Many of the behaviours that are exhibited by children are a direct response to the world around them. It can be difficult to see past the child and their behaviour and look to your practices and setting, but that is the first thing that each of us, as professionals, need to do.

One of the things I first noticed when I began to look to our environment regarding behaviours was that certain aspects of our setting were “inviting” certain behaviours!

Things that hang ask children to swing or pull or grab, long passageways ask children to run, echoey spaces (indoors!) ask children to YELL, bright and busy tell children to be BRIGHT AND BUSY, loud spaces ask children to match the sound with their own, clutter invites clutter.

Walk into a busy space with lots of noise, toys everywhere and crowded areas and children either a/ get overwhelmed and upset or b/ match the noise/mess/chaos with their own noise/mess/chaos!

Taking away toys, changing the flow of a room and decreasing noise levels all contribute to calmer behaviours for children.

Do you have children that dump toys on the ground, throw things, climb onto tables, jump off things, fill up containers and leave them lying around or get themselves covered from head to toe in paint/mud/sand? These are all behaviours that most children of particular developmental stages will investigate at some point or another. They are “play urges” or schemas and are a healthy and normal part of early childhood development. The key to understanding schemas is to understand that many children will exhibit them and instead of stopping them we need to provide opportunity for a child to investigate this play urge. So, when a child throws everything, we give them opportunity to do this in a way that is appropriate for the environment. Example: throwing balls outside. If a child climbs everything, provide opportunity to climb in a way that is safe for a child, For example, climbing frame outside. Schemas are fascinating aspects of behaviour and I am going to touch briefly on each one here, I would also highly recommend further reading “Schemas, A Practical Handbook” by Laura England, is a great place to start.

Enveloping- Covering themselves or objects. Wrapping toys in paper. Covering dolls in blankets, playing peek-a-boo with scarves

Enclosure – Creating a barrier, enclosing oneself. Creating barriers around objects, drawing circles, building fences.

Connection – Putting objects together. Taping things together, connecting blocks, building train tracks. Building things and knocking them down.

Rotation – Spinning in circles, rolling down hills (I still do this as an adult!) riding a bike in circles, pushing cars in circles. Spinning a swing.

Trajectory – Throwing things. Dropping things (babies dropping food from highchairs) dropping things into containers – balls into buckets etc. Climbing and jumping off things.

Positioning – Lining up toys, putting things in order.

Transporting – Moving things from one area to another, filling baskets and bags and carting them around. 

Transforming – Mixing different materials together, adding sand to paint, water to clay.

Something else to remember is that our expectations of children need to be realistic. Children are children and we need to cater for their developmental levels and abilities. Expecting children to sit at a table and focus before they are developmentally ready frustrates them and you! If set ups are developmentally inappropriate, you will see behaviours that let you know that they are inappropriate. Setting up a beautiful tabletop activity and then a child comes along and pushes your lovely resources off the table onto the ground? They are not developmentally ready for it. Set up an experience where that child CAN dump things on the ground. Dumping buckets of water into the water trough, dumping sand in the sand pit, dumping dirt into the garden – give children the OPPORTUNITY to really delve into that play urge in other ways.

Also, be mindful of where you put experiences. If you set up a quiet reading area in a high traffic play zone and you expect quiet reading to take place, it will quickly become a book throwing warzone. Map out your busy areas and quiet areas and set them up accordingly. Also, when you set up a really engaging space, expect a lot of traffic! Sometimes expecting children to wait their turn is unrealistic. Create a few areas of interest so all children can investigate something engaging.

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