Superhero and Gun Play in the Classroom

Around the age of 4, many children begin to exhibit behaviors, such as gun play or superhero play, which enable them to feel a sense of power or control. Teachers often feel unsure of the best way to handle this type of play. Traditional approaches of banning the play or allowing the play with limits often result in meeting the teacher’s need for classroom control but do not address the developmental issues with which children are dealing. Teachers who actively facilitate children’s gun play or superhero play provide for both children’s needs as well as their own.

Superhero play, gun play, and war play are types of power play that share common characteristics.  Power play generally occurs among children between the ages of four and six. All types of power play share some common characteristics.  First, there are always good guys and bad guys, or good versus evil.  In power play, there is no gray area. You are either a good guy or a bad guy, never a combination of the two.  Children at this age are very “black and white” in their thinking and often have a difficult time seeing two aspects of the same situation.  For example, in the Piagetian conservation tasks, pre-operational children focus on only one aspect of the situation. In the conservation of number task, children concentrate on the length of each row of objects when making a decision about which row has more rather than focusing on the number.  Another common characteristic of children’s power play is that there is always a conflict between the good guys and the bad guys.  Regardless of whether children are engaging in superhero play or war play, it is the responsibility of the good buys to fight the bad guys.  Lastly, control or power is the central theme of the play.  Children are trying to answer the question of who will ultimately win or be in control.

THE APPEAL OF SUPERHERO PLAY

There seems to be a universal appeal of superhero play among young children.  Bauer & Dettore (1997) suggest several reasons for this.  Through this type of play, children have the ability to possess the power that superheroes have enabling them to perform amazing feats.  Since children little control over their world, superhero play allows them to be physically powerful and to have control over the events around them.   Children make the rules for the play and draw the boundaries, thus giving them another avenue for feeling powerful.  They have the ability to stop the game, giving them the greatest power.  Superhero play also allows children to try on new roles and become capable of solving problems.  They have the pleasure of knowing that good triumphed over evil and that they had the power to overcome the bad guys.  It also gives children an opportunity to engage in physical activities such as running, jumping, and kicking.

SUPERHERO PLAY IN THE CLASSROOM

Although power play is common among young children, teachers often feel uncomfortable when this type of play emerges in the classroom. According to Bauer & Dettore (1997) teachers frequently view power play as meaningless and aggressive.  They believe that children will become out of control, disruptive, or threatening.  Power play has a tendency to turn rough and noisy, and often creativity is diminished.   Levin & Carlsson-Paige (1995) surveyed teachers about their concerns of this type of play in the classroom. Their concerns fell into two main categories:  “increased levels of violence among children and violence, imitation, and lack of creativity in children’s play” (p. 69).

Teachers have several choices to consider when superhero play or war play appears in their classrooms.  Carlsson-Paige & Levin (1987) outline the following four options:

Option 1: Ban the Play

With this option, teachers forbid children to engage in the play. They may or may not give an explanation to the children.  This option may address the teacher’s need to maintain a peaceful classroom environment, but it does not adequately address the children’s needs.  Kuykendall (1995) supports the banning of this type of play because children can work out feelings in other areas.  She adds, however, that if teachers choose to ban this type of play then children must have other opportunities to feel power.  Boyd (1997), however, opposes banning superhero play.  When superhero play or war play is banned, children do not have an opportunity to work out their developmental needs.  Banning the play sends a message to children that their interests are not valued at school.         

Option 2: Take a Laissez-Faire Approach

With this option, teachers openly allow children to engage in the play, but do not take on an active role.  Teachers may support this option because they realize the benefit of allowing the play and supporting children’s interests.  However, this option does not usually allow a role for the teacher to actively facilitate the play and truly meet children’s developmental needs. 

Option 3: Allow the Play to Continue with Specific Limits

This is similar to the laissez-faire approach in that teachers are allowing the play to continue, but in this case with specific limits.  The limits may include where the play can take place or the types of materials that are permitted to be used.   These limits help teachers to maintain a peaceful classroom environment while still attempting to address children’s needs.  However, the limits that are set attempt to establish classroom values for the children (such as guns are not acceptable) rather than letting children discover their own values.  Teachers have a limited role with this option as well; therefore children’s developmental needs may not be adequately addressed.

Option 4: Actively Facilitate the Play. 

