Thursday, February 4, 2016

Trouble with tattling in the preschool classroom

      Child:  Teacher, he is looking at me.
      Me: Okay. Let's talk about your choices. 

       Child: Teacher, he said I'm a banana.
       Me: Are you a banana? No. Okay, tell him you're not a banana.

       About two months ago, I was listening to every minor and major conflict in my classroom, and getting pretty exhausted in the process.  Despite using every conflict to "teach" a way to resolve conflict, the children were still seeking out a teacher to initiate the process every time.

     In order to teach the children some clear alternatives, I created some whole group lessons on tattling vs. reporting.  The first lesson came in the form of a story.  "A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue"

      I used this story to introduce the concept of tattling.  We read the story and then talked about what tattling is.  We also talked about times that the kids could handle it vs. times it was important to get a grown up to help.  

     We read this story several times in one week and I wrote down the examples the kids gave me on tattling vs. reporting.  My co-teacher and I also continued with our daily reinforcements.  When a child would tattle, one of us would ask the child to ask the child if it was something they could handle.  

     A no answer from the child would prompt a quick problem solving conversation.  A yes answer would would prompt a, "I knew you could handle it!" response.

     About two weeks in, we still had a lot of tattling so I created a small group game to reinforce what we were teaching.  The game looks like this:

        There are three categories on the game board: get a teacher, I can handle it, and ignore it.

*sorry- it's upside down 

       A teacher would lead the game and sort the problem in the picture by what the best solution is.  We chose the most common issues in our classroom and played this game everyday during center time.  Within a week, the kids were experts and all our strategies together were starting to work.

     By the end of week 4, I started to hear the kids tell each other "you can handle it" or "That's important. You should tell Miss J."  Success!!  

    And I'm happy to report that we've been, mostly, tattle free since.


Friday, April 17, 2015

SES: Early Childhood Behaviors & "All Those Big Feelings!"

     I have worked in early childhood settings for a long time so I have had the opportunity to witness a lot of "big emotions" from little ones.  Everything from jumping up and down in excitements all the way to a full on tantrum or "meltdown."   Very young children are just learning what feelings are so it makes sense that they don't have a lot of tools for managing those emotions yet.  That's where parents and teachers come in.

    One of the most important ways that we can help children handle strong feeling is by talking about them.  "Joey knocked down your tower.  That made you mad!"  I recently came across an excellent article on how and why to talk about feelings in preschool.  This article sums it up perfectly.  For more information about how any why we do this in preschool, you can check it out the article here:

    The second way that teachers can help children handle big feelings is by giving them tools to be successful.  I have been working in early childhood settings a long time and I can say, from experience, that one thing that can throw off my whole schedule is a lengthy tantrum.  With this in mind, I set up my (family childcare) space with "calm down spot."  I spent a fair amount of time creating this space and I teach every child how to use it.  The first photo is the calm down space in my classroom.

 What is it?  It's a cozy cube (Sold at and other retailers)  The cozy cube is NOT a time out.  It's a place the kids can go when they feel frustrated, sad, or angry.
What's inside? A soft mat on bottom, cozy pillows, books, water bottle filled with glitter, small squishy toys
How do I "teach" kids to use it: I model using it myself.  I wrote a simple story about using it. (My tower fell down.  I am feeling mad/frustrated.  I can take a break in the cube!  Now I feel better. :-)  I also read stories during circle time about kids who get upset and need to take a break.  We talk about where we can "take a break."

Some of my favorite feeling books are:

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Dayby Judith Viorst (Ages 4-8)
Andrew’s Angry Words by Dorothea Lackner (Ages 4-8)
Bootsie Barker Bites by Barbara Bottner (Ages 4-8)
The Chocolate Covered Cookie Tantrum by Deborah Blementhal (Ages 5-8)
How I Feel Frustrated by Marcia Leonard (Ages 3-8)
How I Feel Angry by Marcia Leonard (Ages 2-6)
Llama Llama Mad at Mama by Anna Dewdney (Ages 2-5)
Sometimes I’m Bombaloo by Rachel Vail (Ages 3-8)
That Makes Me Mad! by Steven Kroll (Ages 4-8)
The Rain Came Down by David Shannon (Ages 4-8)
When I’m Angry by Jane Aaron (Ages 3-7)
When I’m Feeling Angryby Trace Moroney (Ages 2-5)  
Calm Down Time by Elizabeth Hardvick (Toddlers)
When Sophie Gets Angry – Really, Really Angry by Molly Garrett (Ages 3-7

   If you are looking for inspiration for your very own calm down space, here are a few ideas from classrooms I have visited over the years.  In this classroom, they were short on space so they separated two low shelves.  (Note: These shelves were very heavy duty and did not have wheels)

      In this classroom, they used a round hollowed out container and filled it with cozy pillows.  The kids loved it.

   For more inspiration, I recommend Pinterest.  Search: Preschool calm down spot.

     The third biggest thing that I see in early childhood setting is, "Everything is the end of the world!!!" As the teacher, you will be helping another child build a really cool block tower when all of a sudden you hear, "TEACHER, TEACHER, SHE STOLE THE BLUE BLOCK."  You look over at the table and see that there are at least 20 other identical blue blocks the child could have picked up. You shake your head in exasperation and go over to assist with the "crisis."

     This was my dilemma, but I discovered another way.  It's called the "Is this a big deal game?"

(Sorry, it's not available in stores but Google "big deal or little deal preschool" it and you can print other people's images)  I make up my own cards with pictures based on the common problems I see in my classroom.

     Here is how it works:  The photo above is my board.  I have a bunch of small laminated cards with pictures on them.  When we start the game, we talk about what a big deal is.  (Something that is difficult/scary, and you would need a grown ups help with)  We also talk about things that are no big deal.  (eg: the teacher put broccoli on my plate and I don't like it)  As we play the game, (always in small groups with no more than 3-4 kids) we solve the no big deal problems.  For example, the kids with blue blocks.  We decided that the child who was upset could just get another blue block.  In my setting, it has significantly reduced the day-to-day peer conflict you usually see in preschool settings.  The kids are getting very good at knowing when then can handle it (No big deal) and when they need an adult to help solve a problem.

Some examples of my big deal cards
There is a thunderstorm
My mom is having a baby
Someone is hitting

Medium Deal
My best friend is playing with someone else

Little Deal
There is broccoli on my plate

     If you need more resource for managing strong feelings and solving peer conflicts, my "go to" resource is:  They have tons of free resources on this site.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Just for fun: A list of items you can put in your sensory table or bin

     I am taking a break from social and emotional supports, just for the day.  Today's post is just a fun post on fun and creative things for the sensory table.    Enjoy!

