Child development

Child development is the process by which children become able to handle more complex levels of moving, thinking, feeling, and relating to others. It is the cornerstone of our program.

At First Circle, we take care of children’s physical needs (food, bathroom, rest, and safety), while supporting each child’s development and learning. Understanding child development is an important part of teaching young children.

developmentally appropriate practice

Developmentally appropriate practice (DAP) is a child-centered approach to teaching and learning that incorporates children’s developmental needs, interests, and abilities. As educators, we use DAP to support children’s holistic development and help them achieve their full potential. To implement DAP in the classroom, we:


Think about children as individuals and how they progress and grow at their own pace.

  • Understand child development for your class’s age range and when to get additional help or support for a child outside developmental norms.
  • Celebrate developmental strengths.
  • Work on areas of challenge or need for a particular child.
  • Match activities and lessons to a child’s interest and developmental needs. This helps children engage more with the learning materials and achieve better learning outcomes.


Allow children to construct their own knowledge and develop critical thinking skills. Active learning can include hands-on experiences, problem-solving activities, and open-ended questioning.


Acknowledge the unique abilities and strengths of each child, which can build self-esteem and confidence. Children who are confident are more likely to participate in learning activities and take risks in their learning.


Facilitate play activities that encourage children to work together and practice communication and problem-solving skills. Young children are developing their social skills and need opportunities to interact with their peers. Practice through play can lead to better social skills, improved emotional regulation, and increased empathy and understanding of others.


Take time to get to know and understand the children you work with through their culture, community, and family. This promotes inclusivity and equity by creating a classroom environment that values and respects all children and their backgrounds.


Provide open-ended activities that allow children to express themselves through art, music, and movement. Young children are naturally curious and creative.


Each child is born with a biologically based temperament. Their individual temperament guides their approach to people, experiences, objects, and events. It remains fairly constant over time (although the intensity of traits can be affected by experience).

By understanding children’s temperament, caregivers can help them express their preferences, desires, and feelings appropriately.

When we consider a child’s temperament, we look at where they stand on the continuum of 9 separate areas.

activity level

quiet ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ active

How much does the child need to move around? Can they sit still without wiggling?


biological rhythms

predictable ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ irregular

How regular are the child’s eating times, sleeping times, and bowel movements?



adapts quickly ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ adapts slowly

How quickly does the child adapt to changes in schedule, routine, new foods, new places?


approach withdrawal

approach ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ withdraw

How does the child usually respond to new people, new foods, new toys, new activities?


physical sensitivity

not sensitive ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ very sensitive

How sensitive is the child to noise or light level, temperature, touch, or movement?


intensity of reaction

mild reaction ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ intense reaction

How intense are the child’s reactions, positive or negative?



not distractible ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ very distractible

Is the child easily distracted, or is there intensity of focus that prevents them from being able to switch gears?



positive mood ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ negative mood

How much of the time does the child have a positive mood versus negative mood?



long attention ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ ◦ short attention

How long will the child persist with a difficult activity?


In general, a child will show certain behaviors for each trait. For example, one infant may be extremely active and have a need to move continually, while another may be happy to move slowly around the environment watching things. One toddler may try something over and over until they experience success, while another may try something once and give up if it does not work.

These 9 temperamental traits often appear grouped in 3 temperament types:

    • Easy or flexible: Children with this temperament tend to be easy-going, happy, calm, and adaptable. They have regular sleeping and eating habits.
    • Active or feisty: Children with this temperament may be active, fussy, and have intense positive or negative reactions. They may have irregular sleeping and eating habits.
    • Slow to warm or cautious: Children with this temperament may be hesitant or fearful in unfamiliar situations, move slowly, and prefer to watch a situation for a while before joining in. They may struggle with changes, such as having a new caregiver or a shift in the daily schedule.

Some children have characteristics of more than one temperamental type. Understanding how an individual child expresses or experiences the 9 temperament traits will give you a deeper understanding of their unique needs and behavior than a specific style might.

classroom placement

age range

We partner with families to make the right classroom placement. Upon enrollment, infants and toddlers are placed based on their age and their developmental readiness. We discuss the child’s emotional, cognitive, and physical development with the family, make observations while the child is visiting for the first time, and gather information to determine if there are any additional needs or concerns that would influence classroom placement.

In Lexington and Framingham, children are enrolled in the preschool and pre-kindergarten classrooms according to kindergarten cut-off dates used by the local school systems in the area. In Stoughton, with 2 preschool classrooms instead of 3, we split the ages down the middle. Each educator should know the established age range for their classroom:

  • Infant 1: 1-10 months
  • Infant 2: 8-18 months
  • Toddler 1: 15-24 months
  • Toddler 2/3: 22-33 months
  • Preschool 1: 33-47 months (Exception – Stoughton PS1: 33-52 months)
  • Preschool 2: 47-59 months
  • PreK: 59-71 months (Exception – Stoughton PreK: 53-71 months)


Per EEC regulations, children may be assigned to age groups outside their own based on a review of the child’s most recent progress report or a narrative from the child’s parent addressing their abilities in the areas of mobility, fine and gross motor control, communication, social interactions, and cognition. First Circle makes these decisions on a case-by-case basis, after considering the needs of the child and the classroom.

developmental goal

To enable children to derive maximum benefit from their time at First Circle, our curriculum is based on 52 developmentally appropriate learning objectives that include predictors of school success and are based on school readiness standards. The objectives align with state early learning guidelines. The full list of learning objectives with examples can be found in Learning Objectives with Examples, in the curriculum binder.

transition between classrooms

We have transition windows for infants and toddlers every other month. We transition children based on developmental criteria, age considerations, and family preferences, in that order. The transition process is routine to ensure the children are treated equally, but individualized and flexible to accommodate each child’s needs.

transition windows

We evaluate children throughout the year to assess their readiness for transition. We strive to transition children with their peers but are conscious that children develop at different rates. Every other month we evaluate children approaching the chronological age of the next classroom for developmental readiness [see Transition Process below].


For infants and toddlers, educators should use the readiness milestones to guide their decisions about transition into the next classroom. Those who are developmentally ready transition in small groups.


Children in the 3 preschool classrooms (except Stoughton) transition annually as a group in September and spend a full year in the Pre-K classroom, preparing them for the elementary school structure.


Entering kindergarten is one of the biggest transitions in a young child’s life. During the year in pre-kindergarten, teachers prepare children for this transition through the curriculum, social interactions, and daily routines. The pre-kindergarten curriculum is based on the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks to help every child achieve kindergarten readiness.

Some school systems send parents forms for their child’s pre-k teachers to complete. In addition to providing a reflection of the child’s readiness skills, they also give an opportunity to share information about personality, learning style, social development, individual personality, and temperament.

transition process

Assessing Children’s Readiness

About 6 weeks before the official transition date, each classroom receives a “Transition Notification Form” checklist with the names and birthdates of children old enough to transition. The transition decision is based on whether:

  • a child is developmentally ready and has met or is beginning to meet transition milestones
  • the child meets the chronological age range for the classroom
  • the family feels transition would be beneficial for the child at this time


Upon receipt of the recommendation form, you should:

  • Make sure any children you think may be ready are on the list OR add their names to the list.
  • Mention transition informally to the family and gauge how they feel about it. Find out any family circumstances that may impact the transitioning of specific children, such as new siblings, impending move, death in the family, etc.
  • Based on family information, the child’s progress report, and your knowledge of the expectations in the next classroom, rate each child’s readiness as instructed on the form.
  • Return the completed recommendation form to the director.
Partnering with Families

Transition can be a sensitive issue for parents. Communication with each family is key to success. Those moving to a new classroom are unsure of what they will find there, and those not transitioning sometimes feel their child has been “left out.”  Learn about families’ excitement or concerns ahead of time. Teaching teams in both classrooms are responsible for making families feel like partners in the process.

In preparing for transitions:

  • Well before the next transition window, discuss children who could potentially transition with the director.
  • Well before the next transition window, discuss the transition process with families. Talk about how transition is a normal process of aging and development, tell them about the transition “windows,” and share specific information about the readiness signs their child is showing.
  • Seek out the families that will potentially transition into your classroom and share some of your observations about their child.
  • Link families who have children transitioning together so they know their peer group is moving together.
  • Remind families that age ranges in each classroom benefit their child because they are developmentally appropriate, allowing each child to explore the skills they have and the challenges they are facing. MAKE SURE YOU KNOW THE RANGES.
  • Let families know that you will be watching the transition process carefully. Some children will need to “visit” the classroom to get used to it, some will transition comfortably. We will pace transition based on their child’s needs and will keep them informed of how their child is doing.
  • Refer any families with concerns about the transition process to Administration.
  • Inform families ahead of time about the way visits work, when and how long their child will visit the next classroom. Follow families’ cues as to what is appropriate—the child may be ready to spend a full day in the next classroom, but the family may need time to build up—be flexible.


To assist families who do not want their child to transition from your room, be a good listener and hear their concerns. Focus your discussions on developmental cues and attempt to compromise with the family if necessary. Assure them we will assess their child’s adaptation and involve them in each step. Facilitate opportunities for the family to see their child in action in the classroom. Introduce the family to the teachers in the next classroom and encourage them to observe that group.

When a child transitions, both the new and old classroom teachers should reassure parents they’ll be watching the transition process carefully and supporting their child.

Collaboration among educators

Once we decide a child is ready to transition, we give parents a transition packet outlining the process with important dates and steps. They will be asked to authorize the exchange of information between educators in the 2 classrooms. After authorization, the 2 classrooms should meet to discuss all the transitioning children. This meeting should include:

  • review of All About Me forms
  • review of any behavior plans, etc.
  • plan for assisting each child with the transition consistent with the child’s ability to understand
  • copies of emergency information forms to the new classroom
  • Special Care Plans, including all attached Plans

Transition visits

We send parents of transitioning children information that outlines the process about a month before the scheduled transition date.

Children will visit the new classroom in increasing amounts over the 2 weeks before the transition. Some children may need more visits. Families may have scheduled absences during the visitation weeks, so please plan accordingly. Remember that available space in a classroom on any given day may depend upon the enrollment and staffing in several other classrooms.

Classroom teams are responsible for collaborating on how visits should happen. We will try to schedule extra staff during these times, if possible, but please be flexible and confirm with your coworkers that the plan for the day works for all. Sign the children in and out of your classroom’s attendance sheet for each visit. Write the name in if necessary. Whatever a child’s transition schedule, educators should inform parents daily about how the visits are going and answer any questions they have.

transition open houses

Classrooms should plan a Transition Open House for transitioning families before the first week of classroom visits. At the Open House, parents can meet the teachers and assistants in the next classroom, learn about the curriculum and activities there, and receive materials to assist them and their child during the process. This also offers a chance to reflect on the visits that have happened so far, discuss strategies, and get a sense of how families are feeling.

Staff attendance at the Transition Open House is crucial to the transition’s success. Here are guidelines for materials and information you should provide to parents at the Open House:

  • Samples of artwork, creative projects, etc.
  • Location of each child’s belongings (food/lunchbox, diapers, nap items)
  • The daily schedule (activities and choices)
  • An idea of what their child will be experiencing in the classroom, how you interact with them, and what things may be different (expectations, daily schedule, classroom guidelines, etc.)
  • Encouragement to get to know other families transitioning into the classroom at the same time
  • Something about you to help families get to know you better


Assessment is the process of observing and documenting children’s development and learning over time. We know each child is an individual, with specific interests, skills, strengths, and their own developmental timetable. To measure and report children’s progress, we assess them to find out what they know and can do at any given point.

Educators evaluate each child’s strengths and needs to help them be successful. We do not test children. We observe what children do and say as they participate in activities in the classroom, and document those observations.