When teachers facilitate children’s play, they intervene to extend the play.  Teachers may offer suggestions to children about new roles or materials, or take on a role within the play to help children enhance the quality of the play.  For example, a teacher may ask a child who has made a gun to show her how the gun works.  She may then ask question to encourage the child to expand his views of the play situation. She may ask, “What if you just wanted to capture the bad guy instead of hurting him.  How would your weapon be different? How could you make a weapon like that?”  When facilitating power play, it is essential that all of the children remain physically and emotionally safe.  No one’s feelings should be hurt during the play.  This option is often more difficult for teachers to accept, but is more beneficial to both the teachers and the children because it aids in children’s development.  Carlsson-Paige & Levin (1987) point out that

The teacher is helping the children to gain control over their impulses, to take points of view other than their own, to distinguish between fantasy and reality, to work out their own understanding about what they have heard about the world around them, and to experience a sense of their own power and mastery through play. (pg. 49).

Teachers have several options when responding to superhero play in the classroom.  Each option has potential benefits for either the children or the teacher, however the best option for handling superhero play in the classroom is to actively facilitate it.  This option allows teachers to meet children’s developmental needs and become active in the children’s play.  Teachers who take on a role, ask questions, or make suggestions show respect for children’s ideas and encourage children to extend their thinking and use creativity within their play experiences.

What is my best advice for challenging behaviors?

Check out my newest feature, the 5-Minute Professor, in which I answer questions about teaching and parenting young children.

Read the transcript or watch the full video below!

Hi. I’m Dr. Jenni Jacobs, Founder of The Learning Professor. Welcome to the 5-Minute Professor where I answer your questions about early childhood. One of the questions that I’m often asked is, “what’s a quick tip that I can implement to help children behave better or to help them get through difficult times or misbehaviors?’ And my quick answer to that is to show empathy. When we tap into children’s feelings, it has a truly magical effect. And it’s not just children. It’s really any person that is going through a rough time. So an example of this: If you have a young child who is playing on the computer and you tell them that their time is over and they start to throw a temper tantrum, we often want to talk to the child about appropriate behavior. But the thing is, when a child is having a struggle like that, they’re not in the thinking part of their brain. They are in their primitive brain, and all they can think about is their own feelings. When we tap into that part of the brain and we help the child process those feelings, it enables the child to grow back up into their thinking brain and know what the right choice is. We just have to wait for a little bit for them to get there. So to help them grow back up into that thinking part of their brain, we want to talk to them about what they’re feeling. Now, I know sometimes it’s hard to put yourself in their shoes because their struggles seem so little compared to what our struggles are. But remember how young they are and that for them, this is a real issue and a real struggle. So what are they feeling in that moment that they wanted to keep playing on the computer and they couldn’t? Tap into that feeling, whatever you think it might be. You might say something like, “Wow, it looks like you are having a really hard time giving up the computer. You were really having fun with that. It’s hard to give it up when you still want to keep playing it, isn’t it?” And let the child talk about their feeling. Or you might say something like, “you’re really angry that you have to give up your turn on the computer. You really want to stay there.” Just talk about their feelings, and what I like to say is sit in the feeling for a little bit. Help the child process it, let them know that their feelings are ok, it’s alright to feel that way. And when the child’s feelings start to dissipate or go away, now you can talk about the rules of the classroom. Then you can say, “When your time is up, I can help you find something else to do” or you can give them a choice or whatever your next strategy might be. One of the problems I find with a lot of discipline programs is that they talk about this kind of thing and they say to talk about the child’s feelings and acknowledge the feeling and then state the limit. Well the problem with that is that when you state the limit immediately after talking about the feeling, it just negates the whole thing. It’s kind of like somebody saying to you, “Oh, you look really good in those jeans, but you still need to lose 20 pounds.” That second statement makes the first statement completely null and void. I don’t even care that you just told me I look good because all I’m focusing on is the last part of the statement and what I need to do instead. And that’s a lot of times how it is with children. You say something like “I know you’re having a really hard time leaving the computer and you wish you could stay, but the rule in the classroom is that you get 20 minutes and then it’s someone else’s turn.” Well all they’re hearing now is the rule, and they don’t feel acknowledged at all in their feelings. So we need to sit with the feeling, just talk about the feeling, until they’ve processed it and then move on to whatever the classroom limit is. You’ll find when use this strategy it works amazingly well, and it’s really going to feel like magic in your classroom. For more tips and tricks, check out my website www.learningprofessor.com And try to influence someone’s life today in the most positive way that you can!

To Trace or Not to Trace?

Of all the topics about preschool literacy that I teach, the most hotly debated among teachers is that of tracing. A simple google search on preschool writing or curriculum ideas will no doubt result in some form of tracing. In fact, even some handwriting curricula encourage the practice. Whenever I introduce the idea of no tracing activities in the classroom, I am often met with a barrage of arguments defending the practice. Some teachers are so tied to this practice that they almost become angry at the idea of giving it up, insisting that tracing has helped their children learn to write.

After years of observing children as they learn to write, I suggest that asking children to trace alphabet letters actually does more harm than good.  The typical tracing activities involve broken line letters to help children make a “correct” letter. The problem with this is that children pay more attention to the broken lines than the actual letter and letter shape. In their attempts to connect the lines, they start at random places to connect the lines, go repeatedly over their marks to ensure the broken lines are completely covered, and often create letter shapes that do not have a written fluency to them. These actions, if repeated enough times, will result in habits that later interfere with both legibility, muscle memory, and writing fluency.

Although the end product may result in a letter that seems satisfactory, it is likely that the lines were traced back and forth and started at a point of convenience with no regard for the sequence of how to create the letter. To account for this, teachers may stand over children with specific directions of where to start and how to make the lines, resulting in low feelings of self-efficacy (i.e., I’m not good at this).

Another issue that arises with tracing involves the control that it takes to stay within the lines. In order to hold a pencil correctly and make letters correctly one has to develop the small muscles within the wrists, hands, and fingers. If a child is struggling to hold a pencil correctly or stay within lines on a paper, this is a clue that the child’s fine motor skills need to be more developed. The best way to develop these skills is by giving the child more manipulative activities, such as searching for pony beads in playdough, picking up small pieces using a pincer grasp, or using puzzles with small knobs. I’ve seen many teachers attempt to correct the pencil grip of a child only to see the child revert back to the “comfortable way” after the teacher walks away. This demonstrates that the correction of pencil grip does nothing to promote control…rather the teacher must look to see what is causing the issue to begin with.

When children have the fine motor control to create letters free hand that are similar in size and shape on paper without lines, they now have the motor skills needed to write on lined paper. By the time children reach this point, they do not need tracing activities because they either are already making the letters or already have the skills to create recognizable letters.

This begs the question, how will children learn to write their names or letters if they don’t have tracing activities? The answer is actually quite simple. Children need many opportunities throughout the day to write freely on topics of their choosing. They need access to writing materials and blank paper. They need models of the alphabet that are on the same surface on which they are writing, name cards to look at so they can recreate the names, and words that they are interested in so they can view the model and then attempt to recreate the letters. There is no shortage of appropriate and interesting writing activities for preschoolers. The key is to find activities that the children want to participate in. Here are just a few examples that you can easily incorporate into your environment:

  • A writing table that is related to an interesting book, topic, or song. Your writing table should include blank paper, an alphabet sample, name cards, interesting word cards with pictures, and writing utensils. I like to use half sheets or quarter sheets of paper to encourage children to refine their writing and write smaller letters rather than larger letters.
  • Clipboards in appropriate areas throughout the room so that children can practice controlling the pencil or writing words, such as in the block area so they can draw and label buildings or signs or in the science area where they can write observations about a science display.
  • Opportunities to write in dramatic play, such as taking an order, writing their name on a train ticket, copying their address for a flower delivery, or filling out a patient chart for their pet. The ideas for implementing writing within dramatic play are unlimited. Children love imitating the adults in their lives by writing lists and filling out forms.
  • Opportunities to write their name using a model. Have a basket of name cards in the art area, at the easel, at a morning sign in sheet or anywhere else children might need to or want to write their name. We often ask children to write their names on their art work, but often they don’t have a model close by to look at.
  • Allow children to create lunch requests in which they fill out a form indicating who they would like to sit next to at lunch or snack. This can be a great way to motivate children to write who might not otherwise be interested.
  • Tactile activities that allow children to feel the shape of a letter, such as writing in the sand or sandpaper letters. With activities like these children are less likely to engage in the bad habits they would create when using pencil and paper to trace.

Research supports this idea of allowing children to free write. Neuroscience research has discovered that there is a specific area of the brain that must be activated in young children in order to become a good reader. This area, the visual word form area, is often called the letterbox region. In the research studies, seeing letters, typing letters, and tracing letters did not activate this letterbox region in four year old children. However, free-writing letters (no lines, blank paper, no dotted letters) did activate the letterbox….further proof that free writing is a more productive activity than tracing. Why is this? It’s thought that as the child produces the letters, he makes them a little different each time. The brain is really, really good at recognizing patterns. So the process of writing the letters free form helps the child differentiate which parts of the letter are important for letter recognition and which things are not important. It activates something in the brain that begins to recognize that this isn’t just another shape…this object is a little different…it connects to a word I know that has sounds in it. In FMRI studies, children who just traced the letters didn’t activate the letterbox area and had less letter knowledge and understanding than children who were free writing.

