When you walk into a gymnasium, you behave differently than when you walk into a library. The environment sends cues to the brain about how you should feel and behave. Provide an environment that encourages desirable behavior. The space should say “Play with me!” in a way that clearly defines HOW to play. The way you arrange your space and what you put in your space tells children what types of behavior are expected in that space. Control the environment, not the child.
Children will live up to or down to your expectations. Establish and encourage positive relationships, realistic boundaries and high expectations for children. The way children feel about themselves depends largely on their response to the “feedback” they have received from the important people in their lives. Staff and children can help them to feel adequate or inadequate, likable or unlikable, lovable or unlovable, valuable or worthless, smart or stupid. If you have helped children to feel significant, empowered, and loved, they will be inclined to behave positively. If you give children a reason to feel inadequate and unneeded, they find themselves thinking they are a failure and do not have anything positive to offer, so they tend to offer negative behavior.
When children know that adults are paying attention, it reminds them of the expectations for behavior and allows them to correct their own behavior and be self-disciplined. FOCUS your attention on the supervision of the children when you are with a group. TALK LATER with other staff during staff meetings, lunch and after work. Do not spend time talking unnecessarily when you are supervising children. SPREAD OUT when there’s more than one staff person in an area so that you can supervise the entire activity area well. SEE EVERYONE – stand so that the whole group is in your field of vision and keep your eyes moving. KEEP TRACK of children who go from one area to another and children who go to the bathroom. STAY AHEADPREVENT trouble before it starts. If you think the behavior is progressing towards undesirable action, get close and make eye contact. USE EQUIPMENT CORRECTLY – the way the equipment was meant to be used. For example, do not let children climb up the outside of slides or climbing tubes. Use SuperVision and kids will correct their own behavior.
Misbehavior can be merely an attempt to escape from the dreary vacuum of idleness – bored kids misbehave. Introduce variety and novelty into the program experiences. Novelty in the form of experiential learning is a key to brain enrichment and self-discipline. Provide a variety of enriching experiences such as field trips, guest speakers, computers, music, language, sports, games, fine and gross motor stimulation, problem solving, science, math, building projects, role plays, dramatic play, creative and playful art activities, and long- and short-term projects. When planning for experiences, be intentional – plan activities with the goal of building a sense of community and for brain enrichment rather than providing activity for the activities’ sake – just to keep them busy.
Balance novelty with routine to improve the program behavior. Provide an established routine that is consistent yet flexible, and offers enough safety, autonomy and stimulation to meet their developmental needs. A very stable routine without novelty is boring, while a lot of novelty without the stability of routine is chaotic. The routine needs to provide stability without being rigid, so children can know the daily routine and follow it without many reminders. Prior planning prevents poor performance!
Think back to when you were a child. What did you do right after school? Did you go straight to the refrigerator for a snack? Did you get on your bike and ride around the neighborhood? Did you go straight to the phone or club house to talk with friends? Did you go straight to the couch and rest up for a while?
Children today have the same wants and needs. Some would prefer to go straight for snacks; some run laps/burn off some energy; some rap with friends, and some go relax and nap, but in many programs, staff herd children like cattle instead of allowing choice. When the school bell rings, children are “herded” to an area where they must wait quietly for attendance and announcements. Then they are herded to an area where they must sit and wait quietly for snack, and then to a staff directed activity or homework time or outdoor play.
Super Powers means allowing kids to choose snacks, laps, raps or naps as soon as the school bell rings. Give them some time to settle in when they arrive and then begin the staff-directed activities. It is much easier guiding children into appropriate activities of their own choosing, than to force children into activities that they do not want. Give them more power and they’ll show you better behavior.
Establish relevancy when it comes to establishing rules and program goals. Get your children involved in deciding the standards of behavior and consequences in their program community. Make this an on-going experience, not a once-a-year activity. Your school-age care program should be like a mini utopian society – a real-world community that operates by standards of respect and caring – a neighborhood that polices its own behavior – a kinship of people who look out for each other. It should not be an adult-controlled dictatorship, but a community. For this to happen, you must take the time to establish meaning and relevancy. Take the time to discuss the importance of following the rules for their own desires – how they will have more fun, have less stress, have more choices, have better supplies – if they follow the rules that they helped establish.
Author Profile: @mikeashcraft