Creating Environments that Support Social-Emotional Growth
Routines are a critical piece of successful early education environments. The predictability they provide gives young children a sense of safety and security, and allows them to learn expectations.
When COVID-19 took hold of our community, normality was gone. Everything and everyone was disrupted. For the system that works with those who are still developing critical social-emotional skills that will let them adapt and overcome stressful situations, the challenges were often extreme.
One particular classroom that was previously calm and peaceful had turned chaotic. Children were unable to manage emotions and were struggling to follow the simplest directions. Verbal arguments had become commonplace and the children were becoming increasingly aggressive.
Kevin was fueling much of the chaos. He was new to the class and was having a hard time connecting with his teachers and classmates. He had been thriving in his previous classroom, but when teacher shortages forced the center to consolidate classes, Kevin’s comfortable environment was gone. Kevin refused to participate in activities and if any other child came too close to him he would lash out — hitting and yelling. Transitions between activities were particularly difficult for him.
The TFC mental health specialist and teachers worked together to think of ways to add structure to the classroom that would help with transitions and create a sense of belonging, consistency and safety. A Wish Well board was added to their morning circle time routine. The Wish Well board includes pictures of every child in the class and a song that is sung to build compassion and caring among the children. It helped the Kevin feel like he was a vital part of the classroom. In addition, a visual daily schedule was added, with a different picture for each section of the day. This allowed Kevin to see and anticipate what would happen next. They also created a smaller visual schedule that the teachers carried around the classroom to prompt children back to the expected activity when they became distracted.
The Wish Well board and visual schedule helped Kevin find the structure he needed. For Kevin, seeing his photo among those of his peers has very helpful. He was made the “schedule helper,” with the job of moving an arrow along the daily pictures to mark their progress throughout the day. With Kevin’s newfound comfort in the classroom community and the reinforced structure and routine the classroom has found its calm once again.