Sensory Table and Tool Idea List
1. Sand
2. Water - plain or lightly colored
3. Water with liquid soap or bars of soap
4. Rice - which can be colored with food coloring if desired
5. clean mud (mix 1 roll white toilet paper (shredded), 1 bar grated Dove soap (use a cheese grater), and warm water (make the water warm enough to melt the soap), only mix enough water to make it the consistency of thick cool whip. This can be saved in airtight containers for later use
6. Snow
7. Fake snow
8. Hay
9. Soil - add live worms if you're brave
10. Sod
11. Homemade silly putty
12. Acorns
13. Sponges (natural or man made)
14. Shells
15. Leaves, twigs, pine cones
16. Easter grass
17. Shaving cream - can be colored with food coloring
18. Ice cubes or crushed ice, or a large block of ice.  For extra fun, freeze things in the ice.
19. Shredded documents - from a regular or cross-cut shredder
20. Birdseed
21. Seaweed
22. Grain - or pellets used for animal feed
23. Fabric samples with varying textures
24. Fish tank gravel (For 4's and up who do NOT mouth objects)
25.  Themed sensory tubs (Search Pinterest for the best ideas)
26.  Make your own moon sand: 4 cups sand + 2 cups cornflour + 1 cup of water
27. Packing peanuts
28. Cedar chips - check your local pet store (Be mindful of allergies)
29. Hamster bedding
30. Marbles and cardboard tubes (Not for under three)
31. Feathers (Fake)
32. Zoo Animals/Mini Sensory balls
33. Cotton balls
34. Strips of bubble wrap - you can buy it, save it from packages, ask parents to save it
35. Plastic "jewels"
36. Beads and string
37. Bubble solution (you can make your own) and bubble wands
38. Curling ribbon
39. Homemade play dough
40. Yarn and string
41. Confetti
42. Pebbles, gravel, rocks
43. Hair gel
44. "Oobleck" - equal parts cornstarch and water
45. Finger paint
46. Wallpaper scraps
47. Homemade slime
48. Magnets and small metal objects, like paper clips
49. Sponges and soapy water
50. Stretchy/squishy toy worms/insects
51. Poker chips
52. Tinsel
53. Smell bottles
54. Natural clay
55. Real or fake flowers
56. Pom-poms
57. Crepe paper streamers
58. Polymer crystals (AKA: Water gems)- they are used to provide water to plants; they absorb it and turn into a gel
59. Jingle bells
60. Wood scraps and sandpaper
61. Papier mache - soak strips of newspaper and put in blender with flour and water
62. Toilet paper - add a little water if you like
63. Doll or pillow stuffing
64. Used coffee grinds
65. Buttons
66. Insides of a cleaned-out pumpkin - or whole gourds/mini pumpkins/decorative corn
Tools and Accessories
  • Measuring cups and spoons
  • Cooking and serving utensils: Spoons, tongs, mashers, whisks, etc.
  • Eye droppers or pipettes
  • Turkey basters
  • Small containers and lids
  • Bowls
  • Strainers/colanders
  • Scissors (Child safety or playdough)
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Clothespins
  • Dowels
  • Cookie cutters
  • Fishnets
  • Small buckets and shovels
  • Toy people, boats and vehicles
  • Plastic animals and insects
  • Magnifying glasses
  • Bubble wands
  • Funnels
  • Spray bottles
  • Lengths of plastic pipes and flexible tubing (hardware stores carry different diameters)
  • Straws
  • Magnet wands
  • Toothbrushes
  • Plastic fruits and vegetables

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

SES: Early Childhood Behaviors (Post 4) Outside the 4 Categories

     In the last post, I covered those four "catch all" categories of behavior.  In this post, I am going to cover how to problem solve for those kiddos who behavior just doesn't fit in one of the four categories.  In any setting, you need information to solve a problem or a puzzle.  As challenging as behavior can be, I like to think of it as a puzzle.  I need all the pieces to put together the whole picture.

    With behavior, what are the pieces of information that will be helpful?
  • The setting in which it occurs (For example, always during group time)
  • Temperament of the child 
  • Is the child missing any skills that he/she needs to be successful?
  • What happened before the behavior? (The trigger: Very important-You want to know if it is consistently the same)
  • What happened right after?  (Very important:  You want to know if adults or other kids are reinforcing the behavior)

   To illustrate the process, I am going to use a few examples from my classroom experiences.

Example 1:  Knowing Temperament (The logical child)

     All of the kids in my classroom are taught, from day 1, simple problem solving steps to avoid frustration.  The basic ones are: try a different way, ask for help, etc.

     A little guy in my room was sitting at the table assembling blocks.  He stacked them, and they fell, and he cried.  He repeated this cycle over and over.  He didn't want my attention, or anything from me.  He wanted these blocks to stack.  He was so flustered that he couldn't talk.  I initially thought he had be having difficulty with solving problems in play, but there were no red flags in his development so I initially ignored the behavior and just observed.  I needed more information.

     The next day, I needed to complete a scheduled developmental assessment with this little guy.  As I was going through the questions, I asked him to put something under the table.  (I just needed to see if he knew the concept)  He said, in a matter of fact way, "Why, that's silly?"  I told him I just wanted to see if he knew what under was.  He lifted up my assessment,  pointed under it and said, "Teacher, this is under."  So, no problem solving issues there.  He is an incredibly logical 4 year-old.

