What do you get when you put 15 preschoolers in one room and try to teach them? Problem behaviors! Young children inevitably present challenging behaviors. There are many methods out there. Do your research and identify the strategies that align with your values and beliefs, but also understand that there is a significant amount of evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of specific methodologies.
Here are some strategies to help improve your experiences!
Establish concrete rules for your preschoolers
Ensure that you have clear rules established for your classroom so your students know what is expected of them. Keep the rules simple, positive and understandable. Limit the number of rules so that the children can easily remember them. "Be safe, Be kind, Be responsible" may cover the majority of behaviors preschoolers are expected to display. You will need to teach your students exactly what it means to be safe, be kind and be responsible; however, if you are repeating these rules over and over again, they will learn quickly.
Use visuals to support your preschooler's appropriate behaviors
Preschoolers are typically unable to read more than a few words. Many of them benefit from the use of visuals to communicate expectations, especially preschoolers with disabilities or behavioral challenges. Visual schedules, visuals to identify areas of the classroom or where items belong on a shelf, visuals depicting the classroom rules, and visuals to facilitate communication are common in preschool classrooms. You can use photographs of the items you wish to depict, but keep in mind that you want to ensure the item in your picture is not complicated by the presence of confusing background stimuli (ideally, the picture would be of the item alone on a white background). If your preschool is large enough to support it, software programs such as Boardmaker or Pics for PECS are available to make creating the pictures easier.
How to address persistent and problematic behaviors
If an individual child's behaviors persist despite classroom wide implementation of positive supports, you may need to look closer at what is going on. Follow the steps below:
Problem behavior may be the result of underdeveloped skills. Identifying the problem behavior is the very first step. You want to ensure that you know specifically what you are looking to change, so you can decide if your interventions have been effective. What does the behavior look like? Where and when is the behavior most likely to occur? Where and when is the behavior least likely to occur? Are there activities, people or other circumstances that make the behavior more or less likely to occur?
Determine why the behavior is occurring. Is the behavior occurring because the student lacks the ability to perform the skill required? Is the behavior occurring because the student does not like a particular activity and he/she is trying to avoid the activity? Is the behavior occurring because he/she typically receives attention for the behavior in the form of reprimands from the staff or giggles from his/her peers?
Determine if you are equipped to address the behavior. Using the resources available to you (including staff, time, knowledge, experience, and material resources), are you able to alter the contingencies that are impacting the behavior? Are you able to teach and reinforce an appropriate alternative behavior? Many severe behaviors may require consultation with a professional to assist in developing a plan to address problem behaviors. Consultation with a BCBA or other professional may be expensive; however, implementing a successful behavior plan could mean the difference between success and failure for a child with serious behavior challenges. Consider contacting local mental health facilities to see if they are able to offer any resources.
Understanding behavior and the factors that affect it is a complex topic that is beyond the scope of this website. Below is some information to get you started but I encourage anyone encountering regular, severe behaviors to seek additional information and professional guidance.
The basic principle of Applied Behavior Analysis is that all behavior serves a purpose (has a function). Once this purpose has been identified, it’s then possible to determine the most effective methods for reducing problem behaviors and teaching new skills. Although many of us will attempt to guess or make assumptions about the functions of a particular behavior (“John is always screaming to get attention!”), ABA relies on information and data collection to ensure that all factors are considered. Perhaps, John screams each time he is given a math task, or each time he is told to sit next to Mary. This information alters our perspective and we begin to better understand the situation.
Possible functions of behavior
Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS)
Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports uses a multi-tier system for intervention delivery. While it’s programmatically somewhat different from ABA, many of interventions used in the PBIS model are in line with the ABA approach to behavior. With this approach, there are interventions at the school level, classroom level and individual level. What does the school do to promote appropriate behavior for all students? What can be done in the classroom to promote appropriate behavior for all students? Which students require a plan to specifically address problem behaviors? For more information visit http://www.pbis.org/school/swpbis-for-beginners.
You know the importance of reading to your preschoolers regularly to build literacy skills. You choose engaging books that your preschoolers love. You read with enthusiasm. Did you know that the books you choose can impact the language development of the children in your classroom? This can be especially true for children with disabilities.
Books that are predictable, either because they rhyme or repeat, can support language in preschoolers that may be struggling. One of my all-time favorite story books is a wonderful example.
Include The Napping House by Don and Audrey Wood in your "All about me" theme
This book touches on many important topics for young children. The story opens the door for conversations about non-traditional family structures. Does this child live with his granny or is he just visiting? Who takes care of your preschoolers at home? Your preschoolers can identify with the child in the story.
This story brilliantly engages children through repetition. Your preschoolers will be reading right along with you even if they have never heard the story before.