Assessment is closely linked to our learning objectives and curriculum. When assessing children, observe and nurture the skills and knowledge we want them to acquire in our program. Adjust the curriculum and instruction to meet each child’s learning needs.

progress reports

Throughout the year, parents receive regular feedback about their children’s learning and developmental progress. We are required by EEC to evaluate each toddler and preschool child every 6 months. For infants and diverse learners, we evaluate every 3 months. As part of the evaluation process, parents are invited to schedule a parent-teacher conference if they wish.

The daily sheets, conversations, and progress reports we use to communicate with families are records of their child’s growth and development. Often a child has issues that need to be addressed. More often, we are reporting progress.

Progress reports should not be used to vent or complain about a child’s annoying habits, but as a chance to outline the ways you support the child to learn appropriate interactions.

Communicate in a supportive manner to families. The following guidelines can help you decide the right words to use.

  • Begin and end with a positive—put yourself in the family’s shoes.
  • Follow areas of improvement with a positive: “Jason struggles to remember the rules for safety. We continue to offer him gentle reminders.”
  • Instead of describing a child as “cute” or “adorable,” describe a specific asset: “We never get tired of seeing Oliver’s smile!”
  • Describe concerns in behavioral terms and offer suggestions or choices rather than advice. “We continue to monitor Lucy’s speech development. Keep reading to her at home and using language. If she hasn’t developed more words in the next few months, we can discuss options for referral.”
  • Keep it simple and respectful of each family’s individual needs and cultural differences.
  • Tell the parent what you do to support the child: “We still notice that Jose is biting when he is frustrated. We try to intervene before he becomes overwhelmed, and model ways to cope with the situation. Jose learns new ways to communicate his feelings every day!”

Sometimes you have already addressed an issue with a parent. Instead of rehashing, say, “Let’s meet again to discuss the progress Jose is making with his biting.”

  • demonstrates strong verbal skills
  • gets along well with others
  • likes to learn
  • enjoys new experiences
  • follows the rules
  • expresses his/her feelings
  • likes to take the lead
  • finds new ways to solve problems
  • contributes to discussions
  • helps
  • is outgoing
  • is creative
  • is blossoming
  • is enjoying…
  • will ask for help
  • has strong motor skills
  • is developing…skills
  • has adjusted well to
  • likes to be busy with….
  • perfect
  • cute
  • well-behaved
  • obedient
  • adorable
  • mild-mannered
  • smart
  • intelligent
  • good
  • delightful
  • active
  • can be sad when…
  • sometimes resists help with…
  • can find it difficult to…
  • has been working on/is still working on…
  • is still adjusting to…
  • needs encouragement to…
  • we encourage him/her to…
  • we remind her/him to…
  • sometimes struggles to…
  • moody
  • destructive
  • bad
  • aggressive
  • lazy
  • rude
  • disruptive
  • manipulative
  • pushy
  • never…
  • does not…well
  • can’t
  • won’t
  • bothers
  • antagonizes
  • headstrong
  • whiny
  • stubborn
  • possessive
  • fresh
  • nosy


Upon enrollment at First Circle, the assigned primary caregiver should start a journal for each infant and toddler, and a portfolio for each preschooler.

The primary caregiver contributes to each child’s journal or portfolio on a regular basis (at least monthly). Include information such as photos, anecdotes, and samples of children’s work. Please encourage infant and toddler families to bring the journal home and share information with us about their child’s home life. The information they provide can be used to have an ongoing conversation about the child’s learning experience. Although portfolios for preschool children do not go back and forth between home and school, you should plan and implement opportunities for parents to view and comment.

Each journal follows the child through the program from classroom to classroom until they reach preschool when it goes home for good. Portfolios are created in each Preschool classroom and go home at year end or when the child leaves the program. Children should have opportunities to contribute to their portfolio.


Parent-teacher conferences are scheduled as needed for infants and toddlers. Each preschool classroom chooses a specific date to offer short, 10-minute conferences that parents can sign up for. If requested or deemed necessary, the director may be included.

Parent/teacher meeting request forms are always available on our website. If a family indicates interest in meeting, please meet with the director beforehand to discuss the content of the meeting and determine whether Administration should be present. The director should schedule the conference so that it is convenient to everyone’s schedule.

diverse learners

Diverse Learners are children who, because of gender, ethnic background, socioeconomic status, differing ability levels, learning styles or disabilities, may have needs that require varied instructional strategies to help them learn.


The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, a professor of education at Harvard University. The theory suggests that traditional ways of understanding intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, are too limited. Dr. Gardner said our schools and culture focus most of their attention on linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence, but there are 6 other types of intelligences that get less attention in society but are equally important. The 8 types of intelligences are:

  • Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)
  • Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  • Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  • Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

Our culture places a high value on people with strong language and logic skills. However, the theory of multiple intelligences helps us develop children who show gifts in the other intelligences: the future artists, architects, musicians, naturalists, designers, dancers, mechanics, entrepreneurs, and others who enrich the world in which we live.

Being aware of multiple intelligences helps teachers present information multiple ways using music, cooperative learning, art activities, role play, multimedia, field trips, inner reflection, and much more. It helps all learners succeed.


Infants, toddlers, and preschoolers develop at different rates and patterns. Most children acquire skills during predictable time periods called developmental milestones. When children have not reached milestones by the expected time period, it can be due to a developmental delay or a developmental difference. Developmental delays and differences can occur in any of 5 areas (cognitive, social, emotional, speech and language, fine and gross motor).


Types of developmental delays/differences include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Behavioral/emotional disabilities
  • Intellectual disabilities
  • Autism spectrum
  • Gifted and talented
  • Speech and language disorders
  • Blindness and low vision
  • Hard of hearing or hearing impaired
  • Kinesthetic learners
Early identification/treatment

Early identification seeks to determine which children have developmental issues that may delay learning or place them at risk.

For some children, developmental differences and delays are temporary; for others, they may persist, making the child’s referral for evaluation important for their success in school. Currently, there are no clear ways to predict whether developmental delays or differences that appear in the early years may persist.

Research has shown earlier assistance to address a developmental delay or difference helps the child progress faster, and face fewer challenges to learning. Therefore, when a toddler or preschooler demonstrates early developmental difficulties, we don’t know if they may at risk for a learning disability or other developmental issue at an older age, but adopting a wait-and-see approach or hoping that the child will grow out of their problems is not in the child’s best interest.

Signs of developmental delays/differences [see Appendix]

When to intervene

Educators’ jobs are not to diagnose, but it is important that teachers be aware and act on signs of developmental delays/differences. You should take action if:

  • The child’s frustration and anxiety are interfering with learning.
  • The child exhibits challenging behavior. [see CHILD GUIDANCE section]
  • The child’s basic skills are delayed and they are not meeting developmental milestones.
Getting a child help

The journey from identifying a child with developmental/behavioral concerns to implementing a treatment plan has multiple steps:

Step 1: Implement principles of universal design. [see Learning Environment section]

Step 2: Implement individualized accommodations and keep notes.

Step 3: Meet with family. Refer child for assessment if appropriate.

Step 4: Create a plan for support with family.

Steps occur as needed.

Steps 1 and 2: Universal Design and Individualized Interventions

All classrooms have principles of universal design and accommodations built into the classroom. Step 1 is in place.

If the teaching team has concerns about a child’s development, or if the child is experiencing social, physical, or behavioral difficulties in the classroom or in informal interactions with peers, the teaching team should:

  • Consult with director and previous classroom’s teaching team.
  • Try individualized interventions, including accommodations to the curriculum or classroom:


Try This…
  • Paying attention
  • Give explanations in small, distinct steps
  • Provide visual backup to oral instructions (schedules)
  • Have child repeat directions
  • Look directly at child
  • Place hand on child’s shoulder
  • Ask for eye contact before giving instructions
  • Following directions
  • Use fewer words
  • Provide examples
  • Repeat
  • Have child repeat
  • Provide checklist in pictures
  • Use auditory and visual direction
  • Expressing themselves
  • Ask questions requiring short answers
  • Provide prompts/cues
  • Learning by listening
  • Provide visuals
  • Give explanations in small, distinct steps
  • Remove extra words
  • Provide schedules/routines in pictures
  • Get input about the child from the parent.
  • Review the child’s record, and complete an observation report with anecdotal notes, behavior logs, and examples of tried accommodations/strategies/interventions over 2 to 4 weeks. [see Behavior Support Plan]
  • After keeping the observation log for a sufficient time, if adequate progress has not occurred, the teaching team should meet with the director to review attempted interventions and develop a Classroom Accommodations Plan, including:
    • Individual interventions, including accommodations to curriculum, classroom, or schedule or behavioral interventions or strategies.
    • Engaging an outside consultant to observe and make recommendations.
  • If the individual interventions and strategies succeed, and the child is on target for developmental milestones and/or challenging behavior decreases, the teaching team should continue to implement the strategies and monitor results.
Step 3: Meet with family. Refer the child for assessment if appropriate

If individualized interventions and strategies fail, and the child continues to show delays and/or differences, the teaching team and director should meet with the parents to recommend further evaluation or special services and develop a referral plan. In the meeting, the parents should receive a written summary of the reason for referral, a summary of First Circle’s observations related to the referral, and any efforts the school has made to accommodate the child’s needs.

Communicating with Parents

Many families are open to seeking assessment and services by qualified professionals if warranted. However, some families may have difficulty hearing the information. They may deny a problem exists because they fear or feel threatened by its possibilities and consequences.

Family cooperation is crucial to helping a child address a developmental issue. Teachers must recognize and be sensitive to family responses, including cultural differences in viewing and addressing a disability, and provide appropriate support.

Our curriculum


Curriculum is the heart of any learning program. Curriculum is comprised of all the care and learning that happens in our program. It includes all the experiences, activities, and interactions that foster children’s learning and development. The nurturing relationships between teachers and children, the learning environment, daily schedule, children’s skills assessments, and our partnership with families are part of curriculum too.

Our curriculum’s mission is to help children develop the critical skills, knowledge, habits, attitudes, and character traits they need to thrive in school and life.

The goals of our curriculum are to support children in:

  • successfully meeting all developmental objectives
  • learning real-world content
  • developing their imagination, curiosity, self-esteem, and a love for learning
  • building resilience
  • communicating well
  • becoming compassionate and supportive friends, family members, team players, and responsible citizens of the world around them

how children learn

We’ve designed our curriculum to incorporate the core elements of early childhood education that help young children learn best.


We believe children learn best through play and that childhood should not be rushed. Children need time and space to develop in their unique way at their own pace. Because play enhances all areas of development in young children, we base our curriculum on play-centered learning.

Playful learning engages and motivates children in ways that enhance development and life-long learning. Studies of learning through play show that more than direct-instruction methods, play teaches children to be more imaginative and better problem-solvers. Without adequate opportunities for play, children burn out from academic pressure.

Making learning fun is our prime objective. In our classrooms, we encourage all types of play (for example, exploratory, sociodramatic, sensory, construction, imaginative, physical), and, by asking questions or offering suggestions, teachers should take advantage of teachable moments during play. Educators should give children opportunities for extended, self-directed, uninterrupted play, both indoors and outside, and guide and support each child’s learning.


Children need balance. Children learn in different ways, so learning activities throughout our program should be a balance of structure and flexibility; individual, small-group, and large-group experiences; child-initiated and teacher-led; quiet and active periods; and multi-sensory approaches. Each program should encourage children to build upon learned skills and previous experiences, with opportunities to reflect, revisit, and connect.

