According to a recent study published from Yale University, many young children in state funded pre-K programs are being asked to leave because of challenging behaviors. (Gilliam 2005). Previous studies on the topic of expulsion rates done in Massachusetts, found that students in early childhood programs had 34 times the rate of expulsions than did students enrolled k-12 and more then 13 times the national average for k12 rates. We know that young children have less of a chance of being successful in kindergarten and grades above if they have difficulties regulating their emotions and behaviors, forming friendships and following adult directive. The Division for Early Childhood's concept paper on identifying and creating interventions for children with challenging behaviors states,
"A growing number of children are exhibiting behaviors that require intervention. Aggression in children is appearing at younger ages and at escalating levels". (Bell et al, 2004, p 67).
The good news related to challenging behaviors and young children is that we know what works in decreasing these behaviors or preventing them from occurring before they even begin. By preventing behaviors from occurring we increase the likelihood of success, build self-esteem and competence. (Kazdin 1995) The first thing we c an do it look to how we set up our preschool classrooms.
"Many young children engage in challenging behavior in the course of early development, the majority of these children respond to developmentally appropriate management techniques" (Brault et al, 1999, p63).
The physical environment is a key component to every early childhood classroom. Children are most likely to demonstrate appropriate behaviors and learn when they are in a classroom where they are engaged and active. Problem behaviors are reduced when children are not bored or frustrated and there is a good match between their developmental elementary level and the materials and instruction. Below you will find examples of an inclusive early childhood environment and how it is physically arranged.
|Centers are well defined areas of a classroom that use furniture to provide boundaries between areas. Centers should be arranged by noise levels and make sure that loud and noisy areas such as blocks and water play are not directly next to quiet centers such as art or book centers.|
|Keep materials on low open shelves so that they are easily accessible to all children. Make different materials available on a regular basis and ensure that there are duplicates of materials to discourage competition for a favorite material. Another factor in promoting appropriate behavior is to set a given number of children in each center at one time. This decreases the likelihood of arguments and allows enough space for children to interact and play with materials.|
|Classrooms that promote appropriate behavior from children have defined areas but also have open areas that allow for more movement and large group activities.|
|When designing a classroom keep in mind flow patterns. Children should be able to move easily in and between areas. Children who use wheelchairs, walkers or other equipment to help them access the materials may require more space between areas.|
|Shelves and containers should be labeled allowing children to be independent and have direction as to where materials belong.|
|To help children feel a sense of belonging in the classroom, space should be provided for children's work to be displayed.|
Blocks, sand and water, dramatic play, fine motor, computer, reading and art areas are recommended areas for the preschool classroom. These "play areas" can be formed by using items such as shelving, cubbies, partitions and even teachers desks to create distinct areas that have boundaries. Children know where to stay and which materials to keep in these areas. Some areas, such as blocks and dramatic play require a larger area so that children can spread out the materials. Too tight a space for the block area may cause children to respond in more aggressive ways, displaying inappropriate behaviors. Use a process that limits the number of children in any one area at a given time. Teach children how to rotate between areas, using a signal from the teacher or a visual means such as a sign. Keep in mind when setting up your preschool environment:
Children are more likely to learn when they are in a classroom where they are engaged and active. Interesting and plentiful materials should be available to reduce opportunities for children to argue over them. Supplies, toys and other materials should match the developmental level of the children: not too easy, not too hard. Problem behaviors are reduced when children are not bored or frustrated and there is a good match between their developmental level and the materials and instruction. All materials should be clearly labeled for access and clean-up. It helps to let them know what is expected and contributes to heir feeling of security, which is important because a sense of insecurity can be the reason for misbehavior. Keep in mind:
A classroom schedule that is well designed and consistently implemented may be the singe most important fact to promoting children's engagement in the learning environment, this contributing to the prevention of challenging behaviors (Hemmeter, 2002). Programs that are highly structured do not give young children the opportunities to establish self control. On the other hand, too little structure may lead to inappropriate behaviors. This can be especially true for students with autism and those that have non verbal learning disabilities. These students benefit form visual supports such as picture schedules and social stories.
Assist children to:
In addition, the daily schedule should take into account a balance exists between teacher directed and children initiated activities. A minimum of one hour per day should be devoted to activities that children have some choice in. A balance should also exist between large and small group activities and transitions should be well planned across the day.
Certain areas in the classroom such as blocks, dramatic play and sand and water may require more teacher support for young children. It is inevitable that there will be conflict in a preschool classroom. You can use conflict to teach children problem solving skills, anger management skills and communication skills.
Assist children in:
Many child care providers and professionals indicate the need for more training opportunities. The good news is the VDOE T/TAC conducted training during November 2004 and February 2005 using the Social and Emotional Competency materials developed through the Center for Social and Emotional Development for teams from across the state and they are now equip to train others within their divisions. Early childhood programs that attended the included; Amelia, New Kent, Goochland, Mecklenburg, Chesterfield, Sussex, Hopewell, Henrico, Colonial Heights, Dinwiddie, Petersburg, Nottoway, Surry and Halifax.
Expulsion accomplishes nothing for the young child with challenging behaviors. While out of a program or classroom the child and family lose access to the acquisition of the skills needed to be successful later in life. We can also be assured, unless the family moves to another county that the child will show up for kindergarten, possibly displaying the same behaviors that were challenging to those in the pre-K program. The chances of the behaviors going away are very low. Research shows that, if we want to help young children with challenging behaviors to be successful in school and later in life, early interventions is the key. If we as professionals view behaviors as attempts to communicate and opportunities to teach then we are on the right path.
Please contact our library at the VDOE T/TAC at VCU to check out the following resources related to supporting young children’s behavior.