Children learn by linking new knowledge with existing knowledge. Themes teach core concepts within the context of a topic that is familiar and appealing to them. Select a theme that is of interest to the children in your classroom and identify the core concepts you want the children to learn (letter recognition, how to write their name, how to count to 20, etc.). The more interest and excitement you can derive from the theme, the greater the learning opportunities become.
Tie the concepts you want to teach to the theme you selected to boost the skill acquisition of your students. While “Zoo Animals” might be a fun theme, if there are no zoos in your area or if the children in your classroom have never been to a zoo, it would be difficult for them to understand what they are learning. Select themes that have meaning to your preschoolers.
Ensure that the theme you select generates enthusiasm for your preschoolers. If the children in your class are not interested in Seasons, but year after year you teach a Seasons theme in September, then the children will be less inspired to learn. If you find your students get excited whenever a police car or fire truck go by, it may be worth pursuing this as a theme.
How long should the theme last?
Many traditional preschool themes last one week. At the beginning of each week, a new theme is introduced. While this might feel like a familiar format, it may not be your best approach. In general, a theme should last as long as your students are interested. If after 2 or 3 weeks, your children remain enthusiastic about the theme, continue to support them in delving into the topic further.
Depending on the theme, there may be different ways to branch off into new but related topics. Continue with the theme for as long as your preschoolers are excited about the topic. Never feel obligated to end a theme simply because you have been studying it for an extended period of time. When excitement for the theme begins to diminish, that is when you should begin to search for a new topic.
Learning that will last-an example of the power of themes
I once taught in a preschool classroom where many of the students would scream and yell whenever a plane passed overhead. It didn’t matter if we were in the classroom or out on the playground. Their enthusiasm would get the whole class excited. The children would run to the windows or stand in awe as the plane went by. We ended up doing an in-depth project around “Flight” that lasted 7 weeks. The ideas for the activities were mostly driven by the questions the students asked. Not all of these questions have easy answers:
“How do planes stay in the air?”
“What is it like to ride in an airplane?”
“Why do birds flap their wings to stay in the air, but planes don’t have to?”
“What makes balloons float?”
It’s not necessary to get into the details of physics with these curious minds. The activities selected for the project were geared to allowing the children to explore these questions, not provide the answers. They may not have received answers to their questions, but the children came to class excited every day. We had the opportunity to have a pilot come visit our classroom and we took a field trip to the local airport where the children got to walk around a hanger, board a private jet, and watch a military plane take off and land. It is an experience none of us will forget!
Are your preschoolers all headed in their own direction? Do you find yourself spending most of the day putting out fires? Do some days feel a little like Lord of the Flies? Use this strategy to teach your children to work as a team!
The secret revealed!
Create a group contingency to develop a cooperative atmosphere in your classroom. Not sure what I mean by that? Let me explain.
A group contingency consists of 4 main parts:
1. Rules you want your preschoolers to follow.
I'm sure you already have a great list of rules in your classroom. If your rules follow the guidelines for effective rules, then move right along to part 2! Check that your rules:
2. Something all (or most) of your preschoolers are willing to work for.
Have a meeting with your preschoolers to reveal your new rules (or to develop the rules with the children). Let them know they will be working as team toward something really fun, but they need to help you decide what that will be. Generally, they will work for some sort of party or special activity for them all to do together.
Ask them for some ideas, but don't be discouraged if they have no idea what you're talking about. Offer your own suggestions. Narrow the list you develop to the most powerful (and practical) 3 ideas. Take a vote on which idea they want to work for first. Make this a lesson in graphing for this process to serve 2 purposes.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
3. The Small payoffs.
Once you know what your preschoolers want to work for, let them know how they will earn what they chose:
Make sure when you give out the pieces you choose (unifix cube, pom pom, marble, stone, etc.) that you also tell the child what he or she did to earn it. "Wow, you were really safe when you walked across the classroom!" or "I saw how kind you were to your friend when you gave her a turn with that big truck!"
4. The Big payoff!
When the jar is full, it's time to celebrate your preschoolers' successes! Point out all of the great things they did to earn their big reward. Talk about how they all worked together to earn this great party or super special activity. Following rules is hard work. You want them to know it's worth the effort!