Activities should be intentional and use the learning centers. Each classroom must implement curriculum in an age-appropriate manner using these standard elements:

  •  sensory-based activities
  •  language development
  • large and small motor skill development
  • creative movement
  • music and singing
  • art activities
  • games
  • dramatic play
  • cooking
  • nature
  • pre-math activities
  • pre-reading activities
  • story and circle time
  • science activities


Teachers should ensure that daily activities and teaching goals are engaging, flexible, and accessible for all children. When considering learning activities, teachers should:

  • use multiple approaches to tap into children’s interests
  • work to engage all types of learners
  • consider how long children are sitting
  • achieve a balance of teacher-led and child-directed activities
  • encourage involvement and discussion
  • consider children’s prior experience with the information and whether their knowledge provides enough foundation to learn new information
  • offer feedback and encouragement
  • repeat activities throughout the week to reinforce learning and help skill mastery


Teaching children to trust is the root of every good relationship. Teacher-child relationships influence young children’s social and emotional development. Teacher interaction helps children build positive and emotionally secure relationships with adults.

The quality of teacher-child relationships predicts children’s competence, persistence, enthusiasm for learning, and academic success. Educators should respect children, listen to them, get down to their level, and calmly implement clear and consistent limits. Offer lots of love, support, hugs, and individual attention.

Specifically, educators should:

  • Communicate in a positive and respectful manner. Use clear, age-appropriate language with children, encourage them, and build their self-esteem.
  • Respond. Address children’s needs and interests. Provide individualized support and attention. Look for children’s cues. Respond promptly and appropriately to their requests.
  • Support children emotionally. Children need to feel safe and secure. Provide emotional support, helping children to develop a sense of trust, attachment, and self-regulation. Comfort and reassure them when they are upset. Validate their feelings and experiences.
  • Provide positive feedback. Praise and encourage children’s positive behavior and achievements. This reinforces good behavior and helps build children’s self-esteem, motivation, and confidence.
  • Be affectionate. Children who experience warm, caring, and affectionate interactions with their educators are more likely to feel safe, secure, and valued, which can lead to greater confidence and self-esteem.
  • Build positive relationships. Get to know children as individuals, taking time to understand their interests, strengths, and needs.
  • Listen actively. Listen attentively to children, validate their feelings, and respond in a way that shows you have heard them.
  • Provide opportunities for play. Offer ample opportunities for play-based learning activities. Actively participate in play with children, facilitating their learning and exploration.
  • Encourage self-expression. Provide a safe and supportive environment where children can express themselves freely. Encourage expression through art, music, and movement.
  • Foster a sense of belonging. Creating a welcoming environment in the classroom where children feel valued and included.



Children need a safe and stimulating learning environment with physical space, learning centers, equipment, materials, and outdoor learning to stimulate children’s bodies, minds, and imaginations. Classrooms should:

  • be safe, inviting, and stimulating
  • include well-rounded and engaging learning centers and open-ended materials
  • foster children’s growth in language, large and small muscles, creativity, imagination, self-help skills, and cultural awareness

Each classroom’s schedule and routines reinforce learning with enough structure to provide children security and predictability and the flexibility to meet children’s needs. [See LEARNING ENVIRONMENT]


Active learning takes advantage of children’s natural motivations, abilities, and interests, so hands-on exploration is key to our curriculum. Young children are natural, enthusiastic learners. They discover the world through their senses, exploring materials, moving throughout the classroom, and interacting with one another. They like to ask questions, investigate, explore, examine, and experiment.

Children understand concepts and develop skills through hands-on experiences. Projects allow them to study a topic in depth and collaborate with their peers. Working on projects with other children involves teamwork, problem solving, and critical thinking, all goals of 21st-century learning.


Parent involvement enhances children’s achievement, attitudes, and behavior, and helps them feel more comfortable in new settings. We respect and support each family’s background, culture, values, and traditions, and encourage feedback, input, and open communication. We welcome parents as experts on their children, and as partners in setting goals to best serve their child’s needs, strengths, and interests. We offer an open-door policy, allowing parents to visit and participate in our programs any time.

Parents are encouraged to lend their knowledge and talents to the classroom. Involvement can range from contributions that family members can make from home to volunteering in the classroom. Parents can get involved in their child’s education by:

Sharing a talent or job

Family members can share their knowledge and experience with the children. Examples include playing an instrument, teaching children about carpentry, or demonstrating a skill.

Sharing their culture

Families who share aspects of their cultural heritage enrich the program greatly. They could cook a traditional dish with the children, teach them dances, read a traditional story, or tell stories of their childhood.

Making things for the program

Parents can do projects at home that benefit the children. They can collect materials for the art area (like fabric scraps, ribbons, yarn, paper towel cardboard), objects for sorting and classifying (like buttons, shells, keys, or bottle caps), or props for dramatic play. Willing parents can make things for the classroom such as doll clothes, curtains, or record stories for the library area.

what children learn


ME + YOU: learning about myself and those around me
  • managing and expressing feelings, developing empathy
  • developing positive self-esteem, self-identity, and self-management
  • building character and learning emotional intelligence
  • making friends and building positive relationships
  • beginning awareness of history, geography, economics, civics, diversity, and culture
BRAIN POWER: learning how to think about the world around me
  • developing knowledge in STEM: science, technology, engineering, and math
  • fostering inquiry, problem-solving, critical thinking, and reasoning skills
  • improving memory and processing skills
WORD SMART: learning how to communicate in the world around me
  • understanding and using language
  • learning to communicate thoughts, needs, and experiences
  • developing emergent reading and writing ability
HEALTHY ME: developing a healthy body and learning to take care of myself
  • developing large and small motor skills
  • understanding physical health
  • learning safety practices
  • learning how to make healthy choices in daily activities
IMAGINE THAT: learning to express myself creatively
  • understanding and appreciating visual art and artists
  • exploring materials and media
  • exploring music with voices and instruments
  • playing dramatically
  • exploring dance and creative movement


Connecting My World™ incorporates developmentally appropriate goals and learning objectives of nationally recognized curricula, as well as our own research-based objectives that align with Massachusetts state guidelines and frameworks.

Learning objectives are broken into the 5 areas of learning and outline a clear set of milestones and skills children reach from infants to kindergarten. This allows teachers to accurately assess children’s abilities to report progress to parents and to develop experiences and activities to meet each child’s needs.

Learning objectives are divided into several sub-objectives for infants through pre-kindergarten [see Learning Objectives with Examples for a full description].

ME + YOU: learning about myself and those around me

Teach prosocial skills

Prosocial skills help or benefit another individual or the group. The 3 main prosocial behaviors for young children are helping, sharing, and cooperating.. Here are ways to help children learn prosocial behavior, which will help prevent challenging behavior:

  • Be affectionate. You can be affectionate toward children by smiling, hugging, carrying, sitting with, and speaking with children at their eye level throughout the day. You should be available and responsive to children.
  • Promote empathy. Guide children to treat each other with respect, and to care for each other. Encourage them to share experiences, ideas, and feelings. Listen to them with attention, interest, and respect. Include children in conversations. Describe your actions, experiences, and events – then listen and respond to children’s suggestions.
  • Encourage independence. Encourage children’s independence and responsibility through routine activities like cleaning up the classroom, taking care of their own belongings, and obtaining and caring for materials. Give children choices; teach them how to choose activities and make decisions. Encourage them to discuss and resolve conflicts on their own or with an educator’s assistance when necessary.
  • Give children names for feelings and help them “use their words.” Empathize with and validate children’s feelings. Be attentive even when you don’t understand what the child is trying to say. Give children the vocabulary to express and name their feelings. Help them to solve their problems verbally.
  • Promote entry into play groups. Young children frequently need encouragement to enter playgroups. Preschoolers tend to enter groups by:
    • approaching and watching with no attempt to participate
    • starting the same activity as another child and blending into the ongoing activity
    • making social greetings or invitations
    • offering informational statements or questions
    • asking to join
    • approaching and trying to control the group or get attention

Help children negotiate conflict

Teachers need to help children develop negotiating skills to handle conflicts. Children use social problem-solving skills to resolve issues in a matter that benefits them and is acceptable to others. Here are 6 suggested steps for teaching conflict resolution:

  1. Identify and define the conflict.
  2. Invite children to participate in solving the problem.
  3. Work together to generate possible solutions.
  4. Examine each idea for how well it might work.
  5. Help children with plans to implement the solution.
  6. Follow up to evaluate how well the solution worked.

Use the classroom

Prepare the classroom environment to best help children learn prosocial skills. Here are some ideas:

  • To encourage discussion and problem-solving, place exploratory activities in the science area that can be played by 2 or more children.
  • Introduce books that deal with perspective taking, feelings, and emotions in the literacy corner.
  • Include a dollhouse with people of many cultures represented in the housekeeping area.
  • Place giant floor puzzles in the manipulative area so children can work together towards a common goal.
  • Play a parachute game where cooperation is necessary during large motor times.
  • Promote helping skills and acts of kindness by setting up opportunities in the dramatic play area such as a pet hospital.
  • Set up bath time for baby dolls in the sensory table. Model caring and helping behaviors.
  • Supply paint, brushes, and a very large piece of paper for the whole class to make a mural in the art area.
  • Display children’s work in the classroom at their level.


Self-regulation is the ability to internally regulate one’s own behavior rather than depending on others to enforce it. Self-control helps children learn, supports their growth and development, and is fundamental to creating social order. Children demonstrate self-control when they

  1. control their impulses, wait, and suspend action,
  2. tolerate frustration,
  3. postpone immediate gratification, and
  4. initiate a plan and carry it out over time.

As educators, our ultimate goal is to teach children to manage their own behavior. Teaching children to self-manage increases the likelihood that appropriate behavior will last. It allows teachers to spend more time teaching and less time trying to control behavior. Here are 4 suggested strategies:

  • Use direct instruction to let children know what behaviors are appropriate and inappropriate. For example, restricting certain behaviors (“Five more minutes on the swing.”) or redirecting children’s behaviors (“You can bounce the ball outside.”).
  • Implement logical consequences (throwing sand means leaving the sandbox for another activity).
  • Integrate emotions, development, and experience to help children make an internal map. (“When you share the chalk with Tommy, it makes him happy.”).
  • Provide repeated opportunities for children to practice self-control and refine their behavior. Self-control evolves over time.

BRAIN POWER: learning how to think about the world around me

We want to teach children 21st century skills. Young children’s natural curiosity of how the world works makes early childhood an optimal time to introduce them to STEM- based learning (science, technology, engineering, and math). Our goal is to harness young children’s innate drive to observe, interact, discover, and explore to set them on a path to develop a love of scientific inquiry and creative problem-solving.

Educators can create a fun and engaging learning environment that helps young children develop their scientific skills and build a strong foundation for future science learning. Early childhood educators do not need a strong background in science to teach these skills effectively. They can use resources such as books, online materials, and professional development opportunities to deepen their understanding of scientific concepts and teaching strategies.


Science encourages investigation, inquiry, hypothesis testing, experimentation, and reflection. Early childhood educators can teach science skills to young children in a variety of ways, such as:

  • Encourage children to ask questions and explore the world around them through hands-on activities and investigations.
  • Use materials like magnets, magnifying glasses, and microscopes to engage children in scientific investigations and exploration.
  • Provide outdoor activities, such as nature walks or garden exploration, for children to observe and investigate the natural world.
  • Use children’s books that incorporate scientific concepts, such as animals, weather, or the human body, to introduce children to scientific language and concepts.
  • Introduce simple games and puzzles, like sorting or classification games, to help children develop their cognitive and problem-solving skills.
  • Help children see science in everyday activities, like planting seeds during garden time or observing the weather, to help them develop a positive attitude toward science and its practical applications.


Technology includes understanding the purpose of and use of simple tools like magnifying glasses, and more complex ones like microscopes. Here are some effective strategies for teaching technology skills:

  • Use child-friendly technology tools, like tablets, digital cameras, and simple coding toys, to engage children in hands-on activities and exploration.
  • Teach children about responsible digital citizenship, such as online safety and respectful communication, to help them use technology in a positive and safe way.
  • Help children see technology as a tool for learning and play by incorporating it into daily routines, such as using interactive whiteboards during circle time or playing educational games during center time.