Tell the story using visuals
use the story to teach math skills
Once the children have become familiar with the story, bring it into your math center! Here are a few ideas, but be creative:
What stories do you use to engage your preschoolers?
There are thousands of amazing children's stories available. There are many traditional stories that we all have used. What are some of your favorites and why?
Preschoolers play and laugh and fight and run. They are exuberant energy pods floating through the classroom bumping into each other and causing a commotion. You gather together for circle time and try to find an activity that engages and teaches important skills.
You have their attention for a few precious moments. How do you best capitalize on those moments? With the "Gift of a Compliment Game" your preschoolers will learn how to compliment one another while learning to identify similarities and differences among their peers.
This game is a great addition to an "All About Me" theme or any holiday related theme. With a little creativity, you can add it to other themes as well!
How to play the "gift of a compliment game"
how to combine this important social skills with math skills
Identifying similarities and differences is an important early learning skill. This skills is needed for sequencing, patterning, making comparisons, and much more. Create opportunities for preschoolers to practice these skills in the context of a fun activity!
Preschoolers are just developing some basic social skills. Teach your preschoolers to compliment their peers and see a transformation in your classroom! With a little practice, you will hear your preschoolers complimenting each other outside of your teacher-led activities.
Children love to give and receive gifts, especially ones that are wrapped in beautiful packages. This game teaches the value of recognizing the good in others (even though initially your preschoolers will choose superficial characteristics to compliment). For this game, it's about the process of recognizing what they like about each other and putting that together with recognizing things that are the same or different about their peers.
Play the game!
Once your preschoolers have learned to play the game, modify it by:
Do you find yourself short on time for planning and activity preparation? Creating an engaging curriculum is time consuming and time is one resource many preschool teachers are short on.
Many activities can be adapted to be used again and again with each theme you choose. Reduced planning and preparation time is only one small benefit of repeating activities with different themes. Using these activities across themes helps students build proficiency. They will not need to learn how to complete the activities each time, allowing them repeated practice to develop skills.
1. Themed guess how many: Teach a large number of important math skills with one activity
2. Themed sorting: Sorting is a critical early math skill that has implications
3. Themed patterns: Patterns are all around us and preschoolers are just learning to expand patterns
4. Themed sequencing: Sequencing is one of the main building blocks for being able to complete many different activities, including following directions
5. Themed counting: Counting and 1-to-1 correspondence requires repeated opportunities for practice
Boost learning and maximize your time by using these activities again and again
These activities provide the opportunity for your preschoolers to practice vital math skills while freeing up your time to plan new and exciting activities. Get out there and give it a try!
Get your preschoolers invested in literacy. With so much competition with video games, how is this possible?
Teach them to make their own books! Have your preschoolers create books for each theme in your preschool classroom. Children love to share what they make with others, especially when they are the author and illustrator! Over time, their creativity grows and their books become more elaborate.
I will cover some basics here, but if you want more detailed ideas, check out this fabulous book!
Begin with the basics
Introducing this idea to your preschoolers may feel overwhelming at first. Start small, using simple materials. As you and your preschoolers learn, add new materials and techniques to your book-making.
A simple book can be made by folding sheets of construction paper in half the long way and stapling pages together. Children draw on each page and adults can scribe their words for them.
Books can tell a story, but they don't have to. Use this opportunity to teach your preschoolers the different types of books. Some books entertain. Other books educate. Which type of book do they want to make?
Create a book making center
Create a space in your preschool classroom for the children to work on their books. The space does not need to be elaborate, but should provide inspiration for creating great works! Have a variety of materials readily available. Provide a place for your preschoolers to store their books so they can come back and work on them later.
Basic materials to provide in your book-making center include:
Provide a visual for step-by-step directions
Talk about content
Your preschoolers probably enjoy pictures that tell the story. Will they create a book that entertains or educates? What do they want their readers to get from their book?
Use professionally published books and books that you create as models to show your preschoolers how to do this. At first, guide them in planning their books.
Sure, they can write or draw whatever they want. There are no right or wrong answers. Teach them an important lesson about content: make sure it makes sense to the reader.
Show them what happens when you skip pages or don't provide enough information. Ask open ended questions as you scribe for the children. Ask questions like "how did that happen?" or "can you tell me more about that?" Help the children expand their thoughts more completely.
As with everything your preschooler does, the process counts, not the product.
Binding it all together
Be creative when deciding on how to turn the loose pages into books. Stapling works and is a good place to start. Want to work on fine motor skills? Punch holes in along the left edge. The children can lace yarn through the holes to finish the book.
Make book-making a staple (pun intended) in your preschool classroom!
When preschoolers become authors they become excited about literacy. Begin with the basics. Build creativity! Get out there and give it a try today! Let me know how it goes!
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!