    Later on the same day, he was back at the block table.  I heard a crash and tears but, I had my knowledge of his need for logic this time.  I sat down next to him and said the blocks weren't working and we needed to fix them.  He agreed and together we discovered that they weren't working because the big Lego blocks have to go on bottom to keep the tower stable.

Example 2: Identifying and Teaching the Missing Skills

     A few years ago, I worked with a center and the parents of an older 2 year-old.  They were very concerned that he was aggressive towards the other children.  There was hitting, biting, and pushing.  Other parents had started to notice so I was called in to problem solve with the teaching staff.

     Before deciding on an approach, it is really important to know what happens before a behavior and what happens after.  Sometimes the ONLY way to do this is just to watch and see how things play out normally, so that is what I did.  Day 1, the little one approaches his friends (Several look scared as the child approaches) and it looks like he is trying to join the play.  He smiles and touches, the child withdraws, and he hits the child. The other child cries, the offender is swept up by a teacher with a quick "no hitting" correction and taken to another area of the room.  The child who hit plays alone in a corner until outdoor time. 

      In this situation I got several clues:  The child doing the hitting was not hitting out of anger.  He wanted to join the other kids play and it didn't look like he knew how.  Corrections were given as no hitting so he wasn't learning the skills he needed.  Even though he was being corrected consistently, he still didn't know how to play so he was relying on the only "tool" in his box. 

     I met with the teachers and shared my observations and then set to teaching a few nicer ways to make friends.  It involved sitting with him and a few others during play and modeling age level peer interactions.  It was really simple stuff like greetings, asking to play, asking for a toy, etc.  It took about a month of daily practice to undo to "aggression for peer attention" but the little one was successful with the support of teachers.

     You can take just about any behavior scenario and problem solve it by looking at the setting, the triggers, etc. 


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Social and Emotional Behavior Supports in Preschool: Why the heck are you behaving that way?? (Post 3)

     The first step in deciding what to do about a child's behavior is determining the cause of the behavior.  I am going to give you a simple "how to" guide, a real life example, and then provide you with some links to more great (free) resources.  Let's get started . . . .

     In general there are four basic categories that reasons four misbehavior are supposed to fall into.  I say, "supposed to" because there are definite exceptions when a child has developmental delays.  (eg: a child may not have the appropriate social skills to request a toy)  I will cover these categories first, as they are the most common.   These categories are:

  •   Attention:  I want attention now and this behavior is how I am going to get it.
  •   Misguided power: You can't make me!
  •   Revenge:  This usually comes a while after you have corrected the child.
  •   Assumed inadequacy: The "I can't" child.

 The positive discipline website has an amazing PDF chart that has some great tips on these here:

    Now, how do you determine why the child is engaging in a behavior?  I will walk you through this with an example from my setting this week.

Example 1

      My little friend "Logan" is an adorable two and half year old little boy.  He loves to play outside.  But for the past two days, he has decided he does not want to follow the rules on the climber/slide.  He only wants to go up the slide when kids are going down.

     His behavior:  Going up the slide when kids were on it.
     My response:  "Get down Logan.  Use the ladder."
     His response:  Tantrum and repeat attempts.

     In this process, I do a little evaluation.  Does he need additional teaching?  In this case, no.  He can use the ladder just fine.  He wants to go up the climber his way.  I also consider my rules.  Am I enforcing this with everyone.  In this case, yes.  It's too confusing to say sometimes you can go up and sometimes you can't.    So I determine that initially his goal is power.  He just ways to do it his way.

     The other kids then leave the climber slide area and I decide to walk away and see what happens.  He stops crying until he gets close to me and then resumes full scale tears/tantrum.   I amend my original assessment.   His goals of behavior are power and attention.

     So in this case, I have to consistently enforce the rule and ignore the tantrum.  I keep him in my peripheral vision and continue interacting with the other kids until the tantrum is complete. As soon as the tantrum is complete, I give lots of immediate positive attention.  It took about 10 minutes, but we didn't have any more issues outside after this.



