New Year, New Focus | A Quality Campaign | April

New Year New Focus Blog

New Year, New Focus | A Quality Campaign | April

By Jaime Rechkemmer, Vice President of Education

The Education Team is excited to find opportunities to keep improving our quality in 2023.😊

Let’s take a look at indicators of high quality and focus our efforts on making small, but impactful changes in these five areas:

  1. Interactions
  2. Environment 
  3. Schedules and routines
  4. Positive guidance
  5. Learning and development

Each month, we will take a deeper dive into these five areas and focus on new habits, new techniques, and new plans that will send quality soaring! Let's dive in: 

Interactions: Teacher Sensitivity 

Even the smallest interactions between teachers and children in their care make a difference. Experts in early education have identified teacher sensitivity as a critical habit for success.

Teacher sensitivity is not about how “nice” or “caring” teachers are; rather, it is about how teachers consistently demonstrate awareness and responsiveness to children’s current academic and emotional abilities and needs.

Pro tips for demonstrating teacher sensitivity:

  • Acknowledge children both physically and verbally. This could be with a pat on the back or holding their hand. This acknowledgment might even be non-verbal, such as when you take notice of a child standing quietly off to the side. 
  • Note when children are upset and help them verbalize their emotions. 
  • Acknowledge and accept a child’s negative emotions, including anger, fright, and sadness. This lets children know you have heard them and are willing to help address their problems. 

Environment: Introducing New/Existing Toys 

The materials you already have in your classroom are powerful tools for learning. We are also slowly, but surely, taking stock of what toys are on the shelves in our classrooms and adding or replenishing developmentally-appropriate resources.

As we work hard to create engaging learning environments, it’s helpful when teachers take time to introduce (or re-introduce) the materials and resources to children in an intentional way. Quality of play increases when teachers take time to reflect with children about ways they have used new materials in the past. For example: 

Imagine you get a new set of building blocks for the block center. On the day you add them to the shelf, gather a group of children on the carpet with the new blocks.  

To start, give a very brief description of the new toy, what it is called, where it will be, and how we care for it. 

Teacher: I want to show you a new toy I’m putting in the block center. These are called rainbow blocks. Like all our blocks, we use rainbow blocks with much care. We hold them in our hands and keep them near the floor. We build to a safe height, and we do not toss them to the ground or throw them in the air.  

Ask the children how they might use the new toy using open-ended questions. Acknowledge the children’s suggestions and encourage children to try these various ways of playing.  

Teacher: Can someone tell me how they might use this toy? What are some of the ways you would play with this toy? Do you have any ideas about what this toy might be able to do? 

After you place the new toy in the learning center, observe how children play with it. Engage with children and comment on their play, celebrate their creativity. Later that day, or in the days to come, bring the toy back to the group and describe ways that you have seen children play. This will encourage even more quality engagement.  

Teacher: Many of you seemed to really enjoy playing with the rainbow blocks today. I noticed that Scott built a tower of six red blocks and measured it with a ruler. I saw Angelique add rainbow blocks to her racetrack and drive one of her cars on the track. Tell me more about that Scott? And Angelique? 

Schedule and Routines: Plan Ahead 

Children excel when they follow a schedule that is well thought out, so it's important that you take the time to plan routines that incorporate a few simple transitions throughout the day.

Effective routines and transitions can also reduce challenging behaviors and impact the classroom learning environment. Children are more likely to feel safe in your care if the routines and transitions you plan promote a caring, positive environment. 

Early childhood experts offer the following suggestions to help you create effective routines and transitions and assess the ones you are currently using: 

  1. Think through the steps of a routine. 
  2. Introduce the routine in small groups or by using the daily schedule to clarify when the routine takes place. 
  3. Develop procedure cards that contain pictures of each step of the activity. 
  4. Point to each pictured step while giving children simple directions. 
  5. Demonstrate each step yourself, making sure you point out the space and materials used. 
  6. Use humor to add emphasis and to avoid potential problems. 
  7. Select volunteers to go through the routine or use peer models to demonstrate the appropriate behavior. 

Remember, children who have special needs or struggle with routines and transitions may need extra support.  

Positive Guidance: Classroom Promises 

Establishing classroom promises (or classroom rules) help build the foundation for a strong classroom community and support pro-social behaviorsas children develop a more active role in the classroom and are held accountable for their actions.

You’ll want to keep your promises simple, use positive phrasing, and incorporate visuals as much as possible! 

Create a list of behaviors that are important: develop promises that children can make that will encourage the behaviors you are looking for. 

Keep it simple: Promises should be short and easy to comprehend. It is appropriate to have 3-5 promises. Some examples include: 

  • I promise to keep myself safe. I will use walking feet.
  • I promise to keep my friends safe. I will use soft hands.
  • I promise to keep my classroom safe. I will care for my toys.

Use positive phrasing: As the saying goes, “when you can’t find the sunshine, be the sunshine.” Apply this to your promises, and sprinkle in the sunshine! By utilizing positive phrasing in your classroom rules, your students will be less likely to view the rules in a negative light. 

Incorporate visuals: Pictures are worth a thousand words. Visuals will provide students the cues needed to associate promises with certain actions. Be sure to have a corresponding visual for each promise. It’s especially helpful if you can find or take pictures of children in the classroom demonstrating how they follow the promises you’ve chosen.  

Learning and Development: The Power of Play 

The positive effects of play on young children are far-reaching—influencing their mental, emotional, and physical health. The benefits extend to adults as well.

Talking about play with children teaches them that adults are invested and respect their play decisions. This fosters better connections between adults and children. In turn, respect, trust, and love lay the foundation for the emotional state most conducive to fostering the learning brain. 

Adopting a playful attitude also benefits adults' emotional well-being. In times of stress, it’s an easy way to boost your mood. For example: instead of using cutlery during dinner tonight, we suggest you try using your fingers (or popsicle sticks, straws, or toothpicks) instead. No one is watching and it's just plain fun! Send a picture to education@sshouse.com to win a special prize! 

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