet space, go to https://consciousdiscipline.com/.

Cozy spaces bring happy faces!

Social Emotional Teaching Strategies and the Role of the Caregiver

social-emotional-caregiver-roleThe school year has begun! As you prepare to teach your preschoolers this year, remember that your interactions and environment play an incredible role in children’s social- emotional well being. The social-emotional domain is foundational to all learning. Providing an experience for the children in which they feel safe and supported will give them the confidence they need to succeed. It is important to always be attentive to the child’s needs. Showing a child that you are there for them will build the trust that is needed for them to seek guidance. Keep in mind that each child will need unique interventions and support to help them develop their skills. Children flourish in environments that provide consistency. Focus on creating routines that involve meaningful activities, especially in times of transition. These can include things like games or songs to minimize problems when waiting in line. One of the most important goals as caregivers is to promote a love of learning to our children. If you follow a child’s lead, allow them to initiate activities, and remain flexible around their needs, you will create an environment in which they feel respected. This is key to motivating the desire to learn. Positive relationships with peers and adults—parents and teachers included—are critical to the development of social emotional skills in children.

Characteristics of adults who promote positive relationships.

  • Offer lessons that engages the children and relates to their lives and culture
  • Provide consistent guidance, clarity of rules
  • Model appropriate social skills
  • Provide a nurturing environment, acknowledge emotions, provide comfort and support
  • Demonstrate empathy through questions such as, “Why do you think she is upset?”
  • Promote children’s confidence by engaging them in problem solving
  • Model positive language
  • Engage with parents in a relationship to support children emotionally
  • Support autonomy and leadership, allow choice and follow children’s lead

As a teacher, you have the chance to play a vital role in the lives of preschoolers at such a critical period of social-emotional growth. Make sure you create a space where children feel valued, safe and cared about. Children’s emotional health is closely tied to the characteristics of the environment in which they are surrounded. As you plan, make sure to intentionally promote a positive place to learn. Children who develop positive relationships with their teachers or caregivers are more positive about learning, more confident and more successful in their learning environment. As you start your new school year, remember to lay the foundation children need to succeed! A smile, pat on the back and encouraging word may seem small, but will go a long way. As they say, people may not remember exactly what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Children are no exception.

“Why are you crying?”

Follow Darius with me for 24 hours. Mom wakes Darius up in the morning. The alarm clock didn’t go off so they are running late. Mom helps Darius put clothes on and get a pop tart for breakfast. Darius has to eat in the car.

There are many factors that can influence a child's emotional  health.

Upon arrival to child care, Mom reminds Darius that Grandma will be picking him up after school. Even though Darius loves his Grandma, he is upset because he hasn’t seen his Mom a lot lately. Darius starts to cry. Mom gets frustrated. Mom is thinking about getting to class, she’s late. She also has to go to work after class. She misses spending time with Darius. This school semester has been very stressful but it’s almost over.

Darius moves his arms and legs when Mom tries to get him out of the car seat. He hits his hand on the door. He cries harder. Mom carries Darius in to the building. She tells Darius she is frustrated. They make it to the classroom. Mom sits Darius down. He is still upset. His teachers say hi. The other children are sitting down for group time. Darius missed free play and breakfast. He is upset because he doesn’t know what’s going on. This isn’t his normal routine.

Mom leaves. A teacher pulls Darius on to her lap and asks what’s wrong. Darius continues to cry. The teacher starts to read a book Darius recognizes. He stops crying. Darius joins in play. Occasionally he looks at the door wondering if Mom will come back. Naptime comes and Darius starts to cry. When he goes to sleep at home, Mom sings him a special song. He misses Mom. The teacher pats his back and says, “Shhh.” Darius cries himself to sleep. Darius wakes up and his eyes hurt. His nose is stuffed up. He looks around and starts to cry. The teacher gets him off his cot and puts it away.

Darius is told to go to the potty. Then he sits down for snack. His Grandma comes while he is eating snack. He cries because she’s not his Mom. Grandma tells Darius to stop crying. The teacher gathers Darius’s belongings and tells him goodbye. Darius and Grandma go home, eat supper and watch the news on television. Mom doesn’t come and Grandma doesn’t mention her. Darius falls asleep. When he wakes up he is in his own bed at home.

