Self regulationNeed help?
In this video, Sita Lolohea and Fara Ortiz from Lifewise Early Childhood Centre in Auckland talk about their use of the ENGAGE materials for teaching self-regulation and executive function skills in their daily practice with children, and the impact they have noticed that this has had on the children in their setting.
About Sita Lolohea and Fara Ortiz
Sita believes that children need the assurance of being loved and cared for, and deserve to be treated respectfully. She is committed to supporting environments that foster self-confidence, trust, creativity, autonomy, and acceptance of individual differences, and she knows children need the support of teachers to guide and engage with them and assist them to develop in positive directions.
Fara’s philosophy, aligned with that of the centre, sees her striving to enable every young child to grow as a whole person. Fara links this to Te Whāriki and supports children to become competent and confident learners and communicators, healthy in mind, body, and spirit, and secure in their sense of belonging and in the knowledge that they make a valued contribution to New Zealand as a multi-cultural society. She sees the development of social and emotional competence as critical to their development.
Fara: In Lifewise, we believe holistic development in each child being able to self-regulate becomes extremely important. So, we guide and teach them to support, regulate emotions, and also able to – their emotional wellbeing, that leads them the positive learning outcomes.
Why is the development of self-regulation a curriculum priority for you and your centre?
Fara: Self-regulation is essential to children’s overall growth as learners, and also enables positive behaviours that help them help make a healthy choice for themselves and their family. So, the impact and the effectivity of self-regulation can stretch way beyond children’s time in early learning, and this also can help develop creativity, flexibility, and self-control, and these are the quality essentials inside and outside of schools, and help them build healthy and positive relationships with people. So, self-regulation has a strong effect on childhood self-perception, self-awareness, self-efficacy, and self-esteem. So, this helps emphasise the importance of self-regulation, and can help the child’s ability to learn effectivity.
How have you been promoting the development of self-regulation with your children?
Fara: Through observation, each time difficult moments arise for children, it’s opportunity for us as a teacher to ask why is the children acting this way, and it also can use us to tune-in what the children need, and why is the children so stressed about this time, and also, we as a teacher, we are in the best position to support and develop self-regulation for the children. So, in our day-to-day practice, we plan. So, we have, during mat-time, we also encourage the children to participate and plan, and also choose the activities. So, we show them the ENGAGE cards. So, these ENGAGE cards contains self-regulation games, and these self-regulation games contain three skills: the thoughts, the emotions, and the doing. So, it’s the cognitive, emotions, and actions.
So, through these games, we also review, and also, we ask the children what they like about this, and also, for the teachers, we also have a meeting and a plan, and we have three or four activities in a week. So, we choose what is important: is it the feelings, is it the thoughts, or also the behaviour. So, and then we’re doing it at least a maximum of 30 minutes. So, it’s really good that we joined this professional development about ENGAGE, because prior to that, we don’t know that this kind of game is feelings, is behaviour, and that. So, after this ENGAGE professional development, we are able to focus and align the three domains of feelings. And also, it’s also important to partner with family. We also talk to the family that this is what we’re doing, and because we believe that effectivity of home to school.
Sita: At mat-time, that’s the only time that we all sit down as a group, and then we do some games. For example, we do a game for memory game, and then that activity will get everyone’s attention.
Fara: Yeah, and it can also help them, that memory game, it can also help them with waiting. So, for this kind of children that don’t now how to wait, it’s always about me, so we introduce that kind of game for them to wait.
Sita: Yes, and then they need to know somebody have to have a turn first, and then after that person, then their turn. So, it helps them practice the waiting, and then give a turn for other people, as well, because they want to join, too. So, they learn social skills.
What is the teacher’s role during the ENGAGE games?
Sita: We look at how our context look like. For example, we look at what their interest, what are the children’s interest, and also, in our context, we have some children with challenging behaviour, and some children with high needs, and there are some children, they are seeking for attention, and some, they’re looking for love. They need love, and some connection. So, through this kind of context, we think it perfectly suits the ENGAGE programme, for us to be involved, so we can teach those kinds of skills for our children. So, we play those. For example, if their interest is based on music, we choose some activity that dancing with the ribbon. So, when we do that activity, we can see it seems like no-one outside. If the music comes from inside, everybody comes inside, and if the music comes from outside, everybody goes outside.
What difference has this made for children?
Sita: Our children are starting to show some social skills. They know how to wait and take turns. Sometimes they know how to solve the problem. Most of the time, they just react and then do something that it’s not good. They use their hands, or whatever they did, but once they really learn the game that we practice and play all the time, they are turning around and saying, hey – I don’t like what you are doing to me. Also, if that child doesn’t listen to that child who is telling what he feels, or what to stop, they will seek for another’s help. They go to their other friends, or they come straight to the teacher. So, when the teacher come, the teacher will give the same information to that child. For example, sorry, John but you have to listen to what he said, because he is telling you what he feels. And I’m so proud of you – if that child is Peter – I’m so proud of you, Peter for telling her your feeling, and it’s okay to say, stop.
Fara: So, it helps them emphasise about the language.
Sita: The language, as well.
Fara: Yeah, and as to this ENGAGE, also we have those children that are full of energy, and then suddenly you realise, and help to regulate by sitting down and do puzzles. Yeah, so just a routine. They know now that, oh I have to go down and do the puzzles, and also respect to others who are there, and it’s about mindfulness, because we also have our philosophy here about mindfulness. So, it’s about the waiting. So, day by day they learn through these activities about ENGAGE programme.
Sita: It helps a lot. Like yoga. We do yoga. We do mindfulness activities and games, and it’s so helpful for them to calm themselves down, and then think properly, before they react, or what they do if someone hit or push them.
Fara: Yes, and also one of the activities is the statue dance. So, they’re able to control impulses, and that. So, it’s like, when they go inside, they know that it’s walking feet inside. So, they’re like, able to … and then we go outside – yay, we do running. Yeah, so, it’s helped them with those doing skills that we introduce to them.
Sita: Now, our children initiate the game. They ask for the games. I think they’re looking forward. When they come in the morning, they’re looking forward – are we going to do it again? So, they ask for hide-and-seek. If we play outside, they ask for hide-and-seek. They ask to play – can you play duck-duck-goose? Oh sure, we can. Then, sometimes when I notice that there’s not enough staff to look after them, I just say, I can watch you guys – you can play – I can watch you. They don’t like it. They said no. They just come and grab my hand. No, we want you to play hide-and-seek with me – I can count. They want to count. Okay. They love to see me hiding, and then, maybe because I am easily found, if I’m going to go and hide, but I’m sure that our children enjoy and love how to engage with the teachers, as well.
Fara: Yeah, and the beauty of that as well, is that the children were able to regulate their emotions. So, if it’s not their turn, they will wait. So, I ask one child, oh, why you not joining them? I have to wait – it’s not my turn. So, it’s really awesome, too. Yeah, so the importance here is that we are always doing consistency and continuity with this kind of games.
Sita and Fara are convinced about the difference that using the ENGAGE programme with their children has made. They note in particular that children have a stronger sense of wellbeing, but also that they have improved social skills and better inhibitory control, or the ability to control impulses, demonstrated by their ability to wait and take turns. Children have learned how to calm themselves down and think properly before they react to events.
Sita mentions how important it is to children that teachers get involved with the games too. This has become crucial to the successful implementation of the ENGAGE games in their centre. It seems that the teachers’ and children’s shared enjoyment of the games helps strengthen relationships and contributes to a positive social and emotional climate in the centre in which children feel safe, secure, and valued. You will remember from Part 2 of the course that having a strong social and emotional climate is really important for children’s sense of wellbeing. It supports children in positive behaviour and high levels of engagement in the setting, and offers models of positive social and emotional skills. Both teachers testify to the children’s enjoyment of and insistence upon the games as a source of joy and wellbeing.
In this short video, Barbara Dunn, who we met in Part 2, talks about the way she structures one particular ENGAGE game, Memory, and generally describes the benefits her teaching team have found using the ENGAGE programme with children in her kindergarten.
One of the games that we play in ENGAGE is a memory game, and if you don’t know what it is, then it’s a set of paired cards, that are laid face-down on the table-top, and children have a turn to flip two over, to see if they can match it. Part of it is trying to remember where they’ve seen a card that they’ve flipped up. The language gets spread into it: I like the way you’re using your memory muscle – you’re strengthening it by thinking before you go and choose another card. So, that’s where that language comes in, and when they do – and, so they pick up a couple of cards that are different: that’s okay, but you found out those are different – maybe next time, if you can keep a memory, keep a reminder for yourself, where you’ve seen, you might decide next round you’re going to pick that card up, and see if you can see it being flipped over before anyone else does. It’s really exciting. It gets them thinking and really focused on it, and going, oh, I saw that one! You get them going oh my god, oh my god. They try and jump in, and you go taihoa – hang on – wait for your turn. That’s all part and parcel of self-regulation.
How has participating in the ENGAGE programme benefited your children?
The positives that we’ve seen, again through the ENGAGE programme, our willingness to implement those teaching practices that were given to us, for us to recognise so the children could benefit from it, and the differences we’ve seen for the children is their ability to move quickly from where they’re at, and into that space, and recognising the difference between demanding something, or just grabbing something, and being told, no, I can’t do that. Why can’t I do that? Then, going to quickly going, oh, having turns – oh, thinking about what I’m doing. Breathing in. We do a lot of the breathing games. Hā ki roto, hā ki waho [breathe in, breathe out]. That really helps, not just for us, but for our kids as well. It’s so important to give them those techniques, and those skills to be able to deal with those emotions that they fly through, and their responses to it. It’s their responses that are governed by their emotions.
Barbara says that using the ENGAGE programme in her kindergarten has quickly moved children into a space of greater self-control. She describes children as having difficulty with behaviours such as demanding and grabbing, but quickly making progress in executive function skills so that they understand and can take turns, stop and think about what they are doing, and manage their emotions better by using techniques and skills such as deep breathing.
It is worth noting some of the detail regarding the teaching talk Barbara provides when playing Memory with children. Memory supports the executive function skills of paying attention (watching the game, including other players’ turns), and working memory (trying to remember where cards have been seen before), as well as the general skills of inhibiting your impulse to have a turn and instead wait for your turn. Rather than just play the game with children, Barbara uses teaching talk very intentionally to promote and highlight executive function skills and to coach children to become better at them. She talks about developing a ‘memory muscle’ and reminds children to ‘keep a memory’ or a ‘reminder’ about where a card is, in case they see its pair flipped over on someone else’s turn. With this kind of coaching, the children’s thinking and ability to focus really grows.
In this next piece we build on the idea of executive function as a crucial part of children’s behavioural, cognitive, and emotional regulation skills, which are drawn together in strong self-management skills and support children as learners and as members of their early childhood setting’s community.
Read the text and then reflect in your workbook below.
Supporting children’s self-management skills
Self-managing learners are able to make choices, persist, solve problems for themselves, access resources for their play ideas, and use social skills to get others to help them. The aim of self-management is for children to be self-regulated rather than teacher-regulated, that is, to be able to determine the best course of action for themselves rather than following rules set by a teacher. Self-management skills require cognitive abilities such as planning, thinking, decision-making, problem-solving and managing attention.
Children may struggle with self-management because the areas of the brain responsible for executive function skills are not fully developed in early childhood. This means that children may be impulsive, distractible, and poor at planning, