Promoting Children's Success: Building Relationships and Creating Supportive Environments
- Participants will be able to describe the importance of building relationships with children, families,
- Participants will be able to describe the relationship between children’s social emotional
development and challenging behaviors.
- Participants will be able to describe how challenging behavior serves a function for children.
- Participants will be able to describe the relationship between environmental variables, children’s
challenging behaviors, and social emotional development.
- Participants will be able to identify strategies that can be used to (1) build positive relationships
with children, families, and colleagues; (2) design environments, schedules, and routines; (3) structure transitions; (4) help children learn rules and routines; and (5) plan activities that promote
- Participants will be able to use descriptive acknowledgment and encouragement to support
children’s positive social behaviors.
- Participants will evaluate their work with children related to building relationships and the structure
and design of their environment. They will generate strategies for addressing areas where they
need to make changes or improvements.
- Introduction and Logistics
- Examining Our Attitudes about Challenging Behaviors
- Understanding the Relationship between Challenging Behavior
and Social Emotional Development
- Creating Environments in which Children Can Be Successful: The Pyramid
- Building Positive Relationships
- Designing the Physical Environment
- Schedules, Routines, and Transitions
- Planning Activities that Promote Engagement; Large and Small Group Time
- Giving Directions
- Teaching Children Classroom Rules
- Ongoing Monitoring and Positive Attention
- Using Positive Feedback and Encouragement
- Pulling It All Together: Summary and Completion of Action Plan
- Facilitator’s Guide
- Chart paper or White Board and Markers
- 1.SE Session Evaluation Form
- 1.1 Adult:Child Conversations
- 1.2 Preparing for the Transition to Centers
- 1.3 Providing Individualized Transition Cues to Gabby
- 1.4 Circle Time
- 1.5 Stop/Go Teaching Rules
- 1.6 Children Demonstrating Classroom Rules
- 1.7 Positive Attention during Large Group Activity
- 1.1 Participants’ PowerPoint Slides
- 1.2 Hot Button Activity
- 1.3 Reframing Activity
- 1.4 Inventory of Practices
- 1.5 Building Relationships with Young Children
- 1.6 Positive Attention Data Collection Sheet
- 1.7 List of Starters for Positive Feedback Comments
- 1.8 Sample Certificate
I. Introduction and Logistics (20 minutes)
During this time, you will want to accomplish the
- Begin with an introduction of all speakers, a brief
overview of who you are, where you are from, and
information about your background that is relevant to
this training event. (Show Slide 1.)
- Have the participants introduce themselves to each
other and provide you with a brief overview of who
they are. Have each table of participants introduce
themselves to each other and then report back to the
whole group what roles the participants at their table
represent (e.g., teachers, assistants, therapists,
administrators, family members, trainers) or another
introductory strategy depending on the size of the
group and the time available.
- Review what you plan to accomplish for the day
(Slide 2), and the learner objectives (Slide 3).
- Distribute all handouts including PowerPoint slides,
resources, and the Inventory of Practices.
- Take care of logistical issues (e.g., breaks,
bathrooms, lunch plans).
- Encourage participants to ask questions throughout
or to post them in a specially marked place.
II. Examining Our Attitudes about Challenging
Behaviors (20 minutes)
- Show Slide 4. The purpose of this discussion (Hot
Button Activity described below) is to acknowledge how
difficult it is to deal with children with challenging
behavior. Explain how important it is for teachers and
other caregivers to have support when they are working
with children with challenging behavior. It is difficult to
see beyond the challenging behavior, and it helps to
have someone else who can brainstorm possible
- Hot Button Activity
- Have participants identify children’s behaviors that“push their buttons.”
- Distribute Handout 1.2 (Paper with “hot buttons” on
it) and have participants individually fill in the top
row with their “hot button behaviors.” Each
participant can complete several circles.
- Ask for volunteers to name some of the behaviors
that push their buttons. Keep going until you have
an extensive list on the flip chart. Make the
point that what pushes one person’s button
might be very different from what pushes
another individual’s buttons. Past experiences
with children, training experiences, and level of
support for dealing with challenging behaviors
are just some of those factors.
- Ask participants to think of children who they have
worked with who have these types of behaviors.
- Have participants complete the second row of
circles by listing feeling words (how they felt when
they were working with that child or how they felt
when people were sharing their list of behaviors that“pushed their buttons”).
- As group members share their ideas, write them
on the flip chart paper or a blank overhead.
They will most likely say things like: “It makes
me frustrated.” “I feel like I don’t know what I
am doing.” “It makes me mad.” “I feel like a
failure.” “It makes me want to get another job.”
- Ask participants to write responses to this third
question on the third row of circles on their paper:
How do these feelings affect your interactions with
children when they engage in these behaviors?
Participants might say they avoid children when
they act like this or that adults interact in a not-sopleasant
way after children engage in these
behaviors, etc. Make the point that it is difficult to be
effective with children when you are feeling this
way. It is important to plan a strategy for dealing
with these situations.
- Let’s talk about how we can use this emotional
signal or “feeling” as a positive thing—it tells you
that you need to think of positive ways to deal with the situation (e.g., focusing on the positive, asking
for help, reframing).
- Walk through Slides 5 and 6 (Managing Personal
Stress: Thought Control) reading over the
upsetting thoughts and the calming thoughts. Talk
about the fact that if we reframe our thoughts we
can engage in more positive interactions with
children and use these as opportunities for growth.
- Have participants take each of their “hot buttons,” reread
it, and consider how they can reframe the
behavior to interact with the child to build a positive
relationship with him or her. For example, one might
consider: “If Delroy starts to whine when he can’t get
his shoes on or off, or his bookbag stored in his
cubby, I will use these interactions as opportunities to
teach him how to ask for assistance in a more
Use Handout 1.3 (Reframing Activity)—(Slide 7)
Review the four examples listed then have individuals
list two to three of their own and restate the problems
to make them more manageable. Do not generate
solutions at this time.
Make the point that there are individual and culturally
based beliefs that affect our attitudes about
challenging behavior. Most children don’t come to school knowing what teachers expect them to do.
This could be due to the child’s lack of experience in
group care settings or to differences in families’ and
teachers’ expectations of children’s behavior. Studies
show that parents and teachers sometimes have
differences in their expectations about children’s
behavior, which may influence children’s
understanding about expectations in the classroom.
Culturally based beliefs affect our attitudes toward
behavior (e.g., what skills we expect children to
engage in independently at certain ages, how we
expect children to interact with adults, etc.). Show Slides 8 and 9 on developmental milestones that are
the findings from research studies (cited on the
- Talk about how important it is to use a team
approach when addressing social emotional
competence and challenging behaviors. It is
especially important in terms of providing support to
the teachers and other adults who work with children
with challenging behavior every day.
III. Understanding the Relationship between
Challenging Behavior and Social Emotional
Development (10 minutes)
- Describe how several national reports (e.g., Eager to
Learn, Neurons to Neighborhoods, A Good Beginning,
the Kaufmann Report on Social-Emotional
Development) have discussed the importance of social
emotional development in children’s readiness for and
success in school. These publications have identified a
number of social emotional skills that help children be
successful as they transition into kindergarten,
including the skills listed on Slide 10. Read through the
list of skills:
- Capacity to develop relationships with peers and
- Concentration and persistence on challenging tasks
- Ability to effectively communicate emotions
- Ability to listen to instructions and be attentive
- Ability to solve social problems
- Ask participants to explain how they know when a
child doesn’t have a specific skill (e.g., for example,
“What do children do when they can’t persist at a
challenging task and they are faced with something
that is hard for them?”).
- Make the point that children often use challenging
behavior when they don’t have more appropriate
behaviors or skills to accomplish the same goal or to
communicate the same message. This means that
our focus has to be on “teaching children new skills”
rather then “trying to get them to stop using
challenging behaviors.” We need to teach
children what to do rather than what not to do
(Slides 11 & 12).
- Make the point that this also applies to children who
speak another language or whose home culture
values different behaviors than the early childhood
setting (e.g., home culture might value listening
to adults during mealtime versus engaging in
conversation while one eats). The goal is to
facilitate children’s learning of skills valued in the
school/community in order to ensure success while
at the same time honoring the values and beliefs of
the home culture and language.
- Talk about some basic assumptions about challenging
behavior (Slide 13).
- Emphasize that challenging behavior often occurs
when children don’t have the appropriate language or
social skills to achieve the same purpose. It is
important to point out that children with challenging
behavior most often do not have disabilities.
- Talk about other variables that might contribute to
children’s challenging behavior such as lack of sleep,
hunger, stress in the home, temperament, genetic
factors, different contextual expectations (e.g., home
versus early childhood center) and second language
development. These should be considered when
designing individualized plans for children.
- Explain that when children use challenging behaviors
over time, those behaviors are working for them. Use
an example such as the child who grabs toys from
another child rather than asking to play. If the child
usually ends up with the toy after grabbing it, then he
will continue to grab because grabbing is working for
- Point out that there is a lot we can do to prevent
challenging behavior, such as having a positive
relationship with the child, having schedules and
routines that support the child, having activities that
are engaging, and teaching a child the skills he/she
needs to be successful. These topics are what the
rest of this day of training will focus on.
IV. Creating Environments in which Children Can Be
Successful: The Pyramid (5 minutes)
- Show Slide 14. As we just talked about, there are a
variety of things we can do to prevent challenging
behaviors and to teach children appropriate behaviors.
As adults, we must first focus on prevention before we
focus on changing children’s inappropriate behaviors.
We must focus on:
- Ensuring that the classroom is a place children want
- Designing environments that promote engagement
- Teaching children the skills they need to be
- One way we can look at this is through the following
model (Slide 15). This pyramid addresses each of the
components that we will be talking about in each of
the training modules. Talk about how this model is
consistent with developmentally appropriate practices
in that it includes key practices for promoting social
emotional development and only focuses on more
intensive interventions for those children with the most
persistent challenging behavior. The focus is on
promotion and prevention (the bottom three levels of
the pyramid) and moving to more intensive
individualized interventions only when the bottom of the
pyramid is in place and children continue to engage in
- Relationships form the foundation of the pyramid and
are necessary for everything else we do.
- Well-designed environments support children’s
appropriate behaviors and make it less likely that
children will need to engage in challenging behavior.
In addition, environments can be designed to teach
children expectations and promote their engagement
- Talk about the importance of teaching children the
skills that they need so they don’t have to use
- When we do all of this, children are less likely to
engage in challenging behavior. Thus, we are less
likely to need to design intensive, individualized
interventions. The success of individualized
interventions depends on the extent to which the
other levels of the pyramid have been addressed.
V. Building Positive Relationships (40 minutes)
Group Activity: Strategies for Building Relationships
with Children, Families, and Colleagues (Slide 25)
- Show Slides 16 and 17. The relationships we build
with children, families, and colleagues are at the
foundation of everything we do with children. We know
about the importance of relationships in terms of
children’s development and success in school. It is
important to build these relationships with all children
as a context for supporting their social emotional
development and preventing challenging behavior. It
will be easier to address challenging behavior if we
already have a relationship with the child.
- Activity. Show Video Clip 1.1: Adult Child
Introduce the video as follows: This video shows one
teacher engaged in conversation with a child as they
play. To play video, double click on the photographs
on the slide. To advance to the next slide, click the
down arrow on your keypad.
