by Improving the Environment of Early Learning and Care Programs!
Each day children of preschool age or younger are enrolled in an early learning and care program in their community, where they are challenged to develop their abilities and adhere to established rules and expectations. It is quite a challenge for these young children as the development of skills is the main goal for any child regardless of having special needs or not.
Children’s Integration Support Services’ (CISS) mandate is to support and assist children with special needs, their families and educators. Their Resource Consultants and Behaviour Consultants focus on what is positive, constructive and durable by concentrating on the transfer of knowledge and by offering a delivery model based on inclusion practices, skills development, team collaboration and prevention. Another innovative CISS program is the Positive Outcomes Program (POP), which supports children with behavioural challenges who are not identified as having special needs. However, challenging behaviours sometimes remain hard to manage, and may be seen by educators and families as a major obstacle to inclusion.
How, then, do we reduce the rate of challenging behaviours to help achieve positive results, while taking into account all components of the early learning and child care environment which includes the physical space, structure, transitions, educator responses and the behaviour path? CISS thus favours a professional development module series that includes all members of the teaching team, as well as the directors. This plan is a process that may extend over several years to help consolidate the learning, implementation, retention and transfer of knowledge. Inspired by their manual Intervene Before Reacting: A Positive Integrated Approach to Behaviours in the Child Care Environment, CISS created five practical modules with functional tools. Each module addresses the perspective of the child and the teaching team, the principles and values of the Intervene Before Reacting manual, and the steps of the process of change. These consist of defining problems, collecting data, developing and implementing an action plan, and evaluating changes.
To be eligible for this professional development module series, all members of the teaching team must commit to take part in it and to create and implement an action plan that is relevant to their program for each of the five modules. The two parties thus enter into an agreement. CISS consultants train educators and provide ongoing support throughout the process. Once the Module 1 changes are made, the teaching team is ready to proceed to the next module and so on. Three modules are currently offered to the community, while the last two are under development.
The five modules are as follows:
- Setting Up Great Spaces for Everyone
- Dynamic Programs: Effective Structure and Transitions
- Responding with Heart: Building Trusting Relationships
- Reflective Programming: Creating Opportunities for Everyone to Learn
- Behaviour Management: Plan, Train, Be Ready!
While taking various environmental aspects into account, here are some key strategies that educators may apply:
- increase the number of play areas that offer sensory activities
- take the interests of each child into account, and increase the number and availability of “preferred” toys
- display and refer to a visual schedule
- use a visual sequence to guide children through the steps of a routine
- provide warnings to the group of an upcoming change or to an individual child who has difficulties to stop what he is doing
- use auditory or visual cues to indicate the beginning of a transition
- be consistent
- build a positive relationship with each child
- increase the use of positive reinforcement, by: describing why such reinforcement is provided; communicating messages using “you” instead of “I” (the focus must be on the child, not on what the adult prefers); encouraging children to name the action/gesture that has earned them the reinforcement and highlighting children’s first names to call attention to their successes.
- intervene calmly and remain neutral
- provide instructions in less than 10 words
- tell children what to do rather than what not to do through the use of action words
- use empathetic responses to validate children’s emotions, desires and needs
- minimize the attention given to the challenging behaviours, by avoiding calling out the child’s name during a redirection
- create a calm down area where children can freely withdraw
- teach relaxation techniques and ways for children to manage their difficult emotions
Improving the environment of an early learning and child care program is certain to achieve positive results. Children will feel at ease, valued, confident and safe. They will understand their environment, build positive relationships and be able to have fun. Children who have fun are better able to learn, and to acquire skills that reflect their level of development. By enhancing our programs, we make a difference in children’s lives.
Written by Jocelyne Desbiens, RECE,
Behaviour Consultant for Children’s Integration Support Services,
A program of Andrew Fleck Child Care Services
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