This is a scenario that happens frequently in our programs. There are families working so hard to make a better life for themselves and their children. While doing this, they have to make sacrifices. Although sacrifices have to be made, adults can still attempt to understand and empathize. For example, when Darius was crying, an adult could say, “I know it’s hard to leave Mom. Mom is going to school just like you. While Mom is at school, you are going to stay here and play.” The child may continue to cry, but the adult is attempting to meet the child’s needs by validating emotions.

I recently heard an adult say to a child, “You are too cute to be crying.” How exactly is that supposed to be helpful? What exactly does that mean? As adults who are caring for children, we need to validate children’s emotions and attempt to help children understand their emotions. Phrases like “You’re too cute to be crying”, “big boys don’t cry”, “come here and sit like a 3 year old” aren’t helpful. In fact, they can be harmful. If you cry, does that mean you aren’t cute? Is it important to be called cute? If so, why?

As adults, we can say things like, “I see you have tears on your face. Is there anything I can do to help?” “It’s hard to say goodbye to Dad. You can come sit with me if you want. I’ll keep you safe.” “I understand you were in a rush this morning. You missed free play. You will be able to play after lunch. Right now it’s time to sit down and eat.”

Emotions are the foundation of learning. If a child doesn’t feel safe and attached, learning will not happen.

Promoting Social and Emotional Development

I had the opportunity to attend Lumenocity at Washington Park, and the show was absolutely amazing. The music, the lights, the food trucks. It was estimated that there were 15,000 people in attendance, so as you might imagine, we were elbow to elbow. This lead to some tense situations, and I was prompted to wonder about the early experiences of some of the adults in the audience.

Children who are given the opportunity practice crucial life skills like critical thinking and problem solving grow up to be more functional adults.

Right before the show started a fight almost broke out because someone put a chair on another person’s blanket. The person in the chair was refusing to move.  Another person approached and threatened to “help” the person out of the chair.  The situation was resolved by yet another person mediating and finding the person in the chair another space.

I couldn’t help but wonder about everyone involved and their experiences with confrontation and problem-solving. I came to the conclusion that with quality early childhood experiences, this situation may not have happened. Had these adults been given the opportunity as young child to practice critical thinking and problem-solving?  Were they taught as young children how to negotiate with others?  Were they given opportunities to function successfully in a group setting?  Were they taught how to reflect on another person’s perspective?  Were they encouraged to use words instead of bodies to get their needs met?

I think it’s important for teachers of young children to have the adult the child will become in mind.  We can’t control everything, but we can provide opportunities for children to practice life skills. How? Let’s go through some scenarios.

Sophie takes a rattle from Max. The teacher can wait to see if Max is upset about the situation before intervening. If Max wants the rattle he may cry. The teacher can model the words that may be used: “Sophie, Max is using the rattle.  Give the rattle back to Max. Let’s find you a different rattle.” Max and Sophie may be too young to communicate by verbal language, but communication did happen.  So did problem solving. Max was upset and got his needs met by vocalizing his want. Sophie was also communicating by taking the rattle. She wanted to play with that toy, too.

Here’s another example. Children are told to line up at the door to go outside. There’s a mark on the floor showing children where to start the line.  Ingrid stands at that line because she wants to be first. John gets in front of her. Ingrid takes a deep breath then says, “John, we can’t open the door if you are there. I am standing at the line. You have to move.”  The teacher, who is standing nearby, validates Ingrid for using her words and waits for John to move. Conflict averted.

Healthy emotional development is a life long process.  Just like we don’t teach toddlers algebra, we shouldn’t expect them to share consistently. We don’t teach first graders chemistry formulas, and we shouldn’t expect them to not get upset when someone takes their seat. But when we start healthy behaviors at a young age, we are assisting in forming healthy adults.

– Christine

The 5 A’s of the Heart

I recently overheard an interaction between a child care provider and the children in her toddler classroom that made me a little bit uneasy. The sounds of children crying were eclipsed by their teacher saying, “Those of you who are crying, go away. My friends who aren’t crying want to have circle time.”

In Lynn Staley’s Nurturing Positive Behaviors In Your Classroom, she states that “children need mentors more then they need critics.” This has always rung true for me. Too often I observe child care providers speaking at children but not with them, using language that does not guide positive behavior but condescends and devalues. While I feel it’s important to point out that lengthy circle time is not appropriate for 2-year-olds, what’s most important for me to note about this interaction was the lack of empathy in the child care provider’s statement and her tone.

According to the “5 A’s of the heart,” also discussed in Staley’s book, children need affirmation, attention, acceptance, affection and appreciation. All children deserve affirmation, to hear positive reinforcement and praise. Regardless of behaviors, each child has strengths that we should emphasize.

Children also need attention. Every child wants to know that their caregivers are happy to see them each morning. Sometimes children “act out” because they are desperately seeking attention, and even negative attention is attention! When you have many children in your care, it’s important to recognize and value each child.

My personal favorite is acceptance. All children need to feel accepted and not just by their friends, but by you, too! Children will react by mimicking your behavior, so remember that if you are constantly saying a child’s name or calling a child out for challenging behaviors, the other children may not include that child in play and may even tell that child that she is “bad.” I like to think of Staley here, too: “When we speak every child’s name with kindness and respect, it is the truest demonstration of our sincerity.”

Research has shown that warm, responsive touch positively influences a child’s development, so show them some affection! With the child’s permission offer high fives, hugs, lap sitting and other appropriate touching as much as possible. Remember that not every child welcomes touching, so when we ask we’re showing that child appreciation, too. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that children want to feel valued and appreciated. All people do.

Let’s be honest, anyone who has ever worked in a child care setting has experienced circle time like the one I described in the beginning. I know I have. However, the best professionals (in any field) want to learn from their mistakes and do better. If you’ve ever wanted to tell a crying toddler to “go away,” consider this: the “5 A’s of the heart” will help you to have a classroom that supports a child’s growing identity, shows each child how much you value them and are there to comfort them and will hopefully keep you from reaching a place where you feel you need to tell any child to “go away.”

Oktoberfest in Preschool?

In a response to a recent local news story, many radio stations and media outlets this weekend hotly debated whether or not it is appropriate for preschoolers to drink out of miniature plastic beer steins. As I listened to the extremes of children becoming alcoholics to parents sucking all of the fun out of life, I continued to question the study of Germany in a 4-year-old preschool classroom at all!

My understanding of a 4-year-old’s brain tells me that since children at this age are still just at the very literal and egocentric stage of development, they have a hard time thinking about anyone besides themselves. Let alone thinking about the country of Germany, 4000 miles away!  Many 4-year-olds I observe do not think about the child 4 feet away from them let alone people they cannot develop a personal relationship with.

I know that we live in a city with a rich German cultural heritage, and I know that children are exposed to many family traditions (some age-appropriate and some not). But without a firsthand relationship with these traditions, preschoolers have a difficult time constructing knowledge of an abstract place and culture.

I support including opportunities for cultures to be explored as long as there is some relevance to the child’s world. Listening to an accordion player play a German tune is age-appropriate and an opportunity for children to share in an experience where they can construct and share knowledge about their world. An accordion player who is someone’s grandparent would provide even more meaningful connections to the children’s own experiences.

In preschool, “social studies” is all about children’s knowledge of every day events and builds on the development of their social skills. Preschool should be about building the foundation of democracy by participating in group decision making, establishing rules and consequences, expressing opinions and respecting the rights of others. Many social studies concepts such as map reading and recognizing events in their historical context are just too abstract for this stage of brain development.

After many years of teaching in a classroom, I know that preparing the curriculum and the environment for children is very time consuming, so make every moment count! Reflect on how much time it takes to purchase materials, like plastic beer steins, and to prepare the day’s lesson on a country you may know very little about. Ask yourself what you hope children will take away from the lesson. If it’s not about meeting some of these age-appropriate milestones, I encourage you to revisit your lesson plan.