Remembering the Functions of Behavior

In the August CCEI Newsletter, the idea of behavior as a form of communication is explored. But what exactly are children attempting to communicate?  We can begin to understand children’s behavior (communication) when we become familiar with the functions of behaviors. The function of a behavior is the why behind the behavior or the need that the behavior is trying to communicate.

Depending on the resource there can be any number of functions of behavior.  Here are a few of the more common functions of behavior.

  • To gain attention – Sometimes, children engage in behaviors to gain the attention of others. The term attention-seeking is used to describe these instances. Many experts are now referring to attention-seeking behaviors as connection-seeking Sometimes, children just need to be seen, acknowledged, and reassured of their connection with adults in their lives.
  • To obtain tangible objects- Sometimes, children will engage in behaviors designed to get them what they want. They may take toys from others or have a tantrum to acquire a desired object.
  • To gain control – Sometimes, children feel completely out of control of the circumstances in their immediate surroundings. They may act defiantly in order to feel a sense of control or autonomy.
  • To avoid or escape a situation – Sometimes, children’s behaviors are a means of getting out of a particular situation, such as cleaning up or having to go to bed.
  • To gain or avoid sensory stimulation – Sometimes, children behave in a way that is a direct response to stimuli in the environment. For example, a shirt tag irritating a child’s neck could lead to an aggressive reaction. A child who is sensitive to sounds could run out of the room if it becomes too loud. Other children may play roughly with others because they are seeking strong sensory input.
  • To communicate strong emotions – Sometimes, children do not have the words to express their overwhelming emotions. They may bite a friend they are excited to see or begin to kick an adult if they are overly tired.

The good news is, that despite all of these possible triggers of challenging behaviors, we know that behavior is communication… we know that children are trying to tell us something.  It is our job to observe, reflect, and engage with children in a way that helps us get to the bottom of the matter. From there, we can help by meeting the child’s needs or guiding them to communicate their needs in safer, more effective ways.

EQ: The Secret Leadership Skill

It is likely that you are familiar with the term IQ or intelligence quotient, but are you aware that there is something called EQ, or emotional quotient?  EQ is also sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence and it turns out that it plays a significant role in the success of leaders across all fields.

IQ is a measure of the combination of knowledge, the ability to use reason, and problem-solving abilities. So, what does EQ measure? According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, there are five elements included in emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-regulation – the ability to control impulses and manage your emotional responses to situations.
  2. Motivation – the inner drive to pursue tasks and accomplishments.
  3. Self-awareness – being present with and recognizing your own emotions, including how they influence your behaviors.
  4. Social awareness – having an understanding of the emotions, behaviors, and reactions of others. This is often referred to as having empathy for others.
  5. Social skills – the ability to build relationships and work well with others.

When a person is competent in the components of EQ, they are armored with essential skills required for leadership. The good news is these skills can be strengthened. Experts recommend self-reflection as a tool that can help build EQ.

Self-reflection helps to bring awareness and focus into our lives. As we become more aware of our emotional state and our reactions to situations we can begin to better manage our emotional reactions. We can put in place tools to reduce stress and anxiety that may cause us to act in ways that are counterproductive to the goal of being a good leader.

As we gain a better understanding of ourselves, we can choose to bring that same awareness to the experiences of others. We can empathize with others and offer them our support. Prepared with a solid understanding of ourselves and the needs of others, we are in a good position to establish strong relationships with other people.

You can assess your emotional intelligence and learn more about building these important skills here.

When it’s too Hot to go Outside

Being able to get fresh air and run around the playground is vital to children’s development.  It helps them expend energy, build muscles, and improve coordination. Unfortunately, these needs do not go away during a heatwave or even a few days of rainy weather. That is why it is so important for early learning programs to create a plan for indoor gross motor play.

According to Caring for Our Children (6.1.0.2):

For days in which weather does not permit outdoor play, the facility is encouraged to provide an alternate place for gross motor activities indoors for children of all ages. This space could be a dedicated gross motor room or a gym, a large hallway, or even a classroom in which furniture has been pushed aside. The room should provide adequate space for children to do vigorous activities including running.

Once you have identified a proper space, you can determine the types of activities that children try. There should be a wide variety of activities that promote all areas of gross motor development. Some activities will require safety equipment, such as mats, so plan accordingly based on the available materials.

Skills to practice:

  • Balancing
  • Walking/running
  • Jumping
  • Lifting
  • Tossing
  • Kicking
  • Climbing

One important thing to keep in mind is the importance of activities that encourage children to cross the mid-line of their body with their arms.

To promote this movement, you can incorporate dancing activities, yoga and stretching, and games like Simon Says and Hot Potato. You could also create obstacle courses or have children draw activities out of a hat that ask children to cross the mid-line.

How do you adapt gross motor activities during inclement weather in your program?

Next Generation Science Standards

Many states’ early learning standards contain a few descriptions of science-related skills that children under the age of 5 should be working toward. It is important for teachers to become familiar with these standards so that they can plan learning opportunities around them and so that they know what to look for as children explore science.

Did you know, that in addition to these state standards, that there is a set of standards called the Next Generation Science Standards?  These standards were developed for K-12 by experts in the fields of education and science. The goal is to prepare children with the skills they will need to be successful when they enter the workforce.

It is a good idea for early childhood educators to become familiar with the skills and concepts children will encounter when they enter elementary school.  You can search the standards by topic and grade level here.

Here are just a few of the science-related skills that are included in the Kindergarten Next Generation Science Standards:

  • Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.
  • Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants and animals (including humans) and the places they live.
  • Use and share observations of local weather conditions to describe patterns over time.
  • Ask questions to obtain information about the purpose of weather forecasting to prepare for, and respond to, severe weather.*
  • Plan and conduct an investigation to compare the effects of different strengths or different directions of pushes and pulls on the motion of an object.
  • Ask questions, make observations, and gather information about a situation people want to change to define a simple problem that can be solved through the development of a new or improved object or tool.
  • Analyze data from tests of two objects designed to solve the same problem to compare the strengths and weaknesses of how each performs.
  • Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.

You can see the rest of the standards and those that were established for children of other grade levels by visiting the Next Generation Science Standards website.

How could you use these standards to inform the decisions you make about science instruction in your program?

Supporting All Learners

This month, the CCEI newsletter explores the recommended practices included in what is known as the Universal Design for Learning (UDL).  The strategies contained within the UDL Guidelines are designed to level the playing field in classrooms around the globe.  The strategies are organized into 3 categories; Engagement, Representation, and Action & Engagement. You can learn more here.

There are a number of other organizations that provide guidance on how to support learners of various levels. The Joint Position Statement of the Division for Early Childhood (DEC) and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) helps educators understand what early childhood inclusion means.

Here is the definition provided in the position statement:

Early childhood inclusion embodies the values, policies, and practices that support the right of every infant and young child and his or her family, regardless of ability, to participate in a broad range of activities and contexts as full members of families, communities, and society. The desired results of inclusive experiences for children with and without disabilities and their families include a sense of belonging and membership, positive social relationships and friendships, and development and learning to reach their full potential. The defining features of inclusion that can be used to identify high quality early childhood programs and services are access, participation, and supports.

The 3 key elements of the definition are as follows:

  • Access- this includes the steps taken to ensure that both the physical environment and the activities introduces are made openly and equally available to all children.
  • Participation– this refers to the way in which every child feels a sense of belonging and has the opportunity to participate meaningfully in all activities.
  • Supports- this means that steps are taken to ensure the child’s needs are being met, therapists provide services in the learning environment, parents and educators collaborate, and that training is available to everyone involved with the child.

You can access the full document here.

The second third resource that is helpful when considering the individuals needs of early learners comes from the Divisions for Early Childhood.  The resource is called the DEC Recommended Practices.  In the document, educators will find strategies organized into the following categories:

  • Leadership
  • Assessment
  • Environment
  • Family
  • Instruction
  • Interaction
  • Teaming and Collaboration
  • Transition

These easy-to-read, research-based recommendations are a great start for any educator hoping to create a more inclusive environment. The great thing about the strategies is, they work for all children and can be put in place at any time. The practices will promote development for all young learners and prepare the educator with the skills necessary to support children diagnosed with special needs when they enroll.

You can read the DEC Recommended practices here.

Confirmation Bias and How it Detracts from Teachable Moments

This month’s newsletter focuses on those ever-present opportunities to build skills and promote development through teachable moments.  Skilled early childhood educators are on constant watch for teachable moments and recognize the value of these spontaneous learning events.  Unfortunately, it is common for adults to fall prey to a phenomenon that can actually decrease our ability to recognize teachable moments as they present themselves.

This phenomenon is called confirmation bias. 

