FAQ – How do I ‘manage’ children’s behaviour during group time?
Children’s behavioural learning needs to be guided, supported and encouraged, NOT managed.
Children “behave” as they do because they are human. Whether that behaviour is in line with expectations or not, does not deem it “appropriate” or “inappropriate”. Children’s behaviour serves a need, a function, a purpose. To truly support behavioural growth and development, it is the role of the educator to determine underlying reasons for behaviour and guide children to meet these needs in ways that are expected in the education and care environment. Sometimes, this requires educators to adapt their program, routines, environments, and quite often, their pedagogy.
As a specialist who understands children’s behaviour, I am often asked to visit ECEC settings when educators’ feel that a child’s behaviour is disruptive to a learning environment. More often than not, most of these behavioural challenges occur at 'group time' or 'rest time'. (Routines that are often delivered in a way that is cup emptying - see The Phoenix Cups for more info). Quite often, there is a small boy or group of boys who prefer not to sit still. They move fast, hit hard, bump into others, use the furniture in ways that are not 'expected', spin quickly through the day on their own agenda. I wonder why it would be expected that a little person who learns what he needs to learn at this point in time by moving his body very fast is required to sit on a scratchy piece of carpet with a dozen sweaty bodies to listen to an educator rattle on about days of the week or V is for Violin. This is not a behaviour to be 'managed'. Attempting to have power over this child, forcing him to sit in on that group time, teaches him nothing other than compliance, and arguably, compliance is not a necessary or desirable trait to instil in children. This is a conversation for another day, but in short – educators may choose to teach cooperation and consideration, rather than compliance (Louise Porter says this best, visit her website for some great readings (www.louiseporter.com.au). Through reflective conversation, I encourage educators to have power with this child, to discover his interests and his unique way of learning, to focus on this child’s strengths, as well as his challenges, ultimately, to make curriculum decisions that will “maximise opportunities for each child’s learning” (NQS 1.1.3).
Before the Early Years Learning Framework, I didn’t have a framework that validated my opinion to ditch group time. Group time is quite often a practice that still exists in ECEC because it “has always been done that way”. Through reflective conversations that examine our intentionality and implementation of the National Quality Framework in Australia, it is interesting to have discourse around times of the day that may be creating behavioural challenges. If we consider the Phoenix Cups, are these routine transition times cup-filling or cup-emptying? If group time, is identified as a behavioural trigger, during these reflective conversations, some educators are relieved to have a moment to consider doing away with this sometimes torturous time of the day. You have been set free by good practice guides like the Early Years Learning Framework, “Intentional teaching is the opposite of teaching by rote or continuing with traditions simply because things have ‘always’ been done that way” (EYLF, p5). If group times are challenging for you, give yourself permission to be flexible, innovative and creative. Ask yourself: Why do I conduct a group time? Whose needs does group time meet? How could I do things differently to maximize opportunities for each child’s learning?
When group times have been identified as a behavioural trigger (which is, of course, not always), it is time to reflect on your practice and make some changes. Doing away with set group times, allowing children to group together with an educator spontaneously or voluntarily, respects children’s flow and involvement, rather than adhering to a strict routine that repeatedly triggers behavioural escalations. It is beautiful to see many educators now offering spontaneous invitations to learn, as opposed to set compulsory group times that potentially interrupt play and flow.
By definition, Intentional teaching involves educators “being deliberate, purposeful and thoughtful in their decisions and action” (EYLF, p5), intentional teaching is NOT programming activities for whole groups of children. You are not judged on how much you can teach children at group time or by the way you 'manage' children’s behaviour in groups. You are encouraged to value learning through play, have high expectations of children, reflect on your practice and be intentional. Do it!