Use of Trauma-Informed Practices in Your Classroom Will Benefit All of Your Students

As an early childhood educator, it is challenging to be aware of all of the possible scenarios that could cause trauma in a child’s life. A traumatic experience is one that threatens one’s physical safety or sense of safety. We cannot be aware of how every experience is perceived by the children in our care. Also, not every experience will cause trauma in every case. For example, each child whose parents divorce will experience the situation differently; with different degrees of trauma.

Using trauma-informed practices will benefit all children because it is impossible to know or predict how individual children will experience trauma. These practices focus on social and emotional supports that help children learn to self-calm, regulate their emotions, and communicate their needs. Strategies are rooted in relationships and trust.  They emphasize safety, predictability, and consistency. These are important social and emotional supports for every young child, so using a trauma-informed approach serves everyone in the program.

Providing the same social-emotional guidance and approach to all children will help ensure that no child who has experienced trauma slips through the cracks. Using a strengths-based approach to teaching will benefit all children. Strengths-based strategies help children assess what they do well and then use these strengths and talents to build knowledge. Drawing on children’s strengths and capacities builds resilience and helps them develop the skills, competencies, and confidence they need to become active learners and critical thinkers. It also leads to improved educational outcomes, more success, and increased engagement.

We should aim to strengthen every child’s skills and mindset to successfully navigate stressful situations. Children can be very resilient, and helping them develop greater resiliency should be a common goal. Even children who have not been exposed to trauma will benefit from activities that strengthen resiliency. These strategies will prepare them for whatever challenges come their way.

The single most common factor for children who develop resilience is having at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver, or other adult. As a teacher and caregiver, you should aim to be one of those people for the children in your care.

Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, offers the following 7 C’s of Resilience:

  1. Competence – Through trying, failing, and succeeding, children begin to develop trust in their abilities.
  2. Confidence – As skills strengthen, children begin to feel more sure of themselves.
  3. Connection – The bonds that children build with others will support them in times of need.
  4. Character – Having a clear sense of right and wrong will guide children’s choices in challenging situations.
  5. Contribution – Being part of and participating in something larger than themselves helps children move through challenging situations.
  6. Coping – Tools for managing emotions and communicating their needs give children positive outlets in overwhelming situations.
  7. Control – Feeling as if they have a say in what happens can help children navigate difficult times.

Children’s resilience skills need to be nurtured and supported. In addition to building strong relationships with the children and families, educators should create situations that strengthen the 7 C’s of resilience.  Identify ways for children to practice the skills associated with resilience in safe situations so the skills are there before they are needed.  Embed elements of the 7 C’s into daily routines, curriculum activities, outdoor play, and personal interactions with all of the children in your care.

Classroom Management and Connection

Over the years, attitudes toward children’s behaviors have evolved. We increasingly see the relationship between children’s behaviors, the development of executive functioning skills, and childhood trauma. As we look at disruptive behaviors through these different lenses, we can see that some of the traditional ways of managing classrooms and children’s behaviors may not be the most effective options.

The CDC has published a series of articles about classroom management that examines ways to build connectedness through classroom management strategies.  They define classroom management as the steps teachers follow to create a positive learning environment for all children.

Specifically, they have identified the following categories for supporting student success:

  • Teacher caring and support – building strong relationships with children.
  • Peer connection and support – building strong relationships between children.
  • Student autonomy and empowerment – encouraging children to make choices.
  • Management of classroom social dynamics – recognizing children who may be vulnerable or isolated from peers.
  • Teacher expectations – believing in children’s ability to learn and develop new skills.
  • Behavior management – creating clear expectations and consistent, realistic consequences.

While these articles focus on older children, there are many aspects that can be adapted for early learning.

Let’s look specifically at some strategies for building peer connection and support, which can decrease undesirable behaviors and strengthen relationships.

  • Provide opportunities for children to learn about each other – In early learning, children play together most of the day. They are drawn to children with similar interests.  But how often do they engage in activities where they get to really know one another?  Getting to know one another is a skill that younger children can begin to practice, with teacher support.  Use the time during class meetings to have meaningful discussions about thoughts and opinions or conduct polls and discuss the results. Encourage children to ask questions to a partner and then stop and listen carefully to the answer.
  • Provide fun ways for children to work together – Again, young children play together often, but there are opportunities to be even more intentional and creative in what we ask children to accomplish.  Think about different ways you can promote cooperation and collaboration in your classroom.  Instead of assigning only one child to a class chore, assign the chore to two or more children and challenge them to figure out how they could work together.  Create puzzles and other challenges that require children to work together to accomplish the task.
  • Encourage peer support Teachers often step in to provide assistance when children need help. That level of support should not stop. However, consider whether there are opportunities for the children to help one another, rather than always relying on adults for help.  In appropriate situations, you could encourage a child to ask a peer for help by saying, “Did you know that I saw Emma do this the other day? Maybe we could ask her for help.” 

These ideas may need to be modified for the children in your group based on their ages and abilities. Are there other ways you can use elements of your daily routine to promote social and emotional development?

Read-Alouds as an Opportunity to Reach Dual Language Learners and Culturally Diverse Classrooms

Storytime is a great way to teach the fundamental skills necessary to begin learning how to read. As classrooms have become more culturally diverse it is imperative that literacy experiences reach those children with different languages and cultures. We can use read-alouds as an opportunity to reach all our students. How do we teach English literacy skills to students who are learning multiple languages and come from different cultures than our own?

Today’s preschools have more diversity than ever. Listening to a story that is being read aloud is different for children who may not be as proficient in English, and are learning multiple languages at once. If you have students who are multilingual, there are several strategies that can be used to reach all your students during story time.

If you speak the home language of dual language students, there are numerous ways to incorporate the language into your read-aloud. Introducing the book in the children’s home language is a great way to start. This will help with comprehension of the content of the story. If you don’t speak the home language, think of someone you could invite into your classroom to read the book with your students in their home language. You could ask a family member, community volunteer, or a bilingual staff member.

Introduce targeted vocabulary words during the read-aloud. Learn a few book-related target words, in the children’s home language. Teachers should introduce the word in both English and the home language before the read-aloud. Make clear connections between the words in English and the home language. Even if you do not speak the children’s home language, focus words are a realistic way to be intentional in making connections to the home language. Teachers who are not fluent in the home language can find the target vocabulary in the dictionary or online translation, can ask for help from the children’s family members, or find other helpful resources. The goal is to help the child connect to the English language they are learning in the classroom.

Visual aids can be very helpful when connecting children who are less proficient in English to the lesson that is being taught. Create visuals for each target vocabulary word and introduce these words. Print out an image that represents each target word or focus vocabulary word. While introducing the new vocabulary to your students, point to the appropriate image and engage the students through gestures and facial expressions. Using gestures and pointing are critical strategies that help children build a better understanding of the characters, vocabulary, and overall storyline.

Incorporating culturally relevant books will benefit all of the children in your program. They will learn something new about their friend’s culture, learn new vocabulary, and gain more world knowledge. Also, the children whose culture was represented in the book will feel celebrated and have a greater sense of belonging within the classroom, building a stronger community within your program

In a Digital Word, Teaching Tech Skills to Younger Children is a Requisite

Technology changes at an incredible pace. New technology emerges daily and involves almost every aspect of our daily routines. Our preschoolers have been born into this new digital world and are exposed to this technology before they even make it into our classrooms. As preschool educators, we are tasked with teaching them how to make their way in their world. This now includes teaching children as young as preschoolers the new tech skills the world requires.

Learning computer science, how to code and the computational thinking skills associated with it is of great benefit to our young students. These skills help develop and foster problem-solving skills, logical thinking, social-emotional skills, and many others that translate directly into every other portion of our curriculum. The concepts learned and skills developed will help our students later learn more difficult and sophisticated programming and coding.

Why is it important for our preschoolers to learn programming and coding? Not only do we need to teach them about the technology they use daily, but how to use it and how to make it work. Preschool educators have to lay the foundation of knowledge for the workforce of tomorrow. Many of the jobs of today and the jobs of the future require computer science knowledge. Jobs in all fields are becoming very technical and require varying degrees of knowledge in computer science. We are charged with preparing our young children for this digital future.

Here are some resources to explore that examine the skills and jobs of the future (good luck finding one that doesn’t require a solid computer science foundation):

As the world around us changes, so must our curriculum. We have to teach our students all of the skills that the world they live in requires. Computer science has become one of those requirements. Technology and how to make it work can be intimidating if we are not knowledgeable in these areas. Developing these skills and knowledge of the concepts of computer science must begin in preschool. Ensuring that today’s preschoolers begin learning and attaining this knowledge so that they can confidently navigate through their digital world has become a requisite.

Best of luck!

Using Games and Activities to Promote Executive Function Skills

This month’s newsletter and free trial course explore the Executive Function (EF) skills that help children (and adults) so successfully navigate daily routines and challenges. These skills can be broken down into a few general categories:

  • Inhibition control or the ability to manage strong emotions and impulses.
  • Interference control or the ability to regulate attention and focus
  • Working memory to be able to store and use information.
  • Mental flexibility that allows us to think differently about situations to plan and problem solve.

If you take a moment to reflect on the games and activities that are common in early childhood, you will be able to recognize how these EF skills are used regularly.

  • Waiting for a turn requires inhibition control.
  • Being ready to catch a ball in the outfield requires interference control (attention).
  • Playing a game of Memory activates working memory skills to find matching cards.
  • Sorting activities and problem-solving games utilize mental flexibility.

While it is clear that children are practicing these skills when engaged in these familiar activities and games, it is also a good idea to create intentional opportunities for children to build these skills. As you become more familiar with the nuances of executive function skills, you will be able to create even more learning opportunities and scaffold children’s experiences in meaningful ways.

The next time you are lesson planning, highlight the activities that promote EFs. See if you can add one or two more activities that require EF skills. When you introduce these activities to the children, let them know what skills they are going to have to use. For example, you might say, “Today we are going to be playing Simon Says and you are going to have to pay close attention to my words.”

Another way to promote EF skills is to recognize when children are using the skills in action! When you recognize that a child is waiting for their turn, you can acknowledge the child using words that they will understand. For example, you might say, “Samin, I know you really want it to be your turn – you are working hard to stay patient.” This helps children recognize the emotions associated with waiting for a turn and that they are actively in control of remaining patient.

Here are a few resources that include games and activities that you can modify for the children in your care:

Professional Development to Support Child Development

In this month’s CCEI newsletter, we explored a few essential practices that ECE professionals should implement consistently to support children’s development. Strategies such as engaging in serve-and-return interactions with children may be easy to pick up and integrate into practice with little additional professional development. Other strategies shared in the newsletter might require some intentional professional development planning to effectively implement the strategy.

As the year ends, it is a good time to reflect on how things are going in your program or learning environment to determine what is working for you and what is not. It is also important to think about what is working for the children and what is not. Many providers have shared concerns about the impact COVID-19 has had on the social and emotional development of children, sighting many more behavior concerns for preschoolers than in previous years. This is an example of how children’s ongoing development can be directly influenced by the professional development decisions made in the coming months.

Teachers concerned about behaviors in the classroom are right to be concerned. At the same time, resetting expectations based on the skills the children have today, rather than comparing them to children of the past who did not experience the same disruption, may help address the situation. In this case, retaking positive guidance courses with a different perspective may uncover some new insights.

A teacher recently reported having an a-ha moment while reviewing a positive guidance class. She realized that the chronological age of the children in her care was less important than the skills they had had a chance to develop. She reported that once she shifted her expectations to meet the children where they were, she was able to adjust the strategies she applied in different situations to help children navigate challenging situations.

When you plan your PD for the coming year, consider refreshing your memory about topics related to child development, especially social/emotional development. Circling back on familiar topics, with all of the knowledge and experience you have acquired over the years, can be greatly beneficial to your practice, and ultimately, the children in your care.

Best wishes in 2024!

Creating Responsive Feeding Environments

Children enrolled in early care and education programs will typically eat several meals and snacks throughout the day.  It is important that during those mealtime routines, children are guided in ways that help them develop healthy relationships with food.  One way to ensure this is to employ responsive feeding practices that respect the needs of individual children.  Here are a few important responsive feeding practices that you should keep in mind:

  • Mealtimes should be relaxing, unrushed, and enjoyable events.
  • Teachers should engage with children and avoid distractions during mealtimes.
  • Caregivers should watch children for signs of hunger and satiety (feeling full) and respect them.
  • Children should not be forced to eat or clean their plates.
  • Teachers should encourage children to try new foods and recognize children may need to experience new foods several times before they “like” them.
  • New foods are introduced one at a time, and in small amounts.
  • Teachers should show curiosity and excitement about the foods being served.
  • Teachers should honor children’s likes and dislikes, for reasons related to things such as taste and texture.
  • Teachers should not withhold food as a punishment or use food as a reward.
  • Teachers should be familiar with the recommended portion sizes for the age of the children in their care.
  • Food restrictions based on religion, medical reasons, or family preferences must be acknowledged, followed, and discussed respectfully.

One way to create responsive feeding practices is to evaluate the role that culture and life experiences play in our beliefs, values, and expectations related to food. Are you aware of how your beliefs about food and expectations for children’s consumption were formed?  What food-related beliefs and expectations are held by the families in your program?  How were those beliefs formed?   Here is a resource from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension that contains more information.

Here are two other resources about responsive feeding practices for you to explore and share with families:

Why parents should use responsive feeding with their babies – Harvard Health Publishing

A New Look at Responsive Feeding Practices – Minnesota Department of Health

Encouraging Spontaneous Writing Opportunities

Throughout early childhood, children experiment with writing.  They see adults and older children writing and they want to get in on the action!  They understand that writing is a powerful form of communication and will work persistently to learn this important skill.  You may have overheard children talking about “words” that they wrote on their papers.  Children will often tell adults what their marks say.   Most likely, these words and marks are only scribbles to adult eyes, but at this stage, these spontaneous efforts to write should be recognized and reinforced.

Additionally, when teachers notice children’s interest in writing, they should create more opportunities for children to practice with intention.  One powerful word that children are especially motivated to learn to write is their name.  Children should see their names throughout the learning environment and opportunities to write their names should be incorporated into daily routines.

Here are some ideas:

  • Sign-in and out procedures – Programs typically have a formal or even computerized sign-in and out system in place, but preschool teachers can incorporate a similar system in the classroom. Each day, ask children to find their names on a dry-erase board. Depending on children’s abilities and interest level, teachers can encourage children to circle their name, trace the letters of their name, write the first letter or their initials, or attempt to write their first name on the board as a way to check-in. The same steps can be followed to sign out at the end of the day.
  • Poll and Surveys – Teachers can pose questions or choices to children and encourage them to write their name or initials in the appropriate box to respond to the question. This activity is sometimes conducted during large group time, with the teacher writing the children’s names.  It may take too long to adapt this practice to allow children to write their names during large group time, but teachers can introduce the question during group time and encourage children to visit the poll throughout the day or week to respond to the question.  This may alleviate the stress that some children have if they are not yet confident in their skills.  Teachers can work with individual children and modify the instructions based on the skills of the child they are working with at any given time.
  • Sign-ups – Children can be encouraged to write their name (or initials) to sign up for time on the computer, a turn on the tricycle on the playground, or for their preferred chore of the week.
  • Letters and notes– Teachers can encourage children to write their names on letters or thank you cards that are sent to different members of the staff, families, newly enrolled children, or community helpers, just to name a few ideas.

To extend writing opportunities beyond name writing, teachers should integrate writing materials into each of the learning centers of the classroom. Baskets with mini clipboards and pencils can be added to dramatic play to encourage children to write shopping lists. Dramatic play can also morph into other settings beyond a kitchen/home setting.  This can promote writing in many other settings with which children are familiar, such as a school, doctor’s office, or store.

For much more information on promoting emergent writing in early learning environments, click here.

Supporting Families Through Big Transitions

Early childhood is full of big transitions for children and their families. Some transitions are developmental and redefine a child’s (and the family’s) experience – think of the transition from crawling to walking! Some transitions are unanticipated, such as having to relocate to a new town for employment.

Starting preschool is a big transition for children who are new to group care. And for those children who have been enrolled in a program for some time, transitioning to a new classroom can be challenging. And of course, there is the big transition to kindergarten/elementary school.

Regardless of the situation, there are things early learning programs can do to support both children and families as they navigate these transitions. Transitions can be exciting for some students and stressful for others and just because a child has handled previous transitions with ease does not mean that future transitions will be smooth.  Families are no different in how they experience transitions related to their children’s care and education.

Clear communication about these transitions is one way that early care and education providers can support families before, during, and after transitions. Let’s take a look at a few strategies:

Set clear expectations – It is important for families and children to understand how the new environment will be similar to and different from the current environment. In order to share factual information, it may be necessary for teachers to do some investigation, such as visiting the elementary school or having conversations with the new teachers. Some programs have invited teachers from the new school into the program to meet with families and children for an introductory meeting. Read books about upcoming big transitions and share these books with families so they can read them at home.  All of these strategies can help ECE providers give children and families a clear picture of what to expect in the new environment.

Listen and acknowledge – Sometimes, a child or parent just needs someone to listen to their concerns and validate their feelings.  This is a stressful time with many unknowns.  You can’t fix that, but you can be a reassuring shoulder to lean on.

Create tasks or goals – It may be beneficial to create goals for the children or families to work toward to get them ready for the transition.  You could provide the school district’s supply list and turn it into a fun game that children and families can play together.  In some cases, families cannot afford everything on the supply list, in which case, you could have extra supplies (donations) on hand to give children a great start to their new year.

Prior experience – It may be possible to have families and children who went through the transition during the past year return to your program to talk about the experience.  Families with older siblings, and the older siblings themselves may be willing to do this. This is a great chance for children to meet or reunite with a child who has a year of experience in the new environment under their belt.  The same is true when you encourage families to connect during big transitions.

Plan get-to-know-you activities – If you are the new teacher in the transition, take time to introduce yourself to children and families well in advance of the transition. Work out a schedule with your administration that allows you time in the classroom with the children who will be moving to your classroom. Spend that time observing, chatting, and getting to know the children. Send home introduction letters to families with an invitation for them to reach out to you with any questions they have.

Stay in touch – There may be possibilities for you to stay in touch with families and children after the transition via email, written notes, or visits. As a person who knows the children and families well, you are a valuable source of encouragement and confidence.

Keep in mind that transition periods will be different each year.  What worked last year may not be sufficient this year and what you did three years ago may not be necessary in the future.

We wish you the best of luck in the transitions you encounter this school year!

 

Communicating with Families about Assessment Data

Sharing assessment data gives families and teachers the opportunity to identify and address a child′s specific needs. Together, you can brainstorm activity ideas and materials that could be used to promote development.

This interaction should be viewed as a conversation, an opportunity to share information, discuss goals and expectations, and bridge cultural gaps. The goal is for families and teachers to walk away with a better understanding of the child′s specific needs and a plan for how those needs can be met.

Teachers should consider communicating data with families through:

  • Emails and/or phone calls.
  • Daily or weekly reports.
  • Quick drop-off or pick-up conversations.
  • Family-teacher conferences planned 2-3 times a year and scheduled as needed.

Zero to Three recommends these guidelines for family-friendly communication:

  • Build trusting relationships with families can build on family strengths.
  • Choose authentic assessment measures to describe the child′s capabilities and needs.
  • Use the program′s core curriculum to link assessment and goal planning.
  • Orchestrate the team assessment with families as integral partners.
  • Identify strategies to communicate regularly, collaborate, and reach a consensus.
  • Identify developmentally appropriate curriculum goals that promote family priorities.
  • Be honest and maintain confidentiality.
  • Collect progress data throughout the year.
  • Maintain ongoing communication and family involvement.

For conversations about assessment results to be productive, it is important for teachers to:

  1. Be prepared with copies of the results for everyone.
  2. Outline the context of the assessment.
  3. Review the results, and outline the context of the results in terms of child development.
  4. Make sure to use terminology that is easily understood.
  5. Discuss patterns of skills and behaviors observed at school and home.
  6. Share ideas to strengthen skills in all environments.
  7. Acknowledge ideas generated by the family. Include these ideas when appropriate. If the ideas do not represent best practices, see if a compromise or modifications can be made.

Sign up for PROF110: Family-Teacher Conferences to learn more about communicating assessment results with families.