With my experiences over the past years of working with children, my most memorable students are the students that I have come to build a strong relationship with. The extra time that I took to sit with a child when they felt as though the world was falling down around them, the children who wanted to run away, the children who bit off the ends of pencils in a fit of rage… This is their moment of vulnerability and they need an adult’s calmness to work with them and not add to their frustrations. It should be our intention to find ways to work with a child to help them through their difficulties in a calm and meaningful way.
My most liked quote from Henry Ford is "don't find fault, find a remedy; anybody can complain". A child may not be able to do something yet, but with the right kind of support they will be able to communicate their ideas to others.
As a teacher or parent it is important to understand that not every strategy works for our children. We need to understand the child’s background and understand what their strengths and weaknesses are. We then need to take them from where they are presently and move them forward to make them the best citizens that they can be. It is not a race, there are no set standards for children to reach within the world called ‘life’. They will each reach their own potential whatever that may be. We are all different – when you accept this, your children will develop with the love that they are shown. It is so important to realise that every child needs to be nurtured and cared for in different ways. Some children need hugs, some children need a high five, some children need an encouraging smile and others need all round complete support in many different areas.
As teachers we need to be able to provide a variety of different ways to cater for our children’s needs. One strategy does not fit all children. Be flexible, show kindness and allow children to naturally experiment in a safe environment.
Positive relationships in your environment will be what you need to strive for to allow all children (including children with additional needs) a safe place to learn and explore. We, as adults, are the main guidance within our room and our children will look to us for how to react to different situations. They will all come to their environments with baggage. It may have been from a home situation, a school experience or maybe even a negative community response. As teachers, it is our job to make them feel as though they are loved and cared for from the moment that they walk through the school gates until the moment they leave at the end of each day.
We need to be able to give them opportunities to express themselves, experiment with different ways of communicating (verbal, written and different body language techniques) and be able to feel nurtured and supported to make decisions that are positively accepted by others.
When a child finds it difficult to communicate with others it is important that we give them opportunities to learn how they can communicate without being overwhelmed. They need coping strategies and ways in which they feel confident to get their message across.
In a classroom environment below are some important things to consider having in the classroom to help every child to feel safe, secure and valued.
- Routines set
- The routines in the classroom need to be clear and discussed with children frequently.
- Be consistent and follow your own routines.
- Visual schedule
- Use picture cards to show what will be happening throughout the day and move each card once an activity has been completed so that the children can follow the structure of the day. If the routine is going to change for any reason sit with the children and discuss with them what is changing and why the changes need to be made.
- 5L’s for Listening
- Eyes looking, legs crossed, ears listening, lips locked, hands in your lap. Once the children know these five steps for listening, they will be able to put this into practise during learning times.
- Positive language throughout the classroom.
- Children understand the last instruction given. So if you say "Don't run" they normally hear the word "run". Change the statement to "Walking feet". You will begin to notice that children are much more responsive to the positive statements.
What to remember when teaching a range of different abilities within the classroom:
- Focus on what the child knows and build upon this
- Use repetitive simple instructions at the child’s level of understanding
Ideas for building confidence when speaking with others:
- Have a welcoming person at the door to welcome everyone inside.
- Every time they return to the classroom the child needs to say "Good morning…. How are you today?"
- Have the child hand out papers to the other children and say "Hello..."
- Ask each person to share something about themselves during circle time
- Have a range of large group activities and small group activities
- Allow each person in the group to have a role (i.e. Timekeeper, recorder, presenter, artist, facilitator)
- "Teach the teacher" time one day a week.
- This is where one student is picked in advance to teach the teacher and the class a new skill or some facts. It could be, how to bake cookies, how the dinosaurs disappeared, why milk curdles in the heat, where polar bears live etc. Whatever the child is interested in is what they present to their peers. If the child finds this difficult to stand in front of their peers, get them to pre-record their information using digital technologies to ease their minds. You could also use puppets to present if this makes the child more confident.
- Have staring contests regularly.
- This helps children to look at each other and be more comfortable while looking at others and while others are looking at them.
- Work with emotions cards and have the children act out emotions with their peers and discuss where these emotions can be seen.
- For example when would someone cry? A. After they have fallen over and hurt themselves. etc.
- Allow children to work in pairs frequently and allow children to talk. Talking about a task can help to solidify information into the child's long term memory. Talking is OKAY!
- Allow children to create stories. Verbally and written.
- If the child is able to write their story down, this helps them to remember the parts that are needed for a story (beginning, middle,ending/ pebble rock boulder etc). If the child is unable to document their story yet, have someone scribe it for them or use digital technology to record their story. Allowing the child to represent their ideas and share them with others helps children to be proud of their work and allows them to build on their confidence.
- Create picture cards to use as story prompts.
- Have the child choose one emotion card, a setting card and a problem card. The children in groups then need to make a story using the cards. They can document it in different ways and then can present it to the teacher or to their peers. This encourages the children to present their ideas to different audiences.
This list is very short and there are so many other ideas to encourage children to have a voice and share information with others.
It is so important that the child feels comfortable and has a chance to speak with others in a natural environment where they feel safe. Once the child is encouraged and supported in many different ways, their confidence will be built upon and they will gradually be able to relax enough to be able to communicate their ideas.If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
- Henry Ford