Engineering involves building or creating things while recognizing problems and testing solutions. Here are some fun ideas for teaching technology:

  • Use materials like blocks, Legos, or cardboard to engage children in hands-on engineering projects, like building towers, bridges, or vehicles.
  • Pose design challenges to children, such as building a structure that can withstand wind or creating a vehicle that can move a certain distance, to develop their problem-solving and critical thinking skills.
  • Encourage children to work together on engineering projects, such as building a city or a complex machine, to develop their collaboration and communication skills.
  • Help children learn from their mistakes and experiment with different solutions through trial and error, rather than focusing on finding the “right” answer.
  • Help children see engineering in everyday activities, such as building with blocks during free play or designing a fort during outdoor play, to help them value engineering and its practical applications.


Pre-math deals with numbers, patterns, shapes, organizational skills, and much more.

Fun and engaging ideas for helping young children develop their pre-math skills include:

  • Use manipulatives, such as blocks, counting bears, or playdough, to teach pre-math concepts like counting, sorting, and patterns.
  • Read children’s books that incorporate math concepts, such as counting or measurement, to introduce children to mathematical language and concepts.
  • Offer simple games and puzzles, like matching or memory games, to help children develop their cognitive and problem-solving skills.
  • Sing and dance to teach mathematical concepts, like counting and shapes.
  • Provide outdoor activities, such as exploring nature or playing with water, for children to practice measuring, comparing, and classifying objects.
  • Model mathematical thinking and problem-solving skills for children and provide scaffolding support as they practice and develop their skills.
  • Help children see math in everyday activities, like measuring ingredients during snack time or counting the number of students in the classroom, to instill a positive attitude towards math and its practical applications.

IMAGINE THAT: learning to express myself creatively


Arts use creative thinking and imagination while exploring a variety of materials and methods. Here are strategies to help young children develop art skills and build a strong foundation for future artistic expression.

  • Process over product: Focus on the creative process of making art rather than the final product.
  • Art exploration: Provide a range of materials, such as paints, markers, clay, and collage materials. Encourage children to explore them freely, use different techniques, and express their ideas and feelings through art.
  • Open-ended art projects: Offer open-ended art projects that allow children to use their creativity and imagination, such as creating abstract art or making sculptures.
  • Art appreciation: Introduce children to art styles and artists, both historical and contemporary, and encourage them to appreciate and discuss what they see.
  • Collaboration: Encourage children to work together on art projects, fostering collaboration and communication skills.
  • Sensory experiences: Provide sensory experiences, such as painting with hands or exploring textures and materials, to help children engage with art in a multi-sensory way.

It’s important to note that art should be used as a tool for learning and self-expression, not a performance-based activity. Additionally, teachers should provide developmentally appropriate materials and activities to ensure children can safely and successfully engage with art experiences.

Teaching dance and creative movement promotes children’s physical development, creativity, and self-expression. Here are some tips to teach dance and creative movement effectively:

  • Begin with basic movements such as jumping, hopping, skipping, and twirling. Encourage children to explore these movements in different ways, such as moving fast or slow, high or low.
  • Incorporate music and props such as scarves, ribbons, or balls to make the dance and creative movement activities more engaging and fun. Use music with a clear beat and rhythm to help children learn to move in time with the music.
  • Create a safe and supportive environment for children to explore and experiment with movement. Encourage children to try new things. Avoid criticizing or correcting their movements.
  • Provide opportunities for guided movement. For example, ask them to move like different animals or objects or use storytelling to inspire movement.
  • Encourage children to express themselves through movement and to share their ideas and feelings with others. Let children create their own dances or movements.
  • Adjust activities to accommodate individual needs. Provide modifications or adaptations as needed to ensure all children can participate and feel successful.
  • Be enthusiastic and playful when teaching dance and creative movement. Engage with children, join in the activities yourself, and have fun!

WORD SMART: learning how to communicate in the world around me


Pre-reading refers to the skills and knowledge children acquire before they learn to read and write. Pre-reading components include:

  • Oral language: Children learn to communicate and express themselves through spoken language, developing vocabulary, grammar, and social communication skills. Talk to them, read to them, sing songs, recite rhymes, encourage conversation, play games that involve language, and use correct grammar and vocabulary.
  • Phonological awareness: Children learn to recognize and manipulate the sounds of language. Engage children in activities that involve rhyming, alliteration, and segmenting words into sounds.
  • Print awareness: Children learn about the physical features of written language, Provide print-rich environments, including posters, labels, and books, and help children learn about the directionality of reading, the meaning of letters and words, and the purpose of print.
  • Letter knowledge: Children learn to recognize and name letters of the alphabet, both in isolation and in context. Provide opportunities for children to learn about letters and their sounds, such as letter matching games, alphabet books, and letter tracing.
  • Story comprehension: Children learn to understand and engage with stories, identifying characters, settings, and plot. Read aloud to children on a regular basis, exposing them to a variety of books and stories, and modeling fluent reading and expression. Help children engage with stories, ask questions, make connections, and predict what will happen next.
  • Play-based activities: Incorporate literacy activities into play-based learning, such as writing shopping lists, creating menus, or labeling items in the classroom.


Pre-writing covers skills and activities that prepare children to learn to write.

  • Fine motor activities: Playing with playdough, threading beads, and using scissors help to develop the small muscles in a child’s hands that are necessary for writing.
  • Drawing and scribbling: Encourage children to draw and scribble with a variety of materials, such as crayons, markers, and chalk. This helps them develop their hand-eye coordination and their ability to control the tools they use.
  • Tracing and copying: Provide children with tracing worksheets and allow them to practice tracing shapes and lines. As they become more confident, encourage them to copy simple words and sentences.
  • Sensory writing: Children can practice writing letters and shapes in different sensory materials, such as sand, shaving cream, or finger paint. This engages their senses and makes the learning process more enjoyable.
  • Gross motor activities: Playing catch and throwing a ball help to develop a child’s hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness, which are important skills for writing.
  • Letter formation: Teach children to form letters correctly, starting with the letters in their name. Use visual aids and songs to help them remember the correct formation.
  • Games and activities: Engage children in games and activities that require them to identify and match letters and shapes. For example, a memory game using letter cards, or a scavenger hunt to find objects that match a particular shape.

HEALTHY ME: developing a healthy body and learning to take care of myself

Developing fine and gross motor skills in young children is an important aspect of early childhood education. It promotes physical development, coordination, and overall health. Here are some tips:

  • Encourage activities that involve both gross motor skills (e.g. running, jumping, throwing) and fine motor skills (e.g. building with blocks, coloring).
  • Provide sensory materials such as sand, water, and play dough, which can help develop fine motor skills through manipulation and exploration.
  • Offer open-ended art activities that involve cutting, pasting, and drawing which develop hand-eye coordination.
  • Incorporate games requiring movement like throwing and catching and puzzles that involve manipulation and sorting.
  • Use music and movement activities, such as dancing, marching, or playing instruments.
  • Provide opportunities for outdoor play, for gross motor skills development through climbing, running, and playing on playground equipment.
  • Encourage children to practice self-help skills such as dressing themselves, feeding themselves, and using utensils.
  • Provide free play time, where they can explore their environment and experiment with different movements and activities.
  • Emphasize healthy habits such as washing hands and brushing teeth, which develop fine motor skills and promote overall health.


Authentic learning occurs when activities or projects offer children an opportunity to apply their knowledge or skills to real-world situations. Children engage and learn more when activities, discussions, and materials are related to their surroundings and to real life examples.

Learning activities and content should be linked with a particular theme or project. Themes are ideal for integrating learning across the curriculum, creating an environment that supports language development, helps children see connections, and enables them to make their own connections. Thematic units support creative thinking, combine the different ways that young children learn, and make learning fun!

Themes provide structure and format for learning, but there is always room to follow children’s emerging interests. Our curriculum gives the teachers the flexibility to extend or shorten the time spent on a theme based on the level of interest.

When you observe an interest emerging, work with the children to find more ways to explore the topic and deepen their understanding. Take children’s interests and combine them with educational goals to plan engaging experiences. Research shows that when children are interested, they learn more from the experience.

Thematic goals are the specific knowledge related to a topic that teachers want children to learn. Teachers and children determine specific topics to investigate. Teachers plan experiences will teach children the procedural, factual and conceptual goals of the topic.

Our curriculum is divided into four broad themes. Each theme lasts approximately 3 months. The themes start with the child at the center, then move to the larger world, involving people and places all around the globe. Specifically, it guides children in an age-appropriate manner through an exploration of:

Myself and My Family
  • the most personal aspects of the child’s experiences, those that are most prominent in their daily life
My Friends, My School and My Community
  • other families, the child’s community, and the people who live and work within it
My World
  • all aspects of the physical and natural world
My Place in The World
  • the neighbors around me in this country and others, including their customs, culture and folklore; my place in space, the universe around me and my contribution.

With each theme, there are areas of focus. An area of focus is more specific than a theme, but still broad enough to allow for several topics to be explored within it. Each topic is designed for deep exploration through experiential activities and projects.

ready for learning, ready for life

We know success in school starts long before a child sets foot in a kindergarten classroom. Supportive teachers make sure each child grows at their own pace and is ready to flourish in the next phase of their educational journey, whether that’s achieving the next milestone, moving up to the next classroom, or going to kindergarten.

What is readiness?

Readiness encompasses skills in every domain: physical, cognitive, social, and emotional. Being ready isn’t just mastering skills or meeting milestones; it’s being prepared to take the next step on an educational journey with capability, interest, and enthusiasm.

Ready for life

While school readiness encompasses early literacy and math skills, it also includes essential skills such as how to:

  • wait in line
  • be a good friend
  • ask for help
  • make mistakes and learn from them
  • be self-confident
  • love learning


We believe that preparing children for school is not just about the curriculum. It’s about creating a safe environment with heart, with teachers that nurture, cherish, and motivate. It’s not just about reaching benchmarks but achieving the potential within and approaching the future with confidence and a love of learning.


First Circle is very proud of our unique character education program, MyCharacter. Character determines how we respond to situations and circumstances of life. How a person thinks, acts, and feels reveals their character. Character shows in the habits and values a person demonstrates in their interactions with others, and how they treat themselves. Early childhood experts say children begin to develop character traits in infancy based on their personal experiences, relationships, and temperament.

Studies show character skills are as important as academic skills in determining success in life. When children learn habits of planning and goal setting, self-regulation, decision-making, organizing their personal time, and managing responsibilities effectively, they gain habits that will help them succeed in school and in life.

MyCharacter™ introduces an area of character every 3 months, with a specific trait each month. Parents receive our flier providing information about each character trait so they can support children in their character education at home.

Books, games, poems, and songs that are introduced each month highlight the trait and teach prosocial behaviors and engage children in making choices to reinforce learning objectives. The at-home fliers give parents specific activities they can do with their child to model and practice the character skills being taught in the classroom.

With each character trait, provide children multiple activities to practice solving problems, to reinforce learning, and to see how their behavior, actions, and words affect others. The ability to make good choices, self-manage, and be helpful, honest, and compassionate are skills that are built over time, with examples, reinforcement, modeling, and practice.

curriculum planning


  • Plan curriculum on a weekly basis using the First Circle Annual Thematic Units, Areas of Learning, and MyCharacter™.
  • Plan a minimum of 5 activities for each day (a combination of activities related to the theme and skill-based activities).
  • Represent EVERY Area of Learning EVERY day.
  • Include the monthly MyCharacter™ trait at least once per week.
  • Enter the weekly curriculum into Engage by the end of the day on Monday of the previous week. (For example, curriculum for the week of 10/24/22 will be entered by the end of the day on Monday, 10/17/22.)