Note to Presenter: the videos in these modules are
designed to provide examples that can be used to
describe, reflect, and refine teachers’ practices.
They are not intended to be the best way, the only
way, or the right way to do something.
What things does the teacher do to build
relationships with children? (Slide 18)
- Participants might comment on how the teacher
talked about things the little girl does at the afterschool
program and at home, participated in play
as a partner, sat at the children’s level, was a
responsive listener, etc.
- Read the Uri Bronfenbrenner quote (Slide 19).
- Introduce the Connected/Disconnected Activity
- Use the graphic for connected/disconnected. Show the
slide and write responses on chart paper. Ask the
group to think about when teachers are disconnected
from children...What would they see in the
classroom? What would it look like? Write the ideas
on chart paper. Focus on the graphic for connected...
What does it look like when teachers have good
connections with children? What do you see? What is
happening? Write the ideas on chart paper. Make the
point that this is what we are seeking to put in place to
build relationships with children.
We should also examine the relationships between
adults (including family members) on the team (Slide 21). What does it look like if adults are disconnected in
a classroom or in a program? Write ideas on chart
paper. What about when adults work together well and
are really connected. How can you tell?
- Then move into figuring out what we should do to build
these relationships (Slide 22). How do we build
relationships with children? Present the metaphor,
adopted from the work of Carolyn Webster-Stratton, of a “piggy bank” to illustrate “making deposits into children’s
emotional banks” as a way of building positive
relationships (Webster-Stratton, 1999).
- Instead of a piggy bank, other metaphors might be a
garden (growing) or basket (filling). Ask participants
to generate other possible metaphors. We make
deposits when we do things to build relationships
while we make withdrawals when we engage in
behaviors that are detrimental to relationship building.
- Recap some of the strategies observed in the video,
emphasizing the power of play in building positive
relationships (e.g., talk about things children do at
home or in other settings during play, actively engage
in children’s play, participate as a play partner, sit at
children’s level, joke and laugh with children, spend
time with children doing what they love to do).
- Show Slides 23 and 24 of how adults can create
relationships with children by bridging home to
school through the use of photos (Slide 23) and
celebrating important events in children’s lives
- Have participants work with people at their table
or select a partner, depending on the size of the
group. Give each group markers and chart paper.
- Assign each group one of the following: (a)
children, (b) families, or (c) colleagues.
- The small groups should brainstorm a list of things
they can do to build relationships with children,
families, or other colleagues.
- Give participants about 10 minutes to complete this
- Teams should report back to the large group with
examples. Other participants can be encouraged to
add to the list.
- After the groups have reported back, ask them to
take 5 more minutes in their small group to answer
the following question: “What specific strategies
might you use to build a relationship with that one
child, family, or colleague who is most challenging to
you or who most pushes your buttons?”
- Have teams report back.
- Included below are some examples of the types of
things that you might highlight or use to prompt
participants to think more broadly about how to build
relationships with children (Slides 26 and 27 have
some ideas for relationship building with children):
- Pay attention to each individual child.
- Joke and laugh with children.
- Know what interests each child and talk to the
child about that interest.
- Respect each child’s approach to situations and
- Talk to the child seriously when the topic is
serious or important to the child.
- Ask children to tell you what makes them happy
and sad, and respect their feelings.
- Show children that you are happy they are there.
- Learn and remember personal information about
children (e.g., best friend’s name, pet’s name, type
of pets, sibling, activities they do outside of
school), and use this information in your
conversations with them.
- Give children genuine choices, and assist them in
following through with their choices.
- Show respect for children’s cultural, linguistic, and
- Listen to children when they speak to you, and
respond appropriately to their questions.
- Spend time with children doing what they love to
- Smile at children.
- Respond to children consistently.
Slide 28 shows a mirror near the changing table—a way to
build relationships with children during diaper changing.
Here are some ideas for building relationships with families:
- Keep lines of communication open between program
and families (e.g., notes, orientation, or phone calls).
- Support and encourage parental involvement in
- Learn from family members about their children, and
home and family life.
- Share resources with parents about how to support
the child’s social emotional development.
- Share positive things the child did at the program
(e.g., Happy grams).
- Conduct meetings with parents in an environment and
time convenient for them.
- Assure parents about confidentiality and privacy
- Implement activities that bring families together.
- Show respect to parents by acknowledging the good
things that they are doing with their child.
- Ask parents to share their unique resources with your
program (e.g., talents, access to other resources).
Here are some ideas for building relationships with colleagues:
- Encourage teamwork
- Provide support
- Build trust among colleagues
- Be honest and kind to one another
- Respect co-workers’ talents and abilities
- Acknowledge accomplishments
- Understand and respect each other’s backgrounds
- Develop a shared vision, goals, and mission
- Have a sense of humor
- Build cooperation
Refer participants to the Inventory of Practices (section on
Developing Meaningful Relationships): Handout 1.4.
- Action Planning. Give each team another 10
minutes to pick one or two things that they are
going to do when they get back to their
classroom to improve their relationships with all
children or with a particular child, family, or colleague,
or things that they will do to help others improve their
relationships with the children, family, and colleagues.
- Participants can use the Inventory of Practices and
Action Planning Form to make notes about changes
they are going to make or facilitate in their job
- Encourage participants to consider resources or
supports they might need to make these changes.
- If time allows, have one or two people share with the
group what changes they are going to make.
- At this point, you should highlight the importance of play
as a context for building relationships with children.
Explain that play gives the adult an opportunity to follow
the child’s lead, comment on what the child is doing,
and build positive interactions.
Refer participants to Handout 1.5 (Building Positive
Relationships with Young Children by Joseph & Strain).
- Talk about how easy it is to spend most of our time
giving directions and correcting behavior, and point
out that play provides a context for focusing on more
positive behaviors and interactions and promoting
children’s social skills and emotional development.