     Do you have a real life example that you would like me to post?  Just write a comment. :-)


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Social and Emotional Supports in Preschool Series- Post 2- Kicked Out of Preschool

     The single most popular topics on my blog are related to social/emotion supports and preschool behavior, so I am going to add a series of posts on this topic. I will cover topics such as: the perfectionist in the preschool classroom, ideas for calm spots, simple social storys/how to and why, and more. As challenging as behavior is, it is one of my favorite topics.  I get to do a little detective work to figure out what is causing the behavior and then troubleshoot solutions.  It was a topic that was covered extensively in my graduate school program because it behaviors are causing some concerning trends nationally. 

Article:  Preschoolers Behaving Badly

 Gilliam reported 6.7 expulsions per 1,000 preschoolers in the United States, compared with 2.09 per 1,000 for students in kindergarten through grade 12. In data collected from 2002-2004, rates ranged from zero per 1,000 students in Kentucky to more than 21 in New Mexico.

     So, there are three times more children getting kicked out of preschool.  And if you do a little digging, you learn these are just typical 3 and 4 year-olds.

Article: Preschool Expulsions Explained

"Kids are coming into group settings unprepared for the kinds of stimulation and encounters they experience with other children, the environment and staff," said Grace Manning-Orenstein, a psychologist and the director of The Link to Children, known as TLC. The 10-year-old mental health intervention service contracts with child care centers in Oakland, Berkeley, Castro Valley, Emeryville and Pleasanton.
"The expulsion situation we've known about forever," Orenstein added. "At age 3, you are more likely to get the benefit of the doubt, but by 4 or 5 (the centers) just don't want to put up with you anymore."

     These kids are very young and just learning how to resolve conflicts and handle big emotions so it is concerning when the "go to" tool for center owners and directors becomes expulsion.  But in many cases, they just don't have other tools.  Consider these posts part of your teaching tool box!  And if you are experiencing a challenging behavior, please post a comment about it and I just may feature it on my blog. :-)


Monday, March 30, 2015

Reducing the call of, "Teacher . . . Teacher" in early childhood settings

     Anyone who works in early childhood settings knows the call of "teacher  . . ." seems to always come when you are in the middle of something you can't walk away from. (Sometimes I swear young children have a radar)  Now, in my previous setting, I worked with 2-3 other teachers. I could easily make eye contact with a coworker and get help.

     In my current setting, I may or may not have an assistant to help me. And I have consistently had issues with a problem escalating before I could intervene. When you work with little ones all day, you start looking for solutions  . . . yesterday.

    I was looking through my go to articles and books on behavior and stumbled and cross this gem.

     It's long, but here's a summary. Children who are taught exactly how to do things make fewer attempts at problem solving. When teachers present toys and offer minimal assistance, children make significantly more attempts to solve problems on there own.

   This led me to wonder how broadly I could apply it in my setting. Would it work for solving problems like a dispute over toys? A little one who always forgot that he could reach the light if he got the stool? I had to test it.

    I took notes over a week and I discovered my biggest problem was, of course, disputes over toys. So I used two tools (A solution cube and a sand timer) and started my test.

     Solution cue cards: I cut them out, put them on a square tissue box, and covered the sides with
clear contact paper.

     So week 1 was "guiding" week. I had done some direct teaching with the solution cube so the kids knew what it was, but the kids were still asking for my help far more often than they were working it out.  Each time a conflict came up, I asked the kids questions (at their level) with the cube nearby.  "she wants a turn. What should we do?"  This got the kids looking at the cube and thinking about options.  And I'm happy to report, two weeks in, there are far less cries of "teacher" over toy disputes.

     I was able to apply this same strategy with two kids who call me into to help them turn reach the light multiple times a day. (There is a stool) As soon as I changed my behavior from showing them how to put the stool in place to asking each time, "what can you use to reach the light?" I stopped getting called to help with the stool.

     I am all for using strategies that make my job a little easier and help young children become critical thinkers in the process. ;-)