  • Preview weekly curriculum for upcoming week.
  • Let the office know if there are books or materials that you will need.
  • Use all, some, or none of the provided activities. If you do not use them all, add your own to the daily sheet.
  • Add activities to daily sheets each day. You can add activities from ANY day to the daily sheet. For example, if there is an activity that you were unable to get to or that you would like to repeat, go to the activity, and add it as you would if it was planned for that day. It will be added to the current day.
  • Include 5 activities representing each of the Areas of Learning on the daily sheet.
  • Tailor activities to each child’s individual development.
  • Add the books that you read through the app each day.

Learning environment

classroom design

The classroom learning environment is the physical space that supports and shapes the curriculum. It can have a profound effect on individual children and the group. Our classrooms are designed to be safe, warm, and inviting to help children engage in learning activities and to support their development.


The classroom should be divided into different areas to give children opportunities to explore, make things, experiment, and pursue their interests. There should be spaces for large and small-group activities. Science and art activities should take place in specific areas set up for wet and messy play. Other areas should include dramatic play, block building, large-muscle activities, and a quiet area that is inviting to the children, visible to staff, and easily accessible to a child who seeks or needs time alone.

Designing effective classroom environments includes arranging the physical structure of the classroom to increase appropriate behaviors, such as engagement, and decrease the probability of challenging behaviors. Strategies for structuring the classroom include:

  • Arrange the classroom to ensure visual monitoring of children, support children’s appropriate behaviors (e.g., limit the number of children in a center), and facilitate smooth transitions between activities (e.g., organize the location of materials on shelves). Arrange materials to promote engagement, mastery, and independence.
  • Make sure toys and materials are accessible, appropriate, and available to facilitate children’s independence (which decreases the likelihood of challenging behaviors).
  • Attend to details such as the lighting, temperature, and noise levels to reduce problem behaviors from children who are sensitive to these environmental factors.
  • Manage traffic patterns. Minimize large open spaces and obstacles. Fences help organize the physical environment.

Universal design

Universal Design is an approach to creating environments that are usable and accessible to the widest possible range of people, including those with disabilities. In an early childhood classroom, Universal Design can be used to ensure all children have equal access to learning opportunities and resources. Here are some ways you can use Universal Design:

  • Provide a variety of learning materials that appeal to different learning styles, including visual, auditory, and tactile. This can include books, posters, videos, music, and manipulatives.
  • Use multiple strategies to present information, including visual aids, pictures, and real-life examples. This can help children who have difficulty with traditional methods of learning.
  • Offer different seating options, such as cushions, beanbags, and chairs, to accommodate different needs and preferences.
  • Encourage children to work together in groups and pairs. Provide opportunities for peer teaching and support.
  • Consider the diverse needs and abilities of all children in the classroom and adapt activities and materials as needed.

Learning centers

Learning centers are interest-based areas within the classroom where children learn by playing and engaging in activities. Subdividing the classroom into spaces that accommodate a few children at a time addresses some children’s preference for small-group settings.

Children need time to think and to manipulate materials for deep learning to occur. Every classroom schedule should include time at learning centers, with open-ended activities and hands-on materials that promote the development of emerging skills for each child.


Learning centers should include:

  • music and movement center, with instruments
  • engineering center with blocks and building materials
  • manipulative/math center where children can sort, classify, and count
  • science center to carry out scientific inquiry
  • dramatic arts center with pretend household items and dress-up
  • literacy center with books and listening library
  • art center with paints and easels
  • sensory center with plenty to touch
  • an outdoor classroom

When designing learning centers:

  • Have clear boundaries so that children know where the center begins/ends, and they are not crowded together.
  • Make sure all children are visible to adults and adults are visible to children.
  • Indicate a closed center by using visual prompts such as sheets or blankets, circles with a slash through them, etc.
  • Have enough centers for the number of children in your care and enough materials for each center so children are engaged and not arguing over materials.
  • Consider the size and location of centers. Avoid locating a high-action center (block center, dramatic play) close to one with quieter activities (listening centers, etc.).
  • Use developmentally appropriate and creative ways to limit the number of children in centers if necessary (for example, laminated cards containing children’s names that can be moved into pockets at the center as opposed to a sign saying “2 children only”).
  • Organize materials and keep them in appropriate places. Consider children’s independence skill level when choosing locations.
  • Have centers organized and ready to go when children arrive.

equipment + materials

Toys help children learn by challenging them to figure out how things work, testing new thoughts and ideas, using their imaginations, and developing problem-solving skills. To ensure an environment conducive to learning, all the equipment and materials at First Circle must:

  • Be plentiful in quantity and variety to engage all children and encourage both active physical and quiet play activities
  • Be visible, readily accessible to children, and arranged for independent access
  • Promote imagination and creativity (for example blocks, sand, water, play dough, manipulatives, and art materials)

Pay attention to the materials and activities in each center. Learning centers need to be meaningful, engaging, and interesting to children. Materials in the classroom should be:

  • Plentiful enough for several children to use at one time. Materials should be age-appropriate, print-rich, colorful, and durable.
  • Open-ended — usable in multiple ways, such as blocks, art materials, and fabric pieces.
  • Kept at eye-level in an orderly way to use space productively and teach children to care for their space and possessions.
  • Relevant to children’s needs, interests, and lives (for example, within the dramatic play area, culturally appropriate materials should be available; the pictures on puzzles and in the classroom library should reflect the diversity within your classroom, etc.) There should also be culturally meaningful activities and materials with labels in different languages around the classroom.
  • Based on activities that children enjoy or express an interest in. If children tend to stay in one or two centers, it may mean that the other centers are not engaging or interesting them.
  • Varied in each center. Related books can be put in every center (for example, books on animals can be placed in the reading center; magazines can be placed in the dramatic play area designed as a veterinarian’s office; a book about the post office can be placed in the writing center). Writing utensils and paper also can be in multiple centers (for example, in the dramatic play area, the writing center, or near the computers). Be creative.
  • Changed on a regular basis. The post office set up in the dramatic play area might be interesting and engaging at the beginning of the year but will be old and boring if it is still there in the spring. Listen to what children are talking about. Create centers that build on their interests. Rotate materials within a center. Let children help you choose the materials.

outdoor learning

Outdoors children play, practice, and master emerging physical skills. First Circle has expansive playgrounds divided by age range. Children can run, leap, jump, swing, climb, ride, push or pull moving toys, throw, kick, and catch balls.

By committing to learning inside and outside the classroom, we are teaching children that learning occurs everywhere. As much as possible, we should bring learning outdoors, and help children experience elements of nature hands-on. Natural environments allow children to explore and learn in ways not possible indoors. The outdoors offers diverse learning opportunities, increases health and well-being, and allows children to experience active physical play they need to grow and develop. Outdoor play and learning also help children:

  • appreciate nature and the environment
  • practice social skills as they play together, take turns, and cooperate
  • use language and communication skills as they invent, modify, and play games
  • develop math skills and number relationships, as we count or keep score
  • build resilience and adaptability
  • identify hazards and risks
  • develop self-awareness, confidence, and self-esteem


Outdoor activities you can do with children:

  • Go on nature walks to explore the environment. Encourage children to use their senses to observe and discover plants, animals, and other natural features.
  • Plant flowers, fruits, or vegetables in a garden area. This activity can help children learn about the environment, develop fine motor skills, and promote healthy habits.
  • Organize scavenger hunts where they can search for objects such as leaves, flowers, or rocks. This activity can help develop problem-solving skills and promote exploration.
  • Play games that promote physical activity and gross motor skills such as tag, hide and seek, or Simon Says.
  • Create sensory play stations using materials such as sand, water, or mud. This activity can help develop fine motor skills and promote sensory exploration.
  • Provide materials such as chalk, paint, or markers for children to create outdoor art. This activity can help develop creativity and fine motor skills.
  • Use music and movement activities such as dancing, marching, or playing instruments. This activity can help develop gross motor skills and promote creativity.
  • Read books in an outdoor area such as under a tree. This activity can help develop language skills and promote a love of learning.
  • Set up water play stations using materials such as water tables, sprinklers, or pools. This activity can help develop gross motor skills and promote sensory exploration.

Remember to prioritize safety when planning and conducting outdoor activities, and to supervise and support the children in your care.

Daily program

daily schedules


Schedules organize the day. To meet children’s needs, the daily schedule must be consistent and balance physical, emotional, educational, and social needs. Schedules ensure that:

  • teachers manage their time with children efficiently
  • there is a balance of activities
  • children accomplish the activities planned
  • children don’t get hungry or tired
  • the day is relaxed yet productive


For children, a consistent daily schedule provides predictability. Without a schedule, children are likely to feel frustrated and tired by the end of the day. Schedules also help teachers know which materials and equipment they will need for the day.

While each day is different, knowing what will happen next offers children a sense of security, which helps develop self-confidence. A consistent schedule helps children understand the terms now and later, before and after, this morning and this afternoon, today, yesterday, and tomorrow. Schedules help teachers prevent chaos, boredom, and burnout. It is also the way children’s needs are met consistently.

Children’s schedules should:

  • be predictable yet flexible and responsive to individual needs
  • provide time and support for transitions
  • include both indoor and outdoor experiences
  • be responsive to children’s need to rest or be active


Each classroom’s daily schedule includes the same elements for every child. These elements happen differently for each group, with make accommodations for individual needs. In the infant classrooms, each child’s schedule is individualized. Beginning with toddler classrooms, children are ready for a group schedule.

Children are best suited for learning when their physical needs are met, and they know what to expect. The daily schedule incorporates eating, bathroom, and rest times when they are most needed.


Plan a daily schedule that prevents boredom, waiting, and hurrying. Give children plenty of notice of transitions. Provide ample opportunity for children to relax and enjoy activities, including ones they can select themselves and move between at their own pace.

  • Younger children may benefit from picture schedules that provide visual cues of the activities and routines. Children who are just beginning to learn language may need to have real objects included in their schedules.
  • When organizing a daily schedule, consider rotating large and small group activities, varying active and quiet activities, structuring a transition time in the activity, and doing the most difficult activity when the children are most alert and attentive.
  • Embed choices in the schedule, giving children the opportunity to choose between 2 activities (e.g., blocks center or dress up center). This helps engage children and minimize challenging behaviors.


Activities should be designed to engage children. One key to prevent challenging behavior is to engage children with activities, peers, or adults. To promote engagement:

  • Use both small and large group activities.
  • Ensure activities are designed and adapted so all children can participate in a meaningful way.


To keep children engaged and to prevent challenging behavior, plan for transitions as you plan for other parts of the scheduled day.


  • Make sure all children have opportunities to be involved (for example, everyone holds a character from the story, children do things with partners).
  • Assign jobs for children who have a difficult time during circle (such as book holder or page turner).
  • Vary the way you talk and the tone of your voice.
  • Have children help lead activities.
  • Pay attention to children’s behavior. Remember that if they are wiggling and wandering away, the activity is probably not interesting them.

routines, rituals, + rules


Rules, rituals, and routines provide structure for everyone in the classroom, including the adults. Predictable routines teach children how that world is organized and how they can successfully interact within it. They give a sense of control and allow children to predict what is coming next, reducing anxiety and encouraging positive behavior.

A ritual may be a song, a rhyme, a game, a movement, or other activity used in a predictable and repeated pattern over time to communicate values, foster community, or remind children of behavioral expectations. Rules are most appropriate for preschoolers, whereas rituals and routines are more applicable to younger children

How routines help development

For infants, routines are individualized, providing a sense of security and comfort knowing their needs will be met. Feeling safe and secure enables babies to learn and develop. As babies get older, they move towards a more structured schedule. Predictable routines provide a foundation for daily events in their lives.