- Show Slide 29. Explain that the next things you will be
talking about are related to creating supportive
Although they may not be new concepts to people, explain
that participants should be thinking about these issues in
terms of how they relate to preventing challenging behavior
and promoting social emotional development. Remember,
you are looking at these through a different lens—the social
emotional competence and challenging behavior lens.
TIP: For some groups, this material will be a review of
information they already know. If you know your audience is
highly skilled, consider presenting this in an alternative way.
Rather than walking through each slide, do an activity in
which you encourage participants to think about how each
practice is related to promoting social behavior or
preventing challenging behavior. Divide the participants into
small groups (four-six people). Assign each group a set of
practices (e.g., designing learning centers, schedules, and
routines). Have them discuss how those practices support
children’s social emotional development and prevent
challenging behavior. Have them identify practical examples
of how they could implement these practices specifically to
focus on social behavior (e.g., to prevent challenging
behavior during transitions, use a buddy system where lessskilled
peers are paired with highly skilled peers).
VI. Designing the Physical Environment (30 Minutes)
In this section, we cover many topics. While they are all
important, you will need to determine how much time to
spend on each topic based on the needs and skills of your
- When we consider the design of the physical
environment, we are trying to do two things: promote
engagement and prevent challenging behavior.
- We will talk about two sets of strategies related to the
physical design of the environment: traffic patterns
and designing learning centers.
- Show Slides 30 and 31. Review the following major
issues about traffic patterns:
- Minimize large open spaces in which children can
- Minimize obstacles.
- Consider environmental arrangement as it applies to
children with physical or sensory (e.g., blindness)
- Show photo slide of how footprints and “fence“ help organize the physical environment.
- Then talk about how a lot of strategies related to
learning centers will increase the likelihood of children
being engaged and decrease the likelihood of
challenging behaviors occurring. Talk about two
aspects of planning learning centers—the physical
design and the actual content of the materials and
activities that occur in each center.
- Show Slides 32 and 33. Review the following major
issues about the physical design of learning centers:
- Have clear boundaries so that children know where
the center begins/ends, and so that children are not
- Make sure that all children are visible to adults and
that adults are visible to children.
- When learning centers are closed for some reason,
indicate that the centers are closed by using visual
prompts such as sheets or blankets, circles with a
slash through them, etc.
- Have enough centers for the number of children in
your care and enough materials within the centers so
that children are engaged and not continually arguing
- Consider the size of centers and the location of
centers. For example, it is best to avoid having a
center that is likely to have a high level of activity in it
(e.g., block center, dramatic play) located close to a
center where the teacher wants quieter activities
(e.g., listening centers, computer, etc.) to occur.
- Use developmentally appropriate and creative ways
to limit the number of children in centers if this is
necessary (e.g., laminated cards containing
children’s names that can be moved into pockets at
the center as opposed to a sign saying “2 children
- Organize materials and keep them in appropriate
places, taking into consideration children’s
development of independence skills.
- Have centers organized and ready to go when
- Show Slide 34: Creating Meaningful and Engaging
Learning Areas. Learning centers need to be
meaningful, engaging, and interesting to children.
- Materials within centers need to be meaningful and
relevant to children’s needs, interests, and lives (e.g.,
within the dramatic play area, materials that are
culturally appropriate should be available; the
pictures on puzzles and in the classroom library
should reflect the diversity within your community,
etc.). There should be culturally meaningful activities
and materials (e.g., within the typical water table, you
can alternate materials that have a similar
consistency such as beans, rice, pasta, and
potatoes). Also, consider using labels in multiple
languages around the classroom.
- Centers need to be highly engaging and interesting
to children. Build on children’s interests by including
materials and activities that children enjoy or express
an interest in. If children all tend to stay in one or two
centers, that would suggest that the other centers
are not engaging or interesting to children.
- Provide a variety of materials in each center. For
example, related books can be put in every center
(e.g., books on animals can be placed in the reading
center; magazines can be placed in the dramatic
play area that is designed as a veterinarian’s office; a
book about the post office can be placed in the
writing center). Writing utensils and paper also can be in a variety of centers (e.g., in the dramatic play
area, the writing center, or near the computers). Be
- Change the materials or themes in centers on a
regular basis. The post office set up in the dramatic
play area might be interesting and engaging at the
beginning of the year but will be old and uninteresting
if it is still there in the spring. Listen to what children
are talking about. Create centers that build on their
interests. Rotate materials within a center so that the
same materials are not out all year. Let children help
you choose the materials.
- Show Slide 35 of two writing centers.
- Discuss the strengths and concerns of each
center arrangement. Do you imagine children
selecting one center versus another—why?
- If you had a writing center in your classroom, how
would you design it given what we have talked
about so far?
- Show Slide 36—group discussion of how this
circle area could be improved.
- Show Slide 37—group discussion of this circle
- Show Slide 38: Classroom Arrangement and
- With a partner, sketch a classroom or other
- Redraw the environment, and then share major
changes with other participants at the table.
- Ask the participants to think of one child who has
significant challenging behavior. What might need to
be done to the environment to support that child?
- For additional ideas, refer participants to the Inventory
VII. Schedules, Routines, and Transitions (50 minutes)
- Slide 39. Talk about how schedules should be designed
to promote child engagement. As we have talked about
earlier, when children are engaged with a material, a
peer, or an adult, they are less likely to be engaged in
challenging behavior. Some of the things that will keep
them engaged are:
- Balancing the activities so there is a mix of small
group and large group activities and a mix of
teacher-directed and child-directed activities.