Tracing does not activate the region of the brain necessary for good readers. Free writing does.

At this point, teachers hearing this information are generally convinced that free writing is a good thing, but they are still reluctant to let go of tracing activities. I often get the question, “Can’t I do both?” My answer to that question has multiple layers. First, is the child establishing bad habits in the way he/she is making the letters. If the answer is yes, then I would avoid the activity. If the answer is no, I would probably ask myself if the child is really benefiting from the activity. The answer is likely that the activity is nothing more than busywork. I hear many teachers complain about the pressure of getting the children in their classroom ready for Kindergarten. With this type of pressure, it makes sense that we would want to ensure that any activity we do in the classroom would promote development. I just can’t seem to find a good reason to trace. I’d rather spend my time on other types of phonemic awareness activities.

The second layer for me involves thinking about whether children actually enjoy the activity. It’s completely possible to engage in an activity without putting forth any mindful effort. When this happens we have to ask ourselves how much learning is actually taking place. Also, forcing children to do an activity that is not enjoyable often results in behavior issues. For the child that doesn’t enjoy the activity, it’s important for teachers to consider whether the child is really gaining anything from it, and whether the battle is worth fighting if behavior issues ensue.

At the end of the day, the choice is yours. However, DAP guidelines, neuroscience research, and literacy experts do not endorse tracing activities. So my final answer to “Can’t I do both?” would be, “Why would you want to?”


For more information about Literacy and the Brain, check out our course, Creating Neural Pathways for Reading.

Language Matters When it Comes to Shame

Recently I’ve joined several parenting (mom) Facebook groups online to get a sense of some of the topics that parents are struggling with. It’s supposed to be a place of support, where mothers can ask questions without fear of judgment. I have found it is quite far from that. I think I naively assumed that other people would obey the rules and stay silent if they didn’t have something nice to say. It’s far from that in fact. It’s a cesspool of judgment. But that’s not actually what I’m hear to talk about. One of the other things I found interesting in the groups was the way some of the moms were responding to discipline related posts. They weren’t just recommending spanking…but their ideas of how children should be disciplined were filled with rage, power, humiliation, embarrassment, and shame.

Shame was the one that really got me though. I’ve been reading and listening to a ton of Brene Brown’s work, and that’s the topic she studies. So these responses just kept coming back to me. In her work, she tells us that shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide, and eating disorders. Guilt, she says, has the opposite correlations. So what’s the difference between guilt and shame? Shame is focused on the person (you are bad) and guilt is focused on the behavior (you did something bad).

Isn’t that just semantics, you say? Actually, it’s not according to the research. Language affects the way we internalize messages, and how we internalize those messages color the way we view the world. I doubt there is any parent out there that would want their child to grow up with the list of things associated with shame, yet many of our discipline strategies are entirely shame based.

It’s embedded in our language and our daily interactions with children. I remember as a young mother playing with my toddler and laughing as I said “You’re bad” as she was being sneaky in a game we were playing. It was an innocent comment on my part, said in jest, but did it affect her in a negative way? I’ll honestly never know for sure.

But what I do know is this: given the knowledge I now have around shame and its affects, I will make every attempt to focus on behavior rather than character in all of my interactions…whether those interactions are with children or adults. If shame has all of these negative correlations, I don’t want to be part of it. Do you? 

Spoiling Babies???

A friend of mine has a 7 month old infant in a group care setting. She came over with him the other day and told me that the day care had asked her not to hold him so much on the weekends because she was spoiling him. Apparently he was expecting the teachers to hold him during the day like his mom did when they were at home. She was heartbroken and devastated. She already felt like she wasn’t spending enough time with her son because she had to work, and now the precious little time she did have she wasn’t supposed to hold him? You can see why she was upset. She asked me what to do.

I find it absolutely heartbreaking that a parent would be asked not to hold their baby. Unfortunately this is a common occurrence. It stems from the belief that babies that want to be held a lot are spoiled. But here’s the thing….it’s not possible to spoil a baby until about 9-12 months of age. Before then…babies are just communicating their needs. Being held is just as legitimate of a need as wanting to be fed, wanting to be changed, or needing to sleep. Human touch is fundamental for development and survival, and helps to establish a secure attachment to caring adults.