Confirmation bias can be described as the inclination humans have to seek out information and evidence that aligns with their previously-established beliefs. In addition to being drawn to ideas that we agree with, confirmation bias also tends to reject or discount information that is counter to our beliefs.  In simple terms, confirmation bias is a tool we use to validate our thoughts, opinions, and beliefs.

In a learning environment, confirmation bias can present itself in several ways:

  • Teacher A doesn’t believe children can be trusted with tools. Teacher A focuses only on instances of children using tools improperly, rather than recognizing all of the instances of proper tool use.
  • Teacher B feels that toddlers are too young to participate in family-style dining. Teacher B reluctantly sets up family-style dining meals for the toddlers in her care because it is program policy. However, Teacher B only notices the messes children make during meals rather than observing the benefits of the learning experience.
  • Teacher C believes that outdoor play is not valuable and is too risky and dangerous for children. Every time a child gets hurt on the playground, Teacher C’s belief that outdoor play is dangerous and unnecessary is reinforced.
  • Teacher D believes that Johnny is a “bad” kid. Throughout the day, Teacher D (perhaps subconsciously) looks for evidence that proves the belief that Johnny is bad. This drive will likely prevent Teacher D from recognizing all the times that Johnny is engaged appropriately with toys and peers.

In each example, the teachers’ beliefs influence the observations they make. Research on confirmation bias shows that people are more likely to look for evidence that they are right than evidence that proves they are wrong.

This tendency can have a detrimental impact on a teacher’s ability to notice the teachable moments that emerge throughout the day, especially if they are strongly convinced of their beliefs.  Teachers might not notice an opportunity to show children the proper way to hold a tool or spoon if they don’t agree children should be doing so in the first place.  Teachers won’t engage children in exploring safe risks on the playground if they don’t believe that safe risk-taking is good for children. And teachers might not step in to coach Johnny through a conflict with a peer if they are already convinced that he is a “bad” kid who can’t learn appropriate ways to solve problems.

To combat confirmation bias, early childhood educators must reflect upon their practice regularly. They should ask questions about their beliefs about children and how children learn. They should challenge their preconceived notions about what children, families, and early learning should look like. They should look for their own teachable moments as strongly held beliefs and opinions arise.

You can read more about studies that have been conducted related to confirmation bias and why it exists here.

Reducing Stress in the Classroom

The CCEI January Newsletter explores ways to reduce stress during the transition into the New Year. There are a number of things that caregivers can do to reduce the level of stress children experience in the learning environment. These practices should be implemented throughout the year to ensure that children have an optimal early learning experience:

  • Establish a consistent schedule that allows children to know what to expect next and to prepare for transitions. This consistency helps children feel comfortable and secure.
  • Set up a routine for daily events like naptime, washing hands, and cleaning up.
  • Concentrate daily on building and nurturing your relationship with each child.
  • Accept, acknowledge, and celebrate individual differences in interests, abilities, and cultural backgrounds.
  • Include plenty of time for self-directed play. This is when children practice social and communication skills and learn to control the objects in their environment. The sense of competence derived from play fosters a positive self-image.
  • Offer choices to children in activities, materials, and directing their own behavior. This helps children learn that they have some control over what they do.
  • Emphasize cooperation and minimize competition. Fostering cooperation helps everyone feel like they have something to contribute and that they are an important part of the group.
  • Display photos of the children in the group and pictures they have drawn.
  • Greet children warmly as they arrive.
  • Listen when children share their ideas. Reflect back what was said in your response.
  • Recognize when children master a skill they have been working on. Be specific about the praise you give. “It used to be hard for you to zip your coat. Now you can do it every time.”
  • Provide activities that are developmentally appropriate and that are open-ended. Use more activities that focus on the process rather than the product. Children will feel more successful.
  • Keep your expectations realistic and convey your confidence by saying, “I know you can do it.”
  • Identify all the things you like about the children and talk about those characteristics often!

 

Formal Family Engagement Programs

The December 2020 CCEI Newsletter focuses on family engagement strategies.  In it, we explore the benefits of family engagement initiatives as well as different types of engagement programs can introduce. The newsletter also provides recommendations for planning and implementing these important initiatives.

If your program is seeking a formal family engagement program, there are plenty on the market.  These programs are sometimes referred to as parenting interventions.  Think of these tools as a curriculum that you would use with the parents of your program to enhance parenting skills and to build stronger relationships with their children. Each program has unique features and costs associated with it so deciding on the type of program that would work best for you will take careful consideration.