In toddlerhood, predictability is a key factor for growth. Toddlers need to anticipate what will happen next to feel a sense of control over themselves. Routines help develop the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls planning, sequencing, and decision-making.

Preschoolers’ sense of mastery of the world is beginning to strengthen, allowing them to take on bigger changes, transitions, and developmental tasks. Routines should support these developing skills and be simple enough for children to learn and remember. When children feel success in what they are doing, they gain self-esteem and self-control. Mastering routines gives children the opportunity for that success.

Routines should not be rigid, however. Some flexibility is necessary for children to explore, experiment, and learn to adapt to unexpected changes.

Common classroom routines
  • How the teacher gets children’s attention
  • How children get the teacher’s attention
  • Arrival
  • Lining up
  • Walking in the hallway
  • Circle time
  • Free time
  • Field trip behavior
  • Substitute teacher behavior
  • Playground
  • Meal/snacks
  • Rest time
  • Bathroom
  • Evacuating the classroom
  • How to behave with classroom visitors


Create limits and expectations for behavior and share them ahead of time. State rules positively.

  • Involve children in setting classroom rules.
  • Aim for 4 to 8 rules, based on developmental ability.
  • Create developmentally appropriate rules.
  • Post rules visually.
  • Make rules clear, concise, and consistent.
  • Share the rules with parents.
Teaching rules

Children need to learn rules to follow them. Some strategies for teaching children the expectations of the classroom:

  • Involve children in setting classroom rules to help them understand and feel ownership. Review expectations with each new group of children in your classroom. Encourage children to come up with any other expectations they feel are appropriate for the classroom.
  • Introduce limits and expectations one at a time and remind children of them often. For older children, display a visual daily schedule at their eye level, and help them learn to read and follow the schedule throughout the day.
  • Teach rules during circle time using visual cues that all children understand.
  • Explore creative ways to reinforce and help children learn the limits and expectations for behavior using games or songs.
  • Follow the rules yourself to model good behavior.
  • Reinforce limits and expectations in a consistent and fair manner. Talk about what will happen if those limits and expectations are not followed, and make sure children understand. Observe the same limits and expectations and acknowledge appropriate behavior.
  • Provide individual instruction to children who need more assistance and use individualized picture cues.
  • Prepare children for changes.
  • Provide verbal and non-verbal cues and prompts to help younger children learn appropriate behaviors. For example, a bell rung at the end of play time provides children with a cue about a schedule change and allows them to initiate the change without verbal prompting from the teacher.

Any early childhood educator can tell you that young children have high rates of not following teacher directions. Sometimes this is because of the way teachers give directions. Directions that are stated negatively (“Why haven’t you put up the toys?”) or directions that are stated as questions (“Can you help me put up the toys?”) may confuse children or make them less likely to follow. Strategies you can use to help children follow directions:

  • Get the child’s attention before you give directions. Many times, the child may not hear the direction or realize the direction is being given to them. Begin a direction to the whole class by saying, “I need everyone to listen.” Begin a direction to an individual child by tapping them on the shoulder or saying their name.
  • Minimize the number of directions given to children. Give directions only when you want the child to comply.
  • Consider the child’s learning style and individualize the directions for them. Some children respond well to verbal direction, while others need physical prompts or pictorial prompts to follow the direction.
  • Give clear directions. Tell the child exactly what you want her to do and why. Avoid vague directions, such as “be careful” or “settle down.” Be specific, for example “hold on to the railing” or “sit quietly.”
  • Give positive directions. Maintain a positive tone when you give them.
  • Allow children time to respond to a direction. Avoid giving multiple directions at once.
  • Acknowledge positively children’s responsive behavior. It’s important that children understand when they are following directions.

Visual cues

Although we receive sensory input from 5 different senses, 30% of our brains is devoted to what we see. It is important to provide visual cues and reminders for young children, especially those with special needs and for whom English is their second language. Visual cues and reminders help children learn the routines, expectations, and rules of the classroom and anticipate and make transitions. A visual schedule and a timer are good examples of visual cues.

daily program activities

Each day includes the following activities for each child. These activities happen differently for each group. Take care to respond to and make accommodations for individual needs.

Morning arrival

Morning arrival incorporates the morning routine, signing in, putting belongings in a cubby, choosing a table activity, and saying ‘goodbye’ to parent/caregiver. During morning arrival, we facilitate organized free play.

Helping a child with dropoff

A child’s temperament is unique and influences their day. How they transition into the classroom depends on how they deal with transition. Many children have an easy time transitioning into the classroom each morning. Some children find transitioning difficult at dropoff, which can stress the parent who goes to work with an image of their crying child.

Reassure parents that just because a child has difficulty being dropped off does not mean they are unhappy at school during the day. Nor is the difficulty necessarily indicative of a larger issue. It will usually get easier over time as the child becomes more comfortable with their new surroundings, friends, and teachers. Let parents know you are here to help!

Children arrive at different times in the morning. Greet each child upon arrival and assist them with settling in. Take cues from the how the child feels while entering and leaving the classroom. Use these to individualize the routine for each child. During morning arrival, organized free play activities and materials are set out for the children, which helps them engage immediately.

To ease the transition to the classroom in the morning, you can suggest these ideas to parents:

  • Arrive by 9:00 a.m. to allow maximal one-on-one interaction with the child’s classroom teachers and help the child to get the most out of their morning at school.
  • Ask parents if there are any specific signals or routines that they have with their child so you can support them and help the transition flow as smoothly as possible.
  • Come up with a daily plan for dropoff. It’s best for the goodbye routine to be on the shorter side (about 5-10 minutes) or enough time to get started in an activity.
  • Have a parent develop a dropoff routine with their child to help the child take ownership of it and ease the dropoff process (ex. “Let’s read one story together and then you can wave goodbye to me at the doorway,” or “Two kisses, one hug and a high five and then I’m going to work.”)
  • Encourage the child to get involved in an activity. Once they choose one, have the parent give a quick goodbye. If more than a quick goodbye is needed, a time warning can be very helpful (“Two more minutes and then it will be time to say goodbye,”) and then stick to it.
  • Encourage parents to stick to the routine. It will be easier for the child. They may cry or call for the parent as they are leaving, which is very common and okay. You should always be ready to comfort the child for as long as it takes until they feel comfortable. While this can be hard on the parent, it’s important they leave when they say they will to allow the child to begin their day.
  • Advise parents that how they communicate about the transition will set the tone for the child. Treat departures in an upbeat, matter-of-fact way. Don’t apologize for leaving. Tell the child it’s time for Mom or Dad to go (give them a warning) rather than having the parent ask permission to depart. Make sure the parent says goodbye rather than slipping away (it’s important that the child trust that the parent will not suddenly disappear). Talk about what the child will be doing during the separation and help the child think about exciting things to look forward to. Though it can be difficult, encourage the parent to keep their emotions in check in front of the child. Tell them to feel free to stop in at the Director’s office, where they’ll find a sympathetic ear (and plenty of tissues).
  • Many parents on staff have gone through difficult dropoffs with their children and are available for brainstorming, classroom support, or a quick hug!

Clean up

Clean up occurs after each activity is completed. To teach self-help skills, have children assist in the clean-up process in a developmentally appropriate manner. Clean up is a great activity to implement classroom routines, including songs, chants, and special jobs.

Organized free play

Organized free play is child-driven play time. It lets children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their interests, and engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue. You should allocate a good portion of each child’s day at First Circle to this important activity.

Organized free play is time for children to have a free choice among a variety of activities, to play independently or cooperatively with friends. Educators should introduce activities for older infants and toddlers, but children are free to make choices about materials and how to use them. Preschool children work in small groups at tables or on the rug.

Some choices should be child-led, independent activities, in addition to 1 or 2 teacher-directed, structured choices. Activities can be offered at tables, on the rug, or in designated station areas. Table choices typically focus on small motor tasks, while rug choices incorporate building, dramatic play, and gross motor activities. This time allows children to practice and explore social interaction, with the benefit of educator facilitation.

Small group activities

Small group activities allow more individualized time for children and an opportunity for skill building. During small group activities:

  • Have a child’s peer model a skill or behavior you are trying to teach them.
  • Ensure all children participate in a way that is meaningful and relevant to their goals and needs.
  • Provide positive feedback related to appropriate behavior to children throughout the activity.

Circle time

Circle time invites children to gather on the rug for teacher-led curriculum activities. For infants and toddlers, it is centered primarily around stories and songs and should be no more than 10 minutes. Teachers use this time to read a story to introduce children to the learning topic for the day.

Circle time for preschoolers typically includes music and movement, games, show and tell, discussions about weather and calendar, songs, etc. Circle time is another place where children can learn and practice social rules, be introduced to new concepts and learn to attend and engage for an increasing amount of time, the basis for developing a positive approach to learning.

Large group activities

Teachers often face challenging behavior during large group activities. It’s difficult to keep children interested throughout circle time. Here are some suggestions about how you can keep children engaged:

  • Consider the length of time relative to the children’s ages and abilities and to the types of activities that will occur during the large group time.
  • Have a purpose. Be clear about what you want children to learn during this time.
  • Vary activities from day to day. For example, teach concepts during large group in a variety of ways (examples include puppets, role play, stories, songs, visual aids, discussion). You might read the same story for several days but use puppets on the first day, a flannel board on the second day, and have children role play the story on the third day.
  • Use circle time to teach new concepts. This is a good time to teach social skills and to support children’s emotional development.

Gross motor activities

Gross motor activities happen daily, indoors and outdoors (weather permitting).  They include small and large muscle activities, aiming for at least 60 minutes of physical activity. Outdoor allows large muscle use, loud voices, and an opportunity to experience natural materials and textures. Children move and play on a variety of equipment, like push, ride-on and pedal toys, and swings. Infants walk in strollers or roll on mats outdoors.

Some outdoor choices are child-led, independent activities, and some are teacher-directed games and activities. Indoors, children exercise large muscles on our climbers, or during dance, fitness or obstacle course activities.

Fine motor activities

Fine motor activities develop skills for daily living such as buttoning and holding a spoon and get children ready for writing. Build fine motor activities in throughout the day, like play with small objects such as pegs and Legos, scissors use to practice cutting, Lincoln logs construction, pipe cleaner twisting, or clothespin use.

Meal + snack times

Meal and snack times are when children and educators should interact in a more informal way, to model manners and encourage children to socialize with each other. Meals and snacks are scheduled according to the children’s developmental stage. Whether eating on an individualized (infants) or group schedule (toddlers and preschoolers), it’s a time to practice and explore social interaction, with the benefit of teacher facilitation.

  • Allow children to eat at a relaxed pace.
  • Encourage them to serve themselves when appropriate.
  • Ensure children get an adequate amount and variety of food.
  • Encourage them to eat a well-balanced diet.
  • Involve them in food choices and/or planning whenever possible.
  • Offer them alternative activities if they have finished their snack or meal.


Meal and snack time is another opportunity to build classroom routines and teach children self-help skills. Starting with toddlers, children should get and put away their own lunch bags, make choices, and clean up after themselves. [See DAILY PROGRAM MANAGEMENT]


Transitions happen as children change activities. Multiple transitions occur during the day: when children arrive at school, move through learning centers, get ready for outdoor play, go out or come in from outside, get ready for meals/snacks, clean up, rest/nap or depart.

Most transitions have a well-known routine letting children know what to expect, as giving children a series of directions can help keep them on task. Smooth transitions keep the classroom peaceful.

Transitions also provide time for children to practice skills like walking in line, putting coats on, and listening.

Transitions should happen in a safe, timely, predictable, and unhurried manner using the following principles:

  • Minimize the number of transitions children have during the day.
  • Plan and organize activities in advance to avoid children waiting.
  • Give children a warning before a transition occurs.
  • Plan to engage children during the transition (finger plays, songs, guessing games). Challenging behaviors often occur during transitions, especially when all children are expected to do the same thing at the same time and then end up waiting with nothing to do. Provide some children with chores and give children helping roles during transitions (handing out the paper towels, holding the door, helping a friend).
  • Make transitions between activities smooth and flexible.
  • Don’t expect children will always move as a group from one activity to another.
  • Use visual, verbal, and auditory cues to support children’s transitions.
  • Teach children the expectations for transitions. This instruction can occur during a group time and should be reinforced throughout the day.
  • Individualize the instruction and cues provided to children. Some children will make the transition with a minimal amount of support, while others may need a picture schedule, verbal prompt, adult assistance, or some other type of cue.


Departure begins as children prepare to leave school. All their items are packed and ready to go. Children engage in quiet activities until their parent/caregiver arrives. The school day ends with children saying goodbye to their friends and teachers and following school rules until they are safely in their car.

Child guidance policy



As young children work to build language and self management skills such as problem solving, flexibility, resilience and practice self-calming techniques they may display challenging behaviors including defiance and aggression. During the past 30 years, child guidance practice has moved away from reactive, negative approaches to proactive, positive ones.

When educators practice positive child guidance, they act as a coach to help children solve a problem. The goal of positive behavior support is not to “fix” the child with behavioral challenges, it’s to “fix” the parts of the learning environment that contribute to the problem behavior. Fixing the environment usually means focusing on prevention and adult intervention skills rather than reacting after behavioral problems have occurred. A reactive approach that implements negative consequences does not work.


First Circle’s child guidance policy concentrates on prevention and skill-building rather than punishment and is designed to help children develop socially acceptable ways of expressing their needs and feelings. We help them:

  • be safe with themselves and others
  • become more independent
  • balance their needs and wants with those of others
  • learn self-control and develop coping skills to manage their feelings, thoughts, and actions
  • develop respect for themselves
  • make caring and thoughtful decisions
  • learn how to approach and solve problems, including non-violent conflict resolution


The best way to address challenging behavior in young children is to decrease the likelihood it will occur.


Learn about the individual child and their family to better understand how the child reacts and responds to situations, people, stimuli, and cues.


Developmentally appropriate practice is especially important in behavior management. Have realistic expectations for a child based on their developmental level. If children knew better, they would do better. Requests should be connected to what children can do (not just what you want them to do).


If the children in a classroom are engaged with interesting activities, they will be less likely to present challenging behaviors.


Setting and reviewing predictable schedules, rules, and routines give children a sense of control. They predict what is coming next, which reduces anxiety and encourages positive behavior.


Children will not learn to follow the rules if you are not consistent in implementing them. When children exhibit unacceptable behavior, consistent consequences should follow so children know what to expect and are less likely to be upset by occasional surprises.


The following steps will help avoid challenging behavior before it begins:


Design play and learning areas with boundaries that teachers can see and children understand. Have organized and plentiful materials in good working condition. Set the classroom up for success by following principles of universal design.


Even when we think they aren’t paying attention, children are watching us carefully. If you interact with respect and courtesy, children will too. If children see their teachers sitting on furniture or eating outside mealtime, they won’t understand why they aren’t allowed to.


Encourage children’s participation in play by being nearby and available.


Reinforce positive behavior by recognizing children’s positive actions, or “catch children being good.” There are 5 major principles for using positive feedback:

  1. Positive-to-negative ratio. Spend more time using positive language than giving directions or correcting inappropriate behavior. The ratio should be 4 to 5 positive statements to 1 correction. This will teach children social skills and ensure the learning environment feels encouraging and positive.
  2. Contingent on appropriate behavior: “Thank you for hanging up your coat all by yourself.”
  3. Descriptive: Rather than just saying “good job” or “thanks,” describe the behavior you just observed. This helps children know exactly what behavior you would like to see repeated. (“Thank you for putting the blocks away on the shelf exactly on their spot.”)
  4. Conveyed with enthusiasm. Most children like feedback from adults and will do things to gain adults’ attention (yes, the positive and the not-so-positive behaviors!). Tone of voice, facial expressions, getting down on a child’s level, and when feedback is delivered all matter. Give plenty of “warm fuzzies” such as hugs, high fives, winks, and thumbs up.
  5. Based on effort. Children need to be encouraged for both their efforts and their successes. For example, even if a child is not successful in putting away the blocks, make sure to acknowledge the effort.


When rules or limits are broken, address the behavior using these guidelines:


Stay calm

Working with children is rewarding, but it can be stressful, especially when dealing with their behavior. Remain in control of your feelings, especially frustration or anger. Losing your self-control, yelling at children, using threats, etc., will negatively impact your relationship with the children and could also jeopardize your job.

Step away if you need to maintain your composure. It’s important to model for children to remain calm and in control of yourself, to give them a positive example of how to deal with anger or frustration. Remain calm, evaluate the situation, and proceed with caution.


All behavior has a reason. Children aren’t mature enough to tell us their needs in words. Without the words and self-control to communicate with them, they act out to get their needs met. By dismissing the child or giving in to their demands without analyzing the behavior, we’re not acknowledging their feelings, and not helping them to get their needs met.


Children deserve respect. Use words that demonstrate your respect, such as please, thank you, and I’m sorry. Tell children what to do, not what not to do. Using the word ‘instead’ to rephrase helps. The focus should be on what we want to happen.

A word about words

Children need frequent reminders of what is expected (remember the ratio of 5 positives to 1 negative). Choose your words and tone carefully and use empathy! As much as possible, educators must offer these reminders in a helpful tone, and avoid:

  • Sarcasm – Children know by your tone when you are not being sincere. They do not understand sarcasm.
  • Anger – Do not get emotionally hijacked by children’s behavior or the need to remind and repeat expectations.
  • Lectures – Use words children can understand and be concise. The fewer words, the better.
  • Threats – “If you don’t-then you won’t” statements are considered threats. Use “First do this, then do that” instead.
  • Your feelings – Children should comply with rules because they are what’s expected, not because of the teacher’s feelings. Ideally, you should communicate without emotion, but if you have to choose one, be sad, not mad. Be sure that you are noting the circumstances, not personalizing—start with “It’s sad that… “rather than “I’m sad that. . . ”



Describe what you see or the problem (“When you ran through the block area, you knocked down Anna’s tower.”).

Remind the child of the rule

For example, “Remember our rule that we only run when we’re outside,” “Are you remembering to use your inside feet?”

Allow time for compliance

Children’s brains are still forming. They need to hear, process, and respond to requests and guidance.

Give voice to children’s feelings

Recognize and respect children’s feelings when discussing their behavior (“I see you’re very frustrated.”). Encourage children to express their feelings in words and resolve problems peacefully.

Use positive solutions

See if the child can come up with their own positive solution. If not, direct the child toward positive activity and away from potential problems:

  • Offer a different method of using the materials/actions more purposefully (“Sand is for building, not for throwing. Let’s go find you a bucket to dump it in.”).
  • Teach children coping mechanisms such as taking a break or picking another activity.
  • Teach children new skills that encourage them to discuss and resolve their conflicts on their own or with an educator’s assistance when necessary.
Provide choices

Simply giving children choices can reduce problem behavior. Although children will naturally choose things that are reinforcing to them, research shows behavior improves even when both choices are not preferred or when the assignment is not preferred but the child gets to choose aspects of it, such as the sequence of tasks (“Do you want to clean up the toys first or hang up your coat?”).


Helping children learn about natural consequences fosters learning because they appeal to their sense of logic and desire for control: “When I do this, this is what happens.”

Natural consequences

Imposing negative consequences for undesirable behavior works to control behavior for about 80 to 90 percent of children. But using punitive measures doesn’t help children develop personal responsibility or life skills. Furthermore, they do not work for children at risk for or those who already have chronic behavioral challenges. Therefore, use consequences carefully.

When possible, instill natural consequences for behaviors. When you use consequences, think ahead. Don’t warn a child of the consequences ahead of time as this becomes a threat. Instead, have a plan in mind for what you will do in a certain situation. Some negative behaviors and their natural consequences may include:

  • Throwing sand: “Looks like it’s time to make another choice.” (no sandbox)
  • Teasing: “Let’s find some other children to play with.”
  • Tantrum: “We’re going to start circle time now. Here’s a spot for you to settle down. Come back when you are ready.”
  • Banging cup on the table: “Cups are for drinking. I’m going to hold onto your cup; let me know when you’re ready to drink some more.”
Remove the child

Because a “time-out” doesn’t address behavior or teach a child to redirect their behavior to more positive channels, we don’t use time outs at First Circle. However, children may need to be removed from a situation if they are having difficulty. You can help children develop their own coping skills by guiding them to “take a break,” and “pick another activity.”

Examples are:

  • removing a child from the snack table if they continue to throw food
  • removing a child from the sand table if they continue to throw sand
  • removing a child from the book area if they are ripping books


Include a brief explanation and a dose of empathy as you remove the child or implement a consequence. Be as consistent as possible and use similar wording each time to redirect. Keep the following guidelines in mind:

  • As much as possible, allow the child to decide when they are ready to try again.
  • Help the child get involved in another activity—children should not be removed to a choice of “nothing.”
Remove the choice

Offer two options matter-of-factly which result in the desired outcome. For example, “You can pick an empty sink, or I will pick it for you.” Make sure you don’t use a threatening tone.

Encourage peer feedback

When children are at odds with each other, encourage appropriate peer feedback. For example, one child takes a toy from a second child – help the second child express themselves by asking, “How does that make you feel?” Then help the child give feedback to the first one, such as “I don’t like that!” or “I want you to give that back to me.”

Engage the child in reparation

Children can and should be involved in solutions to problems or conflicts, especially when behavior is aggressive or destructive, involving them in repairing any damage. Some examples are:

  • Coloring on tables: “Oops! We need to get that cleaned up.  Here’s a cloth, and after that we’ll put the markers away.”
  • Tearing books: “We can’t read our books when they’re ripped. You’ll have to help me tape this book before we can read it again.”
  • Hurting friends: “Oh, no. Jacob is crying. Let’s see how we can help him. Do you need some ice, Jacob?”


Ignore some kinds of inappropriate behavior

Sometimes it is better to ignore behavior clearly intended to attract attention. This strategy should only be used when a child displays minor inappropriate behavior and when you’re confident the child will stop on their own. This strategy is more appropriate for children at least 4 years old. Things to know about planned ignoring:

  • Safety always comes first. Planned ignoring should never be used when a child is engaging in unsafe or harmful behaviors (e.g., biting, hitting, climbing).
  • Expect the behavior to get worse before it gets better. Have lots of patience and good self-control.
  • Providing the slightest amount of attention to the inappropriate behavior (e.g., a disapproving look) results in the child continuing it.
  • Planned ignoring works best when all staff who interact with the child—as well as family members, when possible—ignore the problematic behavior.
  • Immediately provide positive attention when the child stops the inappropriate behavior and engages in as little as 3–5 seconds of appropriate behavior.
  • Before using this strategy, make sure the child’s physical and social-emotional needs have been met, and the child has the skills they are expected to use (e.g., waiting, controlling tantrums) when the teacher is ignoring the behavior.


Reflecting on children’s challenging behavior is an essential part of an early childhood educator’s role. Here are ways you can reflect on and address challenging behavior in young children [see CHALLENGING BEHAVIOR]:

  • Check the child: are they sick, hungry, or tired?
  • Check the environment: is the child over- or understimulated? What can you do to improve the classroom environment?
  • Consider the child’s individual needs: Each child is unique, and their behavior may be influenced by factors like temperament, developmental stage, and cultural background. Reflect on how these factors may be impacting the child’s behavior and how you can support their individual needs.
  • Check your relationship with the child: do you have a positive connection? If not, how can you improve your relationship?

challenging behavior

The number of children with challenging behaviors is on the rise. Challenging behavior can have complex causes. As educators, we need to increase the number of tools in our intervention toolbox.

It is important to remember that children with behavior challenges often have disabilities that affect their ability to learn coping and problem-solving skills. Saying, “They are just going to have to learn,” without providing increased support would be the same thing as expecting a physically injured person to just teach himself how to walk again without any physical therapy.

Challenging behavior hinders the child, as it can impede their learning and ability to get along well with their peers. It endangers the peers and educators they hurt. The focus in early childhood education is to shift child guidance away from negative consequences, and toward prevention and early intervention.


Challenging behavior is behavior that interferes with children’s learning, development, and success at play. It harms the child, other children, or adults, and puts the child at risk for later social and communication problems. Challenging behavior includes behavior that causes injury (hitting, biting), aggressive behavior (hitting others, screaming, spitting, kicking), defiance (non-compliance), behavior directed at property (throwing objects or purposefully destroying things), or tantrums. Problematic behaviors are dangerous, destructive, seriously disruptive, or cause the child to be seen negatively.


Any child can exhibit challenging behavior. Like teething, walking, talking, and toilet learning, self-management is a skill that develops at a different rate for each child. As they learn to communicate and interact with others, challenging behavior is a young child’s way of letting us know what they feel. For many children, challenging behavior is a way of exerting some control over a world in which they have little.

Even if the child knew what to do instead—and chances are they don’t—their ability to regulate their feelings and actions is just developing. When a young child exhibits challenging behavior, educators must remember that in most cases, it’s not that the child “won’t,” it’s that they “can’t.”


The most effective strategy for dealing with challenging behavior is prevention. Ensure you are following the prevention steps above to avoid challenging behavior before it begins.


When challenging behavior occurs, follow the instructions under Redirect. If the suggested actions aren’t successful, the educator may:

Remove the child

Separate the child from the activity but have the child remain within your immediate and direct supervision until they can regain self-control and rejoin the group. If the activity or behavior could be dangerous to the child or others, you may remove the child from the environment and get help from Administration.

Restraint is not allowed

However, educators can use supportive holding of children only in the following situations:

  • the safety of the child or other children or adults is at risk
  • the child must be moved in order to be safely supervised
  • the child demonstrates a behavior that is highly disruptive and/or upsetting to other children



Tantrums are a normal part of development. Children need support and guidance to learn how to regulate their emotions and behavior. When a child has a tantrum, respond in a calm and supportive way to help the child:

  • Remain calm and composed during the tantrum to help the child feel safe and supported.
  • Make sure that the environment is safe for everyone if the child is throwing objects or engaging in other unsafe behavior.
  • Acknowledge the child’s feelings. Let them know it’s okay to feel upset or frustrated.
  • Use simple language to help the child understand what is happening and what behavior is expected.
  • Provide choices to help them feel more in control of the situation and their behavior (“You can take a break in the quiet corner or take a walk with me. Which would you like to do?”)
  • Praise the child when they engage in positive behavior, such as using words to express themselves or calming down.
  • Work with parents to ensure consistency across all environments.

If the child engages in unsafe or disruptive behavior during a tantrum, you may need to implement consequences [see CONSEQUENCES above].

If the child’s tantrums persist or are severe, you may need to seek help from a behavior specialist.


When a young child hits, the teacher needs to respond quickly and consistently to address the behavior, using these guidelines:

  • Stay calm and composed. Becoming upset or angry can escalate the situation.
  • Separate the children. If the child who was hit is upset or hurt, move them a safe distance from the child who hit them to prevent further harm.
  • Use simple language: Explain to the child who hit that hitting is not allowed and explain why in simple language they can understand.
  • Help the child identify their feelings and develop appropriate ways to express themselves, such as using words or asking for help.
  • Praise the child when they engage in positive behavior, such as sharing or using kind words, to encourage them to continue that behavior.
  • Follow through with consequences: If the child continues to hit despite intervention and support, follow through with consequences [see CONSEQUENCES above].

Biting is a common behavior in young children, especially in young children still learning to regulate their emotions and communicate effectively. Strategies to handle biting in the classroom:

  • Respond immediately, but calmly. Stay composed and avoid yelling or scolding the child, as this may escalate the situation. Gently remove the child from the situation and provide comfort and focus attention on the child who was bitten.
  • Use a firm tone of voice to tell the child who did the biting, “Biting hurts. Teeth are not for friends.” Provide alternative ways to express their feelings. Encourage the child to use words to communicate their needs or feelings.
  • Try to determine what may have triggered the biting incident (was the child frustrated, tired, or hungry?). Understanding the trigger can help you develop strategies to prevent future incidents.
  • Set clear rules about biting and communicate them to the children in the classroom. Consistently enforce consequences for biting, such as taking a short break from the activity or having the biter help care for the biting victim.
  • Work to eliminate sources of frustration for toddlers by having more than one favorite toy so toddlers aren’t expected to share, having plentiful materials, and offering a lot of time for free-choice activities.
  • Praise and reinforce positive behavior, such as sharing or using kind words, to encourage children to engage in appropriate behavior.
  • Communicate with parents about the biting incidents and work together to address the behavior. Provide resources and strategies to help parents address the behavior at home. Make sure parents know it is developmentally appropriate behavior.
  • If biting behavior persists or becomes more severe, seek support from Admin like additional strategies or resources to address the behavior.
  • Keep a child who has been biting other children near you at all times. It lets you guide the child’s behavior, diffuse frustration, set clear limits, and observe any triggers for the behavior.


Spend time after a child has exhibited challenging behavior reflecting on causes and changes you can make.

Observe and record the behavior

Record details, including the time of day, location, what happened before and after the behavior, and any other relevant details. This can help identify patterns, triggers, and causes.

Identify the function

Consider the child’s perspective and try to understand why they are behaving in a certain way. Behavior is rarely simply behavior. The cause is some basic biological or emotional need the child doesn’t know how to express appropriately, such as:

  • to get attention or a reaction from peers and adults
  • to get something tangible
  • to get power or control
  • to meet a sensory need
  • to communicate feelings, wants, and needs
  • a lack of understanding
  • to escape or avoid something


Once the functions of problem behavior are identified, educators need to design an intervention that encourages children to meet that function in a more socially acceptable way.

Make modifications

Consider the following modifications to help a child with challenging behaviors:

  • change the environmental arrangement (is the child over- or understimulated?)
  • simplify the activity
  • use child preferences
  • add adult support
  • add peer support
  • consider special equipment
  • modify the activity
Transition helpers

Many children with behavioral challenges have difficulty with transitions. Transition helpers support children by providing structure and predictability, in addition to giving them information about what is going to happen, and time to process it and become ready to handle the change. Some ideas:

  • use a countdown of appropriate time depending on age group
  • use timers
  • use transition objects – These are especially helpful when children are required to make the transition from more preferred to less preferred activities. Children can carry their preferred objects during transitions to reinforce the transition and distract them from the non-preferred task coming next.
Collaborate with the family

Work in partnership with parents to address children’s difficulties at home and at the program to create consistency between home and classroom. Make sure you communicate with parents about a child’s behavior at school and the way you responded. Be specific and honest but tactful with parents about their child’s behavior. Open communication about a child’s strengths and challenges will encourage everyone to work together to overcome obstacles.


Labels are detrimental, so we don’t use them. Be careful to talk about the behavior, not the child. Negative labels can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies. They prevent us from seeing the child’s positive qualities and may even cause us to lower our expectations of them. A child you’ve thought of as stubborn could just as easily be tenacious or persistent, important characteristics for success in school. When you can see a child in a positive light, it helps them to see themselves that way, and to act more positively, too.

Seek additional support

If challenging behavior persists, we may need to seek additional support from mental health professionals, behavior specialists, or other experts.

behavior support plan

Occasionally, children may not make enough progress in learning to control their behavior despite the educator’s best efforts. The child’s behavior may make it difficult for the child and other children to learn and grow in the program. If the behavior is so severe that 1) it is likely that the child will be isolated and ostracized by the other children if it continues, 2) there is a serious possibility of harm to the child, the other children, or staff, and/or 3) it consumes an excessive amount of the educators’ time and energy, a Behavior Support Plan will be created. When creating a Behavior Support Plan:

  1. Define the challenging behavior. Describe the behavior so that it is identifiable and measurable.
  2. Collect information. Record the behavior when it happens. Observe the child in several different contexts (e.g., classroom, playground). Note what happens before and after the behavior to better understand the behavior’s triggers and reinforcers.
  3. Determine the function of the behavior. Determine why the child engages in the challenging behavior (e.g., to get attention, get a desired object, avoid a disliked task).
  4. Discuss in teams. Use team meetings as a sounding board and resource for discussing and “problem-solving” children’s behavior. Brainstorm modifications that could be made such as changing classroom environment, classroom materials, or other accommodations that will help the child succeed.
  5. Hold a conference. If a child’s behavior does not respond to the behavior management techniques listed here, the next step should be a parent conference with the teaching team and the director. It’s important to ensure consistency across all environments and provide parents with strategies they can use at home.
  6. Create the Behavior Support Plan. The plan must include 3 key components:
    • Preventative strategies – actions to pre-empt challenging behavior such as setting clear expectations, modeling positive behavior, praising appropriate behavior, and providing rewards.
    • Replacement behavior (or a new skill) – explicit descriptions of the behavior you want the child to engage in (e.g., asking for the toy instead of hitting a peer to get it), which the teacher will need to intentionally teach.
    • Response strategies – responses to challenging behavior when it occurs and reinforcement of the desired behavior.
  7. Refer. The need for specialized support services will be assessed. If the strategies are not successful, with written parental permission, we will refer the family for specialized services that can address the child’s behavior problems, following our policy for referrals.
  8. Schedule. If necessary, we will discuss other possible actions like reducing the child’s schedule, up to and including helping a family transition to a program better suited to the child’s needs.
  9. Monitor progress. Use visual aids such as pictures, charts, and schedules to help the child understand expectations. Track progress and adjust the plan as needed. Celebrate successes and work with the child to continue to improve their behavior.

Remember that each child is unique, and what works for one doesn’t work for all. The behavior support plan must be tailored to the child’s individual needs, and may require adjustments as the child develops. No matter what the behavior exhibited, we will treat the child and their family with the same respect, support, and care that we do any other child or family.

prohibited child guidance practices

Like EEC, we at First Circle believe that behavioral control is neither logical nor appropriate for children. No form of punishment or physical restraint will be used to discipline a child. We strictly prohibit all the following practices:

  • spanking or other corporal punishment of children
  • subjecting children to cruel or severe punishment such as humiliation, verbal or physical abuse, neglect, or abusive treatment including any type of physical hitting inflicted in any manner upon the body, shaking, threats, or derogatory remarks
  • depriving children of outdoor time, meals, or snacks; force feeding children or otherwise making them eat against their will, or using food as a consequence
  • disciplining a child for soiling, wetting, or not using the toilet; forcing a child to remain in soiled clothing or to remain on the toilet, or using any other unusual or excessive practices for toileting
  • confining a child to a swing, high chair, crib, playpen, or any other piece of equipment for an extended time in lieu of supervision
  • excessive time-out; Although we do not use time-out as a behavior management practice, EEC regulations stipulate that time-out may not exceed one minute for each year of the child’s age and must take place within an educator’s view.
  • physical restraint by use of physical force to control the child’s movements and/or actions to motivate the child to become more compliant

in conclusion

Guidance should not be thought of as a weak alternative to traditional discipline—it’s being a good coach who doesn’t give up on any member of the team. Your efforts at guidance don’t have to be perfect, but if you persist and reflect, you will get good results. We learn even as we teach. Do these things and you will feel positively about yourself as a teacher—and that will help with the inner calm you need to guide children toward healthy emotional and social skills.