During the first 9-12 months of life, children are in the sensorimotor modulation stage of self regulation. This means that they really don’t have any prior intentions in their behavior, and they don’t yet understand the meaning of a situation. Infants react to things that the caregiver does, but they are not able to reflect on the action, the meaning, or the consequence at all. All of their actions are doing one of four things:

  • Engaging in voluntary motor acts – learning how to move their bodies in different ways in the outside world
  • Learning about cause and effect – every thing is a new experience for them…they are figuring out how things work
  • Exploring their environment – this is a brand new world and it’s exciting to see what’s out there!
  • Trying to get their needs met – they can’t use words to tell you what they need, and they haven’t always developed enough mechanisms to be able to self-soothe all the time

Since their have no prior intention or awareness, their desire to be held is not manipulative. In an way. In fact, infants need to be held a lot to develop a sense of trust, which is critical to healthy development. Science agrees with this. You simply cannot spoil a baby.

So what about the baby that comes to child care on Monday crying to be held, but by Wednesday has stopped? It’s simple. He’s just learned that his cries for help aren’t answered so there’s no point in trying. If you ask me, that’s a sad place for a little baby to be. I know that in a group care setting it may be impossible to hold a baby as much as they might be held at home. So what’s the answer? You do the best that you can at meeting EACH child’s needs. And you talk to the child to let the child know that you will be there as soon as you can….that they aren’t alone….that you haven’t forgotten about him.

So my answer to my friend? Hold your baby as much as you want to. That’s what he needs, and that’s what’s healthy.

Up or Down the Slide?

Guest Blog by Jacki Leader

Every time I am at a playground, whether it be at a school or in a community park, an interesting phenomenon occurs. Children of all ages try to climb up the slides.  If we stop and reflect on this phenomenon it makes sense.  There is a sense of thrill and excitement when you try to climb up a slide. It might be a gentle slope of a small slide being conquered by a toddler or the twists of a tornado slide by a school ager.

As you witness this phenomenon, there is an echo of voices saying “stop, we don’t climb up the slide, we slide down”. The chant is given by teachers and parents all over the country. There is a reason why we hear these reminders on the playground, we need to keep the children safe. It can be quite dangerous for a child to climb up a slide as another child is sliding down.

However, if we reflect on the purpose of this behavior, the children are not trying to be unsafe. They instead are trying to take a risk and climb to the “top of the mountain” to conquer a new goal.

Safety, however, is always a factor so are there benefits to allowing the children to climb up the slides, and if so, how can we keep them safe?

The benefits of climbing up slides encompass multiple developmental domains:

  • Children gain confidence in their abilities.
  • Children build perseverance every time they try, fail, and try again.
  • Children gain self-confidence and pride when they finally to succeed in making it up to the top.
  • Children develop and refine their gross motor muscles as they climb an incline.
  • Children problem solve and try new techniques in their efforts to get to the top.

While all of these are valid benefits, we still must make sure to keep the children safe. Is there a way to do this and let them try to climb up a slide? Careful planning and conversations with all staff are important aspects when deciding if you can allow this behavior.  Here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Have a designated time that children can go up the slide. Make sure the children are aware of when they can climb up.
  • Post up and down arrows so the children know which way they can do the slide.
  • Have staff members close by when children are allowed to climb up the slide to provide support and safety.
  • If you have multiple slides consider rotating the slides to up slides for the day.

You may not have the ability to allow the children to climb up the slide but hopefully this blog has given you some things to consider.

Engaging Students in Physical Science

Physical science is one of the three content items in science. (The other two are life science and earth & space science). Physical science deals with the properties of materials and objects. This includes things we can observe, such as height, weight, color, and transparency, but it also includes how objects respond in different situations. A big part of this is exploring the position and motion of objects. This is perhaps one of the easiest and most fun ways to incorporate science into your classroom. As you attempt to put physical science materials into your space, consider these four criteria of a good physical knowledge activity from Constance Kamii:

  • The child produces the movement.
    This means that the child is in charge of the activity, not the teacher. This isn’t just an observation activity…the child is really involved and is in charge of producing the movement.
  • The child must be able to vary his/her actions.
    There must be something the child can do differently in order to learn more about the object(s). For instance, can the child place the car in different places along the ramp, or make the car start or stop, or make the car go faster or slower. These all provide the child with an opportunity to figure out how these materials work, and how his/her actions influence the position and movement of the objects.
  • The reaction must be observable.
    The child must be able to observe the result of varying his/her actions. Without this observation, the child will be unable to draw any conclusion. Remember that observable doesn’t just mean seeing the result…you can observe with any of your senses.
  • The reaction of the objects must be immediate.
    When the child varies his/her actions, he/she must be able to see the results of that action right away in order to construct knowledge. If the reaction is delayed, the child may not be able to form proper conclusions.

Let’s look at some activities that meet these four criteria:

Catapult by Joyce Brewer

In this simple catapult activity, children are exploring simple machines and determining how the placement of the marker cap (fulcrum) influences how far the pompom travels.