Make this reward as fun for all of the children as you can. If some of them are less than excited, find a way to grab their attention and pull them in. Build enthusiasm and tie this to their great behavior.
The children should vote on their next reward before the end of earning the first reward. Keep the momentum going. Always have them working for something as a team!
try it today!
No special training or materials are needed to teach your preschoolers to work as a team. Make a difference in your classroom today! Expand minds and build cooperation! Talk soon!
Imagine your preschool classroom full of happy, cooperative boys and girls, all actively engaged in your well-planned learning opportunities. Use schedules in your classroom to make this happen for you!
1. Use whole-class schedules to help your preschoolers move in the same direction.
Ok, so you probably do this already. If you don't, definitely start here! We all fall off the bandwagon with strategies that we don't believe bring results. When used correctly, schedules are the gold in your teaching toolbox.
Do you repeat yourself to one or many children throughout the day? Do you find yourself comforting Beth when all you need her to do is pick up the toys? Are you frustrated by a lack of cooperation, tantrums and meltdowns?
Classroom schedules depict each major activity in your day (i.e. Morning Meeting, Free Choice, Centers, etc.). Schedules create visual predictability for your class, especially when children are new to your classroom.
Make whole-class schedules easily viewable to all of your children. This could be in your circle area or by the door, but should be at eye level with your children.
Whole-class schedules will be sufficient for most of the children in your class. Refer to the schedule often throughout the day. When children ask you questions about when they can do or have something they want, direct them to the schedule.
Make one of your own, or buy a premade kit like the one below.
Use this free schedule with each child who consistently struggles with transitions. Simply make small pictures (try Google Images or Boardmaker), laminate them and put Velcro on the back.
Start with the activities in the To Do column, and have the child move the pictures to the Done column when it's time to transition.
3. Use schedules to show a change in routine
Did your group activity run too long and now there just isn't time for story time? Did you plan something fun for your class, only to face an hour-long tantrum because Sam didn't have time to play with the blocks? The holidays bring fun parties, lots of excitement, and an increase in problem behavior!
Use the classroom and individual schedules to show your students when their routine changes. Preparing your children visually will help those who struggle with processing or attending to language. Make sure the format of the schedules you choose offer the flexibility to show these changes (use a pocket chart, magnetic or Velcro pieces, etc.).
4. Show progress toward more preferred activities using a visual schedule
Schedules help children anticipate more preferred activities which, in turn, often breeds more cooperation for those more challenging activities. If Jimmy has a hard time coming to circle time, show him his individual schedule that shows him that Free Choice time comes right after.
It's time to clean up? Use Matt's individual schedule to show him that after he cleans up, he will be able to have snack.
Go improve behavior in your classroom using schedules!
While some of your preschoolers transition smoothly without the use of these schedules, many of them need this support at some point.
You know what to do. Get these schedules up and running. Use them to show change and progress throughout your school day. Get started now!
Contact me if you have questions. I'm happy to help! Talk soon!
Find where the challenges are
Whether it's the first day of a brand new school year or the week before Thanksgiving, you can take back control in your preschool classroom. Here's how!
Don't make changes until you gather some information about your students. Without sufficient information, it's quite likely that the changes you make will be ineffective or, worse yet, create more problems than they correct.
What information do you need? You will want to start by observing each of the students in your classroom. Make observations in 3 areas for each of your students: interests, skills and challenging behaviors.
Have a wide variety of materials available to them, and watch what the child is drawn to, what skills they are demonstrating independently, and what behaviors you find yourself correcting. Use the documents below to help guide you. It may take some time to collect this information about each child. Prioritize by first observing the children who are requiring the most redirection.
Make your move
Here's an example:
Jenny has been in your class for several months, and you find that several times a day you are consoling her while she cries. This usually happens while you are preparing the materials for the group activity that follows Free Play Time.
She tells you that the other kids are mean to her and won't let her play. You then help her join her peers by telling the other kids to let her join them. The other kids are usually cooperative and you can then quickly go back to getting the activity ready. These bouts of tears seem to be happening more often, so you decide to collect some data.