The National Center on Parent, Family, and Community Engagement has created a helpful resource that provides details on many of the family engagement programs that are available today in the Compendium of Parenting Interventions.

The document lays out the details of a variety of programs that may be appropriate for the families enrolled in your program. The compendium describes each program along with the types of families best served by the program. You can also find information about outcomes and objectives, the length of the implementation of the program, the languages in which the program has been published, and minimum workforce qualifications for staff who will be using the tool.  You can also find information about the costs as well as the type of training required and the cost to receive that training.

The Compendium is a very helpful tool for any program that is seeking to improve family engagement, especially if you looking for a program that would work for a specific target audience.

If you are interested in exploring the types of programs that are available but don’t want to get caught up in all of the details, you can find an easy-to-read At-a-Glance Table on pages 16-19 of the Compendium.

Self-Regulation Skills

The ability to manage emotions, behaviors, and attention is often referred to as self-regulation.  It is a term closely related to executive functions, which is the topic of this month’s CCEI Newsletter. Essentially, self-regulation is the ability to stop and think before responding to a situation. It means taking a breath to calm down before responding to someone’s actions or words. It is noticing when you need to walk away to compose yourself and having the skills to do so. Self-regulation impacts how we set and achieve goals and how we bounce back after experiencing challenges.

There are a number of strategies that can be used to promote the development of self-regulation. First and foremost is modeling. Educators and parents must be able to regulate their own emotional responses so they can model self-regulation to children. Imagine trying to teach a child how to manage strong emotions by expressing strong emotions in from of the child. It is not exactly a recipe for success.

Adults should model for children how to practice deep breathing during stressful situations, how to take a break during times of frustration, how to ask for help when feeling overwhelmed, and how to communicate needs in safe and respectful ways. Children are watching the adults around them for clues on how to respond to different situations, so adults must be on their A-game at all times!

After modeling, adults can help children begin to recognize and label the strong emotions that they experience. Teach children emotional vocabulary words so that they can express themselves effectively. Before children are overwhelmed with emotion, read books and tell stories that contain characters who experience strong emotions.  Talk about how the characters feel, how they react, and different options they could use next time they feel strong emotions.

Have conversations with children about how they feel inside when they are mad or sad. See if children can compare those physical feelings to how they feel when they are happy or excited.  Pointing out these differences helps children become aware of the changes in their bodies that often accompany strong emotions.  You can use color charts to help children identify how they are feeling, with green meaning great, yellow meaning, bothered by something, and red meaning upset.

Mindfulness practices include bringing attention to what is going on inside our bodies and minds in the moment. Children can be taught to check in with themselves to identify how they are feeling.  This can be done on a regular basis to help build this skill as a habit.

Self-regulation develops slowly and children will probably make many mistakes before they master the ability to regulate their emotions and reactions. In all fairness, adults often lose their tempers or become frustrated with situations, too. Everyone benefits when there is an intentional focus on teaching and practicing self-regulation in learning environments.  How will you incorporate some of these ideas into your practice with children?

 

Social Stories

Social Stories are tools that are often used with children and adults who have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). These stories are written in a manner that safely and simply teaches children how to navigate challenging situations. For example, Social Stories exist that teach children about what to expect when going to the dentist, the first day of school, or how to stay safe when playing outdoors.

According to Carol Gray, a pioneer in the work of Social Stories, there are several conditions for Social Stories:

  • They present information in a patient and supportive manner
  • They are descriptive of specific situations
  • They are meaningful to specific children
  • They provide information in a way that is physically, socially, and emotionally safe for the audience.

You can see a few examples of Carol Gray’s Social Stories here.

Teachers can use Social Stories to help children learn about all kinds of life situations. With a little creativity and research, teachers could create a Social Story to describe what children should expect as they transition to Kindergarten. It would be necessary for teachers to reach out to local elementary schools to find out details about the schools and daily routines.  These facts could then be worked into a story format.

Here is a list of other scenarios that can be introduced using Social Stories:

  • Preparing for a field trip
  • The arrival of a new sibling
  • What to do if you get separated from a parent in a store
  • How to enter into games or play situations
  • What to do when you feel angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed, excited, etc.
  • How to respond to bad news
  • How to transition from one activity to another
  • How to complete a task in the daily routine

While formal Social Stories are a tool used with individuals with ASD, teachers could adapt this strategy for use with all children. Teachers may find it helpful to introduce expectations and routines using stories, in addition to giving verbal instructions.