MAINTAINING A PHYSICALLY AND EMOTIONALLY SAFE ENVIRONMENT
We want children to experience school as a happy place. When they walk in the doors of Mandala, they should feel that they are in a peaceful classroom where they will be cared for and can feel secure. Our guidelines for discipline and safety are created to best help children learn how to treat each other with respect and show them the adults will keep them safe.
We go to a Montessori school.
Our classroom is a very happy place.
We keep everything on shelves.
Every day we choose the material we want to work with.
If we don’t know how to use it, our teacher helps us.
When we finish our work, we put the material back in its place.
Sometimes two of us want to use the same material at the same time.
We might start a fight over it.
Then our teacher tells us that hands are for helping, not for hurting.
Our teacher asks us to think of a better way to decide who can use it.
We decide to take turns because that is the most peaceful way.
-From Our Peaceful Classroom by Aline D. Wolf
DISCIPLINE IS NOT PUNISHMENT
Discipline is part of the teaching process at Mandala. Learning to play with others is a learning process. The goal of positive discipline is to help children develop inner controls (self-discipline). Children in preschool do display and will occasionally be exposed to aggressive language and behavior. We follow these guidelines for teaching children how to behave in responsible ways:
- Set realistic expectations for young children’s behavior.
- Make the rules clear by telling the child what s/he can do.
- Create an environment that helps children behave in appropriate ways.
- Model appropriate behavior.
- Establish eye contact with the child when talking to him/her.
- Give the child choices whenever possible.
- Focus on positive communication techniques to gain children’s cooperation.
- Use “Reflective Listening” to mirror a child’s feelings and understand his perspective.
- Give “I-Messages” when setting limits.
- Give children alternatives to turn destructive situations into constructive ones.
- Redirect the child to another activity.
- Encourage a child to say what he needs: “We our words. Hands are for helping, not hurting.”
- Offer sensory-based activities to meet a child’s need.
- Use natural and logical consequences empower children to make responsible choices.
- Reward children for positive behaviors.
- Remove a child from the situation temporarily by redirecting him to something else.
- Teach children to use problem-solving skills to resolve conflicts.
- Validate what the child is trying to do, while guiding him to the behavior we want.
Keeping Classrooms Safe
Preschool is a learning laboratory for every child. Young children come to preschool to learn the rules of social behavior and manage their emotions. We expect minor mishaps as children practice self-regulation and interact with their peers. It is typical for all children to test the limits by grabbing a toy, pushing another child, or having an occasional tantrum. These are “teachable moments.” Our teachers use positive strategies to correct unacceptable behaviors and coach children to use new behaviors. Some children need a lot of teacher coaching and redirection, while others need very little.
The teachers will speak with parents early in the process if a child is having difficulty learning the rules of behavior, but normal upsets are usually handled in the classroom and regarded as part of the learning process. Typically, most children learn quickly and become cooperative over time.
ONGOING BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS
When a child does not learn over time, it becomes problematic. When a child repeatedly bites, hits, hurts, or throws things, it disrupts the safety of the classroom. The teacher’s job is to preserve a calm learning environment for all. The teachers will talk with parents and set up a parent meeting when there are ongoing problems. A team approach is used to explore causes and solutions. We will develop a behavior plan or make recommendations for additional support. When parents work in partnership, we will continue our efforts as long as there is not a safety risk and we see ongoing improvement.
Some children have developmental challenges which make it more difficult for them to learn regulation and control. While we are willing to work with most children on a trial basis, we must guarantee an overall atmosphere of well-being in the classroom and provide safety from unexpected aggression.
We set limits on disruptive behavior that presents a safety concern. When a child shows a pattern of repeatedly hurting others (hitting, throwing, pushing, biting) with intensity and unpredictability, or when they severely disrupt the learning atmosphere, we will follow our Safety Policy for Disruptive Behavior.
In these situations, we will end the child’s school day early and call his parents to pick him up. This is not done as a punishment but as a natural consequence and teaching tool. We demonstrate that teachers will protect children and set limits. Playing with others is a privilege and rules must be followed in order to participate. We use positive words to encourage children to make better choices next time. We expect parents to be cooperative and work in partnership with us to do the same.
Strategies That Can Help
ADAPTIONS IN THE CLASSROOM
Some children have a more difficult time adjusting to the “social rules” of the classroom. We first try to make in-school adaptions to help things work for a child, using our occupational therapist and social worker. This is always contingent on parent-partnership. We may try a Behavior Plan or our “School Tools” or the child may need to come with a shadow aide. We may suggest a referral to Early Start or to the child’s School District for assessment. We also assist parents in finding outside supports (such as speech/language therapy) to help a child gain new skills.
We may request outside consultation. When we observe that a child needs something more, we will suggest to the parents that they seek the guidance of a trained professional to support the efforts of our staff. Our staff will collaborate with these consultants as much as we are able.
When Our Program Is Not a Fit
Our classroom environment does not work for all children. We try very hard to be inclusive. However, we are not always able meet every child’s needs. The openness of our large Montessori classrooms can be over-stimulating for children who cannot self-regulate. They often find success in a more highly structured environment with less sensory stimulation, fewer students, closer direction, and/or a professional staff trained to work with developmental differences.
Often a child will leave our program for a time, attend another program to build the missing skills, then return to Mandala when s/he is able to utilize what our program has to offer.
Keeping a peaceful classroom means finding a balance. Although our staff will make every effort to work with a child, we are sensitive to balancing the needs of the individual child with the needs of all the children. In the event that we determine we cannot meet the developmental needs of a child, or if the child’s behavior poses a risk to others, we will have to ask a child to be withdrawn from the program.
We are committed to preserving our peaceful classroom.
Sources: Aline Wolf, Our Peaceful Classroom. Parent Child Press, 1991.