Created by Melinda O’Connor

This simple balance is created out of popsicle stick. Placed on a V-shaped cardboard to enable the popsicle stick to balance, this is then glued to the cardboard base with a bent paper clip wrapped around the V-shaped cardboard holding in place the popsicle stick to form the balance.

This pendulum activity is always fun for children. Make modifications by using an adjustable length (such as using baby links or paper clips), adjustable weight of the pendulum bob, or adjustable weight of the materials being knocked over. Remember to only change one variable at a time though so that children can make accurate observations about the materials.

Inclined Planes by Rebecca Scholtz

Make your ramp area interesting by changing the texture of the ramps so that children can make comparisons about how the texture influences the speed and distance.

This adjustable ramp was made out of cardboard boxes and allows children to determine how the incline affects speed and distance. Remember to use the same materials for all three ramps until after children have had an opportunity to create some conclusions. Then you can experiment with different materials, such as the ones in this picture.

These are just a sampling of physical science materials. Each one has so many options for extending the activity…..what ideas do you have? How could you use these in your classroom?

Math Made Fun

Math is one of my favorite areas to plan for in the preschool classroom. Sometimes teachers get so focused on the counting sequence that they forget about the other types of math activities that are just as, or even more, important! Number sense is just one area of math development that should be an important area of focus for preschoolers. Number sense for preschoolers is really a group of related math abilities that are key predictors of children’s math achievement. In essence, they are the skills that children need to work with numbers in a variety of ways. These skills include the ability to:

  • understand quantities, such as knowing how many are in a given group of objects
  • compare quantities of objects using terms such as more, less, equal, larger, and smaller
  • recognize the relationships between individual items and groups of items (i.e., when counting a group of objects, when the child says “3” it means the whole group of three….not just that individual item that was named “3”)
  • understand the symbols that we use to represent quantities (i.e., numerals)
  • order a group of objects (1st, 2nd, 3rd or largest to smallest)
  • add and subtract with concrete objects (i.e., having a group of three bears, adding one to it and understanding that you now have 4 bears)
  • problem solve – such as figuring out how many paintbrushes are needed for the special activity based on the number of children that are seated at the table)

As you can see…these skills go far beyond just being able to recite the counting sequence! What are some specific activities that you can implement in your classroom to promote these skills?

Lily Pad Sensory Table Activity

In this sensory table activity, children have 12 coasters and 12 frogs. As they practice putting one frog on each “lily pad” they are practicing the skill of 1:1 correspondence.

Numerals

Numerals are such an abstract concept for young children. While they may be able to recognize the numeral and name it, they also need to be able to start associated the quantity that the numeral represents with the numeral. Many activities that work with numerals offer no support for helping children understand this association. I like to add “quantity dots” to my numerals so that as children begin to match up the numeral to a quantity they can check their work to ensure that they are choosing the right numeral.

Turtles in the Pond

In this fun activity, children are matching the number of shapes on the turtles back to the numerals on the pond. The turtles have a clothes pin on the back so that they can be clipped to the correct pond. The dots on the numerals help children know if they are choosing the correct numeral.

Sink the Boat

This sensory table activity includes a variety of marbles and boats. Children attempt to predict how many marbles it will take to “sink the boat”. (Not intended for children under age 3).

Ice Cream Math Manipulative

In this math manipulative, children roll the die and then take the corresponding number of ice cream sundaes to put on their tray. Game play continues until both children have filled their trays. Sometimes, children continue rolling the die to remove the ice cream cones from their tray and return them to the basket.

 Teddy Bear Math Manipulative

In this game, children choose a card with dots from the deck and then take the appropriate number of bears to match the card. They can even put the bears right on top of the dots if they are still in the beginning stages of quantification.

Short Path Game

In this short path game, children roll the die and move their game piece to the town. Since this game is designed for younger children, we’ve given each child his own game board to eliminate confusion and conflict.

Long Path Game

For children who are ready for a little more, this long path game gives them a longer path and a shared board. The “bonus spaces” throughout the game allow children to customize the rules of the game.

I also love these activities on using 10 frames and 5 frames from Pre-kpages.com:  https://www.pre-kpages.com/developing-number-sense-in-preschool/

What types of math activities do you plan to encourage number sense?