- Teaching children the routine: We can’t expect
children to follow the routine if we don’t teach it to
them. Schedules and routines provide some security
and a sense of what comes next; children are able to
anticipate what will happen, and thus feel more
secure. This is especially important for children
whose primary language differs from that spoken in
- Talk about different ways you can teach children to
follow routines or schedules.
Group Activity: As a large group, read Slides 49-53 and discuss solutions for each vignette.
- Teach it during circle using visual cues that all
- Reinforce children as they go through the schedule
of the day.
- Provide individual instruction to children who need
more assistance, and use individualized picture cues.
- Be consistent with your schedule and routines.
Children will be more likely to learn to follow a
schedule if it is implemented consistently.
- Post your schedule visually, and refer to it frequently
throughout the day so children learn what will
- When changes are necessary, prepare children for
those changes. You can prepare children by making
announcements at opening circle, using visual
prompts on a posted schedule indicating a change
(e.g., a stop sign on top of an activity that is not
going to happen as planned), and reminding children
about the changes as often as possible.
- For some children with disabilities (e.g., autism),
changes in the schedule or routine can be a
trigger for challenging behaviors.
Show Slides 40-48 of various types of schedules (e.g.,
object, photograph, individual, activity)
- Show Slide 54. Another issue that is closely related to
schedules and routines is transition. Challenging
behaviors often occur during transitions, especially
when all children are expected to do the same thing at
the same time and then end up waiting with nothing to
do. We know from research that children often spend a
significant proportion of their preschool day making
transitions between activities. So, our goal should be to:
- Minimize the number of transitions that children have
during the day.
- Plan transitions so that there is a minimal amount of
time spent in transition and that children are highly
engaged during the transition.
- Give children a warning before a transition occurs.
- Minimize those transitions during which every child
has to do the same thing at the same time (Does
every child have to go to the bathroom at the same
time? Could snack be part of center time?). Structure
the transition so that children have something to do
while they are waiting (e.g., finger plays, songs,
guessing games). Provide some children with chores,
and give children helping roles during transitions
(e.g., handing out the paper towels, holding the door,
helping a friend).
- Teach children about the expectations for transitions.
This instruction can occur during a group time and
should be reinforced throughout the day.
Show Video Clip 1.2 of Transitions to Centers (Slide 55).
Discuss what was observed.
6. Individualize the instruction and cues provided to
- Some children will make the transition with a
minimal amount of support, while others may need a
picture schedule, verbal prompt, adult assistance, or
some other type of cue.
Show Video Clip 1.3 of Providing Individualized Transition
Cues to Gabby (Slide 56). Discuss what was observed. What did the teacher do to assist Gabby in changing
locations? What other strategies can you use to assist
students like Gabby in changing locations?
- It is important to provide visual cues and reminders for
young children—especially young children with special
needs and children for whom English is their second
language. Visual cues and reminders are useful to help
children learn the routines of the classroom, to help
them learn the expectations or “classroom rules,” to
help children anticipate making transitions between
activities, and to assist children in knowing what to do
during these transitions.
- As adults, we use visual cues constantly. For example,
(1) we look at our watches or the clock to see when a
boring meeting will end or when it is time for lunch; (2)
when we go into a new building, we look at signs to
find places we need to go such as the elevator,
restroom, or location of a conference room; and (3)
when we go to vote, we look at the visual directions
provided to see how to use the voting machine (and we
pray that it will work!).
- Show Slides 57-61. Show multiple examples of visual
reminders for transitions (e.g., preparing Brendan using
a timer; transitions with visuals, choices, and
- You can also bring examples of actual posters,
signs, etc., that teachers use in their classrooms.
- Ask participants for suggestions of visual
supports or reminders that they have used in their
Show Slides 62-64; highlighting how important it is to teach
children the expectations for transitions.
VII. Planning Activities that Promote Engagement;
Large and Small Group Time (40 minutes)
As we talked about above, one of the keys to preventing
challenging behavior is to ensure that children are engaged
with activities, peers, or adults. We have already talked
about how to build relationships with children on an
individual basis. Adults should also plan activities in ways
that will promote engagement. There are two keys to this:
(1) use both small and large group activities, and (2) ensure
that activities are designed and adapted so that all children
can participate in a meaningful way.
- Large Group Activities. One of the common problems
that teachers have is challenging behavior during large
group activities. It is difficult to keep all children
interested throughout circle time. Give participants
some suggestions about how they can increase the
likelihood that all children will be engaged (Slide 65).
This can be talked about in two parts.
- Planning the activity
- Consider the length of time needed for circle time
relative to the children’s ages and abilities and to
the types of activities that will occur during the
large group time.
- Have a purpose and be clear about what it is you
want children to learn during this time.
- Don’t do exactly the same thing every day. For
example, you can teach concepts during large
group in a variety of ways (e.g., puppets, role
play, stories, songs, visual aids, discussion). Vary
these activities from day to day. You might also
do repeated reading of the same story for several
days but use puppets on the first day, a flannel
board on the second day, and have children role
play the story on the third day.
- Don’t just do circle to do circle, but use it as a
time to teach new concepts. This is an especially
good time to teach social skills and to support
children’s emotional development. Explain that we
will be talking about this point later.
- Implementing the activity
- Make sure all children have opportunities to be
involved (e.g., everyone holds a character from
the story, children do things with partners).
- Assign jobs for children who have a particularly
difficult time during circle (e.g., book holder, page
- Vary the way you talk and the intonation of your
- Have children help lead activities.
- Pay attention to children’s appropriate behavior, as
well as the function of their behavior; remember
that if they are wiggling and wandering away, the
activity is probably not interesting to them.
- Show Slide 66: Activity. Show two video segments
of Circle Time (Video Clip 1.4).
