Early Childhood Special Education
Children learn many fundamental social skills before they enter kindergarten. Before the age of five society expects young children to be able to interact with others, play cooperatively, initiate and maintain conversations and use manners at appropriate times to name a few. Children learn these things without formal social skill instruction. As with most learning in the preschool years, children learn social skills in naturally occurring situations during routine parts of their day. Young children learn almost everything through their own personal research experiments motivated by their curiosity and self expression. These experiments are expressions of the child's urge to understand how the world works and how he/she fits into it. Adults call these natural learning experiences play. Play is a self motivated creative exploration of the child's physical and social world, which is open ended and subject to revision by the child or outside forces.
Because young children learn best through their own play experiences, the role of the Early Childhood teacher is different than that of teachers of older children. Whereas older children have had enough life experiences to be able to conceptualize and internalize more abstract knowledge, younger children need more concrete experiences to help them internalize and retain knowledge. Thus, the teacher of young children must be more of a facilitator of experiences, rather than a teller of information. The Early Childhood teacher must observe a child to see what he knows, and arrange the environment so that a situation may occur in a child's day which will challenge him/her to grow and learn.
This philosophy of developmentally appropriate practice is applicable when teaching young children of all ability levels. In Show Me How II, (Goff, 1991), the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's program guidelines for Early Childhood Special Education, the authors state that:
Goff states that research indicates that most developmentally delayed children have greater difficulty in interactive play and have an absence of peer related social competence. Additionally, these children are frequently placed in homogeneous groupings and have few appropriate peer models (Goff 1991). She strongly suggests that children with disabilities and non-disabled peers integrate in the classroom, as well as in the community. She feels that the role of the teacher as the facilitator of social interaction is especially important when integrating children with moderate and severe disabilities.
Social Skills, therefore, are best learned in
naturalistic settings which foster play interaction
between all developmental levels of young children. The
teacher's role is to facilitate social interaction skills
by designing the environment to promote interaction,
encouraging children to converse to each other and guide
the children through interactions when necessary by
asking questions, modeling feelings and verbal solutions
to problems or parallel talking if appropriate.
In order to incorporate these goals and principles into the philosophy of early childhood special education, we support and promote an implementation model that is collaborative among disciplines to facilitate growth and development. It is through this collaborative effort that we can provide appropriate experiences to promote learning in an integrated manner and uphold the key principles of learning for young children.
Goff, Paula. Show Me How II; Planning and Implementing Early Childhood Special Education Programs. Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 1991, (p.11-17).
Mueller, E. and Bergstrom, J. (1985). Fostering Peer Relations in Young Normal and Handicapped Children. In Kathrine Borman (Ed.); The Social Life of Children in a Changing Society. (p. 191-192).
Learning Objectives: Early Childhood Social Skills
General Teaching Strategies:
1) Organize the environment
2) Initiating and refining social skills/communications
Each child is encouraged to structure his/her own thinking to gain mastery over his/her social relationships through a variety of methods. These include observing, discovering, questioning, problem solving and sharing activities. Learning activities must be provided within a natural context so that children can easily understand the appropriate social skills to use in the appropriate setting.
The following are suggested strategies for promoting several individual social skills.
Set up the environment so that children must
work cooperatively on a joint project (block
building, parachute play, table games, etc.).
Encourage children to play together.
Skill: Dealing With Frustration
Use in class observation and parent reports to
determine areas which may be frustrating for the child.
Skill: Conflict Resolution
If feasible, have children decide on classroom
rules and post them. Teacher may decide on, explain and
post rules if necessary.
Encourage children to work out their own
problems whenever possible. When this isn't working some
children like to use the "Class Meeting"
strategy. When there is a conflict the teacher calls the
class together and requests solutions to the conflicting
children's problems. Children discuss the solutions until
one is agreed upon by the majority of the class.
Skill: Negotiating Differences
Plan a project, such as block building or mural
painting which involves several children with a shared
goal. Generally, as children will have different ideas on
how to attain that goal they must negotiate and
compromise so that the goal may be achieved. Make sure
that children can finish the project by themselves,
without adult help. Children also need to have a finished
product visible, rather than something abstract.
Skill: Predicting Consequences
As young children gain experiences in the world they begin to act with a purpose in mind. Through repeated actions on their part, children receive a reaction. The key to a young child being able to predict a social consequence is the consistency and frequency of the response. For example, if a teacher wants a child to know that she will receive a greeting if she first gives a greeting, the teacher must always be consistent in returning greetings to the child at appropriate times. Situations where preschool children can be trained to predict social consequences happen innumerable times during the day.
Skill: Introducing Yourself
Opportunities arise for the teacher to model and teach introduction skills at naturally occurring times, such as when a visitor comes to class, or during community access activities. Other ways to promote knowledge of this skill would be to put several telephones in the dramatic play area and encourage children to phone each other. Children also enjoy identifying themselves and listening to their voices on a tape recorder. Doll and puppet play time is a good time to encourage and model introductions.
Skill: Asking for Help.
Organize the environment so that the child will need another person to help him complete a task (getting dressed, clean up, etc.). As the need arises the teacher may prompt students by asking, "Do you think this is too hard for you to do? How could you get this done faster? Do you want to ask for help?" Model correct language if necessary.
Skill: Interrupting Appropriately
As the situation arises in the classroom the
teacher can help the student by not giving eye contact or
ignoring a child who is inappropriately interrupting.
When the time is appropriate the teacher can direct her
attention to the child's needs. At this point the teacher
may wish to recognize and state the child's feelings,
"I know you wanted to talk to me"; state her
feelings, "It is hard for me to listen to you when I
am talking to someone else"; state her wishes for
his behavior, "I would like you to wait until I'm
done talking to Jim next time so that I can listen to
you, unless it is very important", or the teacher
may ask him to state his need, "What would you like
to tell me?"
Skill: Dealing With Fear
Teaching Strategies: Teachers need to identify
fears in young children by observation, child or parent
report. Teachers can desensitize fears using a variety of
techniques. For example, if a child has a fear of Santa
Claus, a teacher may want to read Santa stories, being in
a Santa suit for which children can try on, and roleplay
visiting Santa, using a familiar adult as Santa.
Skill: Showing Affection
Teaching Strategies: During the preschool
years, young children are often encouraged
Skill: Turn Taking
Strategies: Set up a high interest activity that involves steps to complete such as a cooking project, board game, or shopkeeper/customer dramatic play. Make sure there are just two or three children involved at first, so participants don't have to wait long for a turn. The teacher may want to suggest who goes first, second and third, then ask the children to remember the order for their second turn. As a follow-up, the teacher may want to discuss with children why it is important to take turns, citing an example of a child who's turn was skipped, and how they felt.
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Early Childhood Special