Building Relationships with Children Who Have Challenging Behaviors

We always talk about how important it is to build relationships with children, but let’s be real. Some children are just really hard to build relationships with. I remember when I first went back to school to get my early childhood degree, one of my professors went around the room and asked why we went into this field. Of course, most of the answers sounded something like, “I love children!” She proceeded to tell us that we better have another reason for going into this field because that one wasn’t good enough. We all looked at her like she had three heads! She proceeded to tell us that of course, we should like children. But that alone is not going to sustain us through the challenging moments of being an early childhood teacher. She continued to say that one day we would find a child that we didn’t like….and then what? I thought that was just cruel…they’re just small children…what could they possibly do that would make me not like them?

Fast forward a few years when I was teaching first grade…I found the kid I didn’t like. It pains me to say it…but I just didn’t like her. Her behaviors were challenging, but that wasn’t why I didn’t like her. I could never quite put my finger on it…perhaps our energies were just conflicting. But I just didn’t like her. She, however, loved me. Which probably made my dislike of her even stronger. It was a tough year. I tried to make sure that I was building a strong relationship with her despite my personal preferences. I tried my best to learn to like her. It didn’t work always work, but over the year we did find some common ground. I can say honestly that she thrived in my classroom.

No matter how much you may love children, the same thing will happen to you at some point. You’ll find the child that challenges every cell in your body. You’ll find the child that makes it hard to build those positive relationships. Your challenge, then, is to push forward and continue to find a way to make a connection. Because it’s only through connection that learning occurs and behaviors change.

Challenging Behavior can appear in many different ways. It is also highly subjective…what one caregiver considers challenging, another may not. The important thing to remember with any type of challenging behavior is that the child is trying to send you a message in the only way that he/she feels capable of at the time. When you can look for the message, it becomes easier to respond in an appropriate manner. Responding in an appropriate manner can help you build healthy and positive relationships with the child. Stanley Greenspan talks about five specific types of challenging children.

The Highly Sensitive Child

Children who are highly sensitive tend to react more strongly to events than you might anticipate. Their perceptions of the world can be much more intense than the average child, and any type of change can be overwhelming to this child. They may be cautious, fearful, shy, worry a lot, or be anxious. As they grow, this may lead to moodiness, irritability, or depression. You might notice that highly sensitive children react more sensitively to touch, loud noises, bright lights, or change. They may also get easily overwhelmed by their own emotions.

Strategies:

  • Prepare children for upcoming changes as far in advance as possible and limit the amount of changes and transitions.
  • Use picture schedules or visual schedules so the child can anticipate what will be coming up in his/her day
  • Tune in to the child’s sensory system. Remember, he cannot control how his body is processing sensory information! If you notice the child reacting to bright lights, try dimming the lights in the classroom. If the child holds his hands over his ears at group time, give him a pair of headphones to wear.
  • Help the child label and talk about his feelings. Validate what the child is feeling and show empathy towards him.
  • Provide gentle but firm limits.

The Self-Absorbed Child

The child who is self-absorbed is caught up in her own world. She tends to be quiet, easily tired, shows little enthusiasm. You may find this child to be more passive and not as responsive as other children. Caregivers may need to show more enthusiasm and effort to engage the child.

Strategies:

  • Be sensitive to the child’s natural energy level, and do not expect the child to enjoy the same type of activities that others may enjoy.
  • Provide a quiet space where this child can get away from everyone for some alone time.
  • Children in this category can have vivid imaginations. Provide them with an outlet for imaginary play such as puppets or dramatic play areas and props.
  • Resist insisting that the child spend time with or be friends with the other children in the classroom. Respect the child’s speed and preferences when it comes to establishing relationships or spending time with others.

The Defiant Child

We all probably have experience with the defiant child….the child who is stubborn, always trying to be in control, and engages in constant power struggles with those in charge. Children who are defiant can swing from being avoidant and passively defiant to being angry and argumentative.

Strategies:

  • Don’t take it personally. As hard as it is, try to avoid getting angry and administering punitive punishments as this just makes the situation escalate.
  • Avoid power struggles. The key to avoiding power struggles contains 5 elements:
    • Say what you mean.
      Avoid saying things to the child that you don’t actually mean just because you are upset. Choose your words wisely.
    • Mean what you say.
      Make sure that you are only saying things that you actually plan to enforce. For example, telling a child that Santa Claus won’t come if they continue misbehaving isn’t typically something you actually mean. Be cautious when establishing limits and consequences.
    • Know what you can’t control.
      As much as we’d like to think we can control everything, we can’t. We can’t actually control children’s eating, sleeping, and toileting for instance. We can’t control IF a child picks up a toy. Think carefully about whether you actually have control over what you want the child to do, or if you just wish you had control!
    • Know what you can control.
      Think creatively about what you can control. You may not be able to control whether the child picks up the toys, but you can control what choices are available to the child UNTIL those toys are picked up.
    • Follow through.
      Make sure that you follow through on what you say you are going to do. This builds trust with the child. State your limit and the consequence one time, and then follow through on the consequence you established.

The Inattentive Child

This child is highly distractible. He tends to be restless, fidgety, always on the go, and may quickly shift his attention from one activity to the next. Caregivers may find the child rarely finishes an activity that he started.

Strategies:

  • Be sure that your space is not overwhelming with distractions. Avoid covering every wall with something decorative. Avoid hanging things from the ceiling as this can be a distraction as well. Choose carefully when putting things on the wall to avoid “visual clutter”.
  • Provide the child with fidget toys during activities to help keep the child’s attention.
  • Allow for lots of movement and breaks. Avoid asking the child to sit for long periods of time, and offer lots of opportunities for active play.

The Active Aggressive Child

The active aggressive child tends to be more impulsive than most and may react physically to situations without even thinking. She may hit, punch, or kick to express her anger. She becomes frustrated more easily than most children, and has a hard time controlling her impulses. You may also notice that she has less sensitivity to touch, pain, or sound.

Strategies:

  • Be as warm and nurturing as possible. It’s sometimes hard to show this type of care with these children, but the less warmth and nurturing an aggressive child gets, the more her aggressive behaviors will increase.
  • Provide firm structure and limits for the child. Establish boundaries and consequences and be sure to follow through.
  • Help the child to express her feelings in appropriate ways. You may allow the child to push against a wall or squeeze a stress ball or twist a towel when angry. Avoid allowing the child to hit anything, even a punching bag or bean bag chair. Since the child has a hard time controlling impulses she might not differentiate in the moment between what is ok to hit and what is not.
  • Don’t give in to angry outbursts. If the child gets her way through this behavior, you have just reinforced that it works.

I’ll leave  you with this final quote by Ben Stein. “Relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, and all achievement in real life grows.”

Building Positive Relationships

Relationships are an essential component of an early childhood classroom. One of my favorite quotes is by Jack Shonkoff, editor of the book Neurons to Neighborhoods in which he says, “Without relationships, there is no development.” If you think back on your own experiences, I imagine that the times when you learned the most were the times when you felt connected to the teacher. I love this video by Rita Pierson as she talks about building relationships with children:

I get so inspired listening to her. And then I think about the experiences that many children have when they arrive at school Another one of my favorite videos is this short video from Atlanta Speech School  called Every Opportunity. We have the ability to influence how children perceive their environment:

Here are some tips to help you get on the right start to building positive relationships with children in your classroom:

  • Greet each child warmly using his/her name. Consider using a greeter apron. A greeter apron has different symbols on it that represent different types of greetings, such as a heart for a hug, a hand for shaking hands, a happy face for a smile, or a #5 for a high five. Children can choose which way they would like to be greeted in the morning, including not having a greeting at all.
  • Learn how to pronounce (and spell) each child’s name correctly, even if you have to ask multiple times. No one feels special when his/her name is constantly mispronounced.
  • Allow for unstructured play time each day. Let children be the leaders when playing instead of making all of the decisions for them. This shows children that you value their thoughts, desires, and feelings.
  • Have casual conversations with children during free play time instead of always “testing” them or doing “teacher talk”. Sometimes we ask so many questions that children don’t think we are really interested in what they are doing.
  • Be consistent and mean what you say. It’s not mean to follow through on your word. It actually helps children to feel safe. When you set a limit with a consequence and then provide multiple chances, it can become very confusing to children what the boundary actually is.
  • Talk to children about their interests. Strive to learn what they did over the weekend, who they saw, what they liked most, etc.
  • Respect children’s feelings. It’s ok for children to be angry or sad or frustrated. Teach children that feelings are ok, and show them appropriate ways to express their feelings.
  • Limit TV and Other “Screen Time”. Electronic devices take time away from connecting with human beings. Use the time children are with you to make live connections.
  • Speak privately to children when an issue arises. Make sure that they don’t feel humiliated in front of others.
  • Play games in which children learn how to take turns. This prepares them for conversational turn taking.
  • Get on the child’s level when talking to him/her, and make sure you are using a pleasant and calm voice.
  • Acknowledge children’s accomplishments by using specific feedback about their actions.
  • Give children time to develop relationships with other children in the classroom.
  • Provide children with opportunities to practice skills such as how to get someone’s attention, how to solve friendship squabbles, and how to take turns.
  • Learn basic words in a child’s native language.
  • End each day with a warm goodbye, and start each day fresh with no leftover emotions from the previous day’s events.

What other ways do you build relationships with children?