- Have participants discuss with other participants
at their table the following questions after they watch
the videotaped segments (Slide 67). Are the children
engaged? What tells you that they are or are not
engaged? Describe what the teacher is doing
currently and what she might do to support the
children’s engagement in the activity. What other
strategies could the teacher do to keep the children
even more engaged in either video clip?
- Point out things such as the teacher sitting in a chair “above” the children rather than on their level, no
props (e.g., photos, manipulatives, etc.) are used that
could help engage children, etc.
- Show Slide 68: Small Group Activities. Discuss the
importance of using small group activities both in terms
of giving more individualized time to children and as an
opportunity for skill building. Then talk about how to
implement small group activities effectively.
- Talk about being clear about the purpose and
outcomes of the activity. What is it you want children
to learn, and are you structuring the activity so that it meets the needs of all of the children involved?
Although small group activities are often more
teacher directed, they do not have to be didactic.
They can involve games, stories, discussion,
- Small groups also provide a great opportunity to use
peers as models. One peer can model a skill or
behavior you are trying to teach another child.
- It is important to ensure that all children participate in
a way that is meaningful and relevant to their goals
- Provide descriptive feedback related to appropriate
behavior to children throughout the activity.
- Show Slide 69: Schedule/Routines/Transition Activity.
If time allows, try to implement this activity as a way to
reinforce the main concepts learned to this point.
- Have each table write on a piece of chart paper
a schedule for a preschool classroom (a schedule
from one of the participant’s classrooms or
- Then have all participants discuss what changes
might need to be made in the schedule to either
increase engagement or prevent challenging
behaviors of all children. Have them also think about
specific adaptations that might be needed for the
children with the most challenging behavior.
- Encourage them to consider the following questions:
(1) Are there too many large group activities? (2) Is
there a balance of large and small group activities?
(3) Are there too many transitions? (4) Could some
transitions be eliminated or the length decreased? (5)
Could there be fewer whole group transitions? (6) Is
the length of activities appropriate (neither too long
nor too short)?
- Brainstorm ideas for change. Encourage participants
to complete the Action Plan (Inventory of Practices)
related to strategies that they might focus on when
they get back to their programs.
- If time permits, have a few people share their ideas
for change with the large group.
IX. Giving Directions (10 minutes)
Research has shown that preschool children have high rates
of not following teacher directions. While this might be
because of the child’s characteristics, it might also be
because of the way teachers give directions. Directions that
are stated negatively (“why haven’t you put up the toys”) or
directions that are stated as questions (“can you help me put
up the toys?”) may confuse children or make them less likely
to follow the direction. Here are some strategies that can be
used to increase the likelihood that children will follow
teacher directions (Slide 70).
- Make sure you have the child’s attention before
you give the direction. Many times, the child may
not even hear the direction or realize the direction is
being given to him. The teacher can begin a direction
to the whole class by saying, “I need everyone to
listen” or the teacher can begin a direction to an
individual child by tapping him on the shoulder or
saying his name.
- Minimize the number of directions given to
children. Research shows that teachers give a very
high number of directions to children, many of which
teachers they do not follow through with. It is
important to give only directions that you want the
child to comply with, give directions in a positive way
that tells the child specifically what to do, and give the
child time to respond before giving another direction.
Also, it is important to follow through if the child does
not follow the direction.
- Individualize the way directions are given. Some
children may respond well to verbal direction, while
others may need physical prompts or pictorial
prompts to follow the direction.
- Give clear directions. Tell the child exactly what you
want her to do. Avoid directions that are vague such
as “be careful” or “settle down.” These directions
could be substituted with “hold on to the railing” or “sit
- Show Slide 71. Give directions that are positive.
Maintain a positive tone when you give directions.
- Give children the opportunity to respond to a
direction. Avoid giving multiple directions at one time
without giving the child a chance to respond and
without acknowledging the child for responding.
- When appropriate, give the child choices and
options for following directions. Sometimes it is
important that children follow a direction in a specific
way; but other times, it is ok to give the child some
options. For example, during a transition time, the
teacher might say “you need to sit quietly, you can
get either a book or you can draw a picture.”
- Follow through with positive acknowledgment of
children’s behavior. It is important that children
understand when they are following directions.
X. Teaching Children Classroom Rules
- Show Slide 72. Emphasize that preschool settings
need to have a few simple rules.
- Ask participants why having rules is important.
- Describe how there are general guidelines about
rules, and ask participants to share what they think
these guidelines are (e.g., stated positively, fewer
than five, developmentally appropriate, posted
visually, clear and concise).
- Ask participants why it is a good idea to have
children involved in developing rules (e.g., they will
understand them better, provides ownership, builds a
learning opportunity, etc.).
- Show Slide 73. Present some ways to have children
involved in developing the rules. For example,
- Children can be involved in generating classroom
rules (it will be important that teachers have had
some time to reinforce at high rates those behaviors
they would like to see so that children have an idea
of what the classroom expectations are).
- Children can help decide what visuals to put on
posters around the room to help remind themselves
of classroom rules.
- Children can decorate a rules poster.
- Show Slides 74-76 of rules.
- Discuss what general behaviors or topics rules should
address (e.g., noise level; movement; interactions with
adults, children, and materials) (Slide 77).
- Talk about how you can’t expect children to follow the
rules without teaching them.
- Explain how rules can be taught during circle time
and reinforced in ongoing contexts.
- As you are teaching rules, you can connect them to
children’s ongoing behavior (e.g., “Who has been a
super friend; tell me what you did?” “Yes, I saw
Corinne sharing the glue with Ed at the art table”).
Slide 78. Video Clip 1.5: Stop/Go Teaching Rules.
Introduce this segment by telling participants that
the segment shows a group activity in which
children were beginning to learn the classroom rules
or expectations. After viewing the segment, ask
participants if the rules were stated positively and are
developmentally appropriate; (Did they meet the
guidelines just discussed? What are the strengths of
this group activity? How might you adapt an activity
like this for your particular needs? How does this
activity help children learn rules? What other materials
can you use? How can you modify this activity to
support students with disabilities? Second-language
- Show Slide 79: Rules Activity.
- Have small groups work to develop a list of three to
five rules for their setting.
- If they have rules already, have them list them
and check them against the criteria.
- Ask participants to brainstorm some fun ways
they can remind and reinforce the rules in the
setting. List these on flip chart paper.
- Present additional ideas to reinforce classroom rules
- Rules Bingo: Put symbols of rules on bingo cards
and have children play bingo.
- Big Book of School Rules: Using large pieces of
paper, children can help make pictures and pages
about each rule, laminate the pages, and turn the
pages into a big book.
- Home Rules: Children draw a picture of their
home and take it home with them with some blank
circles. Children and parents write their home
rules on the circles, tape them to the picture of
their home, and send it back to school.
- Rules Charades: Have a child model a rule, and
have the other children guess what rule they are
modeling. Slide 81.
Video Clip 1.6: Children Demonstrating
Introduce the video by telling participants that this
segment shows a larger group activity in which
children are demonstrating the classroom rules. As
you watch it, consider: How did this teacher involve
the children in learning the classroom rules? What
are some strengths of this activity? Ideas for adapting
it? How would you set up this activity in the
classroom? How can you enhance this activity? What
other materials can you use? How can you modify this
activity to support students with disabilities? Secondlanguage
Show Slide 82 of school-wide playground rules (posted on
all playgrounds throughout this early childhood education
XI. Ongoing Monitoring and Positive Attention
- Show Slide 83. This slide presents the idea of “catching
children being good.” There are two important issues here.
- Give children attention (e.g., verbal, nonverbal) when
they are engaging in appropriate behaviors. Too
often, we leave children alone when they are playing quietly or when things are going along smoothly in
our early childhood settings.
Provide feedback for the effort, thinking, and problem
solving (e.g., What a great idea! Brilliant thinking in
figuring that out!) versus emphasizing quality of work
(e.g., You did a dynamite job in coloring that entire
picture!). Balance positive feedback and
encouragement with engaging children in authentic
conversations. You do not want to engage in a
monologue of continual feedback.
- Adults need to monitor their own behavior to make
sure they are spending more time using positive,
descriptive language and less time giving
directions or correcting inappropriate behavior.
- Show Slide 84: Activity.
- Use the handout (Positive Attention Handout 1.6) for this activity. Watch Video Clip 1.7 Slide 85.
(Positive Attention) of large group activity, and count
the number of times the teacher says positive things
or uses positive nonverbal behaviors such as high
fives, pats on the back, and handshakes.
- Participants should be encouraged to jot down
specific things that the teacher says or does
(verbal and nonverbal).
- After watching the video, engage participants in a
large group discussion regarding what behaviors
they saw and heard the teacher use. Have
participants discuss different ways they can
provide positive attention.
- Occasionally participants will remark that they
would not do this activity because they do not
have snow in their geographic location. Prompt
them to consider if they would not teach about
farm animals in an urban school, about oceans in
the Midwest, etc.
- Continue the discussion by asking participants for
suggestions on how to keep teachers focused on the
positive throughout the day. Examples might include
having visual cues posted in the room as reminders
(e.g., smiley faces, key words that trigger you to
remember to acknowledge positive behavior).
- Have participants return to their Action Plan and note
ways they are going to help remind themselves and
other adults within their settings to provide attention
to children when they are engaged in appropriate
behavior. How can they “up the ratio of catching
children being good?”
XII. Using Positive Feedback and Encouragement
- Show Slide 86. Describe the four major principles
of using positive feedback and encouragement.
Positive feedback and encouragement should be:
- Contingent on appropriate behavior. For example,
when Cameron hangs his coat in his cubby, the
teacher can acknowledge it by saying “Cameron
thank you so much for hanging up your coat all by
yourself.” When you observe Patrick washing his
hands before lunch, you can give him positive
feedback with a thumbs up and verbally describing
what he did.
- Descriptive. Rather than just saying “good job” or
“thanks,” you provide a brief description of the
behavior that you just observed. This feedback helps
children know exactly what the behavior is that you
would like to see repeated. For example, you might
say, “Thanks for hanging up your coat all by yourself,
Cameron. You sure are getting big.” “Wow, Patrick.
You just washed your hands all by yourself without
Ms. Ellie or me even telling you to do it.”
- Conveyed with enthusiasm. Tone of voice, facial
expressions, being down on a child’s level, and the
timeliness of when the positive feedback is delivered
are all variables that affect the spirit in which positive
feedback is accepted.
- Many children inherently like feedback from
adults, and as we know, they will typically do
many things to gain adults’ attention (yes, the
good and even the not-so-good behaviors!).
- Our enthusiasm when we deliver feedback
conveys to young children that we are paying
attention to them, that their behavior matters to
us, and that we celebrate their accomplishments.
- Think of the number of times you have heard a
young child say, “Teacher, I did it!!!” It makes us
smile just remembering the enthusiasm of young
children when they have mastered a new skill or
tried something that they have never done before.
- Contingent on effort. Children need to be
encouraged for their efforts as well as their
successes. For example, Maggie, a child with special
needs in your classroom, who really struggles with
self-help skills, would be encouraged to try and put
her shoes on, even if it means just getting her toes
inside the shoes.
- Show Slide 87. Talk about how there are different ways
to give encouragement and feedback beyond the
simple “good job.” Encourage participants to think
about other ways to verbally give feedback and ways to
give nonverbal feedback and encouragement.