You plan an activity that doesn't require a lot of prep work which frees you up to observe what is going on. You find out that Jenny is having a hard time joining her peers when they are playing in groups. She stands on the outside, watching her peers for several minutes. Eventually, she quietly makes her way closer and closer to the group. Within another minute or so, Jenny begins to cry, and this is the point where you typically step in to comfort her.
How can you use this information to create some peace in your classroom? You now know that Jenny needs to learn how to appropriately join her peers when they are playing in a group. You decide that this could be a skill that other kids may also need, so you plan a game to play at circle time.
You play a game where the children get an opportunity to role play joining a group. Click the image below for the Joining a Group Game!
Persistence will result in peace
Frequently, it's the absence of these skills that create the most chaos in your preschool classroom. Take control today!
Now that October is in full swing, you may be seeing a rise in problem behaviors in your classroom. This often happens as the novelty of the new school year wears thin and children begin to challenge expectations. Your preschoolers who were once so excited to walk through those doors may now be telling you "no" to each request you make of them.
Are you still attempting to get all of your cherubs to sit and participate in circle time or group activities? The demands we place on preschoolers set the stage for future learning and success in school. So, how do we improve the cooperation of each of our children while accomplishing our academic objectives?
Understand Each Child's Motivation
The single most important thing you can do to begin to create peace in your preschool classroom is to begin to understand each child's motivation. In a future post, I will discuss creating group contingencies to promote a team feeling among your preschoolers. Here, I want you to think about each child as an individual and what each child finds motivating.
If you consider that every behavior serves a purpose (function in ABA speak), then you can begin to identify what drives the children in your classroom. When you look at behavior through the ABA lens, you begin to see behavior in a whole new way.
All behavior either allows the child to access something they want (i.e. attention, a toy, sensory input, etc.) or to escape something they don't want (i.e. a demand, sensory input, attention, etc.). You can see that there is some overlap between the 2 categories, so it's important to determine if the child wants access to something or wants to escape something. Once you are able to identify what is motivating the behavior you don't want, you can make informed decisions about how to respond.
Make Decisions That Change Behavior
The next step is to develop a plan that teaches the child an appropriate way to get what he or she wants. You will reinforce this skill and you will ensure that the problem behavior does not result in the child getting what he or she wants.
For example, you have a child who struggles to sit at circle. After a minute or two of sitting, he is touching the child next to him, laying down on the floor, talking out, and eventually, he gets up and runs from the circle. You are forced to stop circle to chase him and bring him back.
What is he getting from this? He may be looking to escape from circle, he may be seeking attention (which he receives when you go after him), or it may be a combination of both.
What is your plan? Teach him to say "I need a break" or "I want to be all done circle." Allow him to leave the circle to sit quietly in the book area or to draw at a table provided he has asked appropriately. It might be beneficial to create a visual to remind him that he can ask to leave circle.
You also want to ensure that you are providing a high level of attention for any appropriate behavior while he is sitting at circle. Perhaps have him sit next to you where you can gently place your hand on his shoulder to remind him of expectations.
Identifying what motivates each child can help you teach skills and reduce problem behaviors in your preschool classroom. Please comment or use the Contact Form with specific questions and I will be happy to provide some guidance!
Serious Problem Behavior
At times, you may experience serious problem behavior in your classroom. You may have one or more children in your class who have been identified with autism or another disability that makes them more prone to problem behavior. These types of problem behavior require a more comprehensive approach. In future posts, I will provide some ideas, but until then, check out my blog for parents of children with autism at www.accessibleaba.com.
Welcome! Through my career I have worn many hats. I taught preschool in a public, commercial preschool and I taught at a Head Start program. Currently, I am a BCBA, supervising 2 clinics for children with autism. At the clinics, I have created a program to prepare our children for success in public school. Children participate in a preschool classroom style program. I developed a comprehensive parent training program and frequently consult with schools. Here, I want to share my experiences and offer some practical advice. Please let me know if there is ever a topic you would like me to cover!