- Refer to Handout 1.7 titled Some Starters for Giving
Positive Feedback and Encouragement (e.g., “You
are so good at...” etc.). As they read through the
suggestions, participants should mark a few that they
particularly like and plan on using when they return to
their early childhood settings. They can also come up
with other ideas.
- Giving nonverbal feedback/acknowledgment or signs
of appreciation is an important strategy that we often
overlook. Providing children with “warm fuzzies” might include hugs, high fives, winks, and thumbs
ups. Have participants think of nonverbal ways
that they typically provide feedback to young
children. Have the group generate a list of
these nonverbal behaviors and compile them
on chart paper.
- We do need to remember that types of positive
feedback and encouragement should be individualized
for each child. For example, some children may not
feel comfortable being encouraged in front of a group,
while others may really like to be encouraged in front of
a group of peers. We have to look at the individual
preferences of children. There also may be cultural
variations on what is typical and/or acceptable. Share
an example (such as the following), noting the
individual differences of children.
- Relate the example of Kunal, a 4-year-old boy who
struggled to be independent and was extremely
persistent. After trying for many minutes to complete
a task such as riding his bike up a slight incline and
numerous slips backwards, he would get angry at his
Mom and Dad if they acknowledged his efforts. He
would even go so far as to say, “Don’t say, ‘You did
it!’” or if they patted his back as he finally peddled
away, he would cry out, “No, don’t pat me.” For
Kunal, the challenge, and then ultimate success,
although stressful and frustrating at times, was
rewarding enough at that moment. His parents
learned that, for him, bringing up these successes
later (e.g., at bedtime when talking about the day, or
hugging him and telling him how proud they were
that he was learning to ride his bike so well) was a
better strategy for providing positive feedback on
- Encourage other adults and peers to use positive
feedback and encouragement. Point out to participants
that this idea is a real key to increasing children’s
appropriate behaviors! The impact of positive feedback
and encouragement can be increased by ensuring that
children are encouraged from multiple sources (e.g.,
parents, other teachers, and peers). Encouragement
from more than one person is more likely to have a
positive impact on children’s behavior. Consider the
following examples of how the impact can be increased
for individual children.
- Kendall is acknowledged by his teacher at school
and given a certificate about his good behavior that
is attached to his coat. The bus driver acknowledges
him as Kendall gets on the bus to head home, and
then both of his parents acknowledge his appropriate
behavior at home. By using this strategy of sending
home a complimentary note, his teacher has helped
Kendall receive three pieces of information about his
behavior with one simple note (Mom, Dad, and the
bus driver have all commented on his great sharing
- Outside another Head Start classroom, Shannon (a
child with Down syndrome) is complimented in front
of her Mom when her Mom arrives to pick Shannon
up at the end of the day. The teacher mentions that
Shannon had such a great day because she “used
her words to ask for more crackers and juice during
snack” that day. Hearing this compliment, Mom is
likely to mention it again to Shannon as they drive
home, and she might even mention it to Grandma
when they arrive at the grandparents’ house for
dinner that evening.
- If children repeatedly hear you thank them when they
have assisted in cleaning up a center, helped wipe
off the snack table, or assisted in gathering all the
backpacks, they are likely to give one another
compliments when a peer helps them with a
backpack or takes part in gathering toys together.
- Show Slide 88. With a partner, have participants
list three to five behaviors that they would like to
see more of in their classrooms (partners do not
have to end up with the same list but rather
through discussion develop their own lists of behaviors
to target). Consider behaviors that are likely to take the
place of challenging behaviors. This list becomes the
behaviors participants should encourage at high rates
when they return to their early childhood settings. Have
participants refer to their Action Plan and add these
behaviors that they hope to target.
- Show Slide 89 and distribute Handout 1.8 (Sample
Certificate). Show a sample of a certificate that
teachers might use to send notes home about a child’s
XIII. Pulling It All Together: Summary and Completion
of Action Plan (45 minutes)
- Show Slides 90 and 91. Read Jung quote and
highlight the four major messages presented today.
- The first and most important thing that we can do is
to build positive relationships with every child and
family (as well as with the other professionals who
work with the child and his/her family).
- Focus on prevention and teaching appropriate skills
(strategies we have discussed during this session
such as looking closely at the physical environment,
considering the schedules/routines/transitions/rules
within your setting, and forms and frequency of
positive feedback/encouragement used).
- Promoting social emotional development is not easy.
There are no quick fixes to challenging behavior.
- Promoting children’s social emotional development
requires a comprehensive approach that includes
building relationships, evaluating our own classrooms
and behaviors, and TEACHING.
- Action Planning Activity. Have participants
complete their Action Plan Form, filling in the
grid with ideas of changes they want to make in
their early childhood settings as a result of
today’s session, as well as methods for
evaluating their progress in making these changes. Ask
if anyone is willing to share some ideas that they hope
to implement “back home.” Encourage a few
participants to share ideas gleaned from today’s
- Answer any final questions.
- Thank participants for their input and attention.
- Have participants complete the evaluations.
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teaching preschoolers with special needs. Baltimore: Paul
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CSEFEL What Works Briefs available at: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/csefel/whatworks.html
- Building Positive Teacher-Child Relationships. What
Works Brief #12 by M.M. Ostrosky and E.Y. Jung.
- Helping Children Understand Routines and Classroom
Schedules. What Works Brief #3 by M. M. Ostrosky, E. Y.
Jung, M. L. Hemmeter and D. Thomas.
- Helping Children Make Transitions between Activities. What Works Brief #4 by M. M. Ostrosky, E. Y. Jung and
M. L. Hemmeter.
- Understanding the Impact of Language Differences on
Classroom Behavior. What Works Brief #2 by R. M.
Santos & M. M. Ostrosky.
- Using Environmental Strategies to Promote Positive
Social Interactions. What Works Brief #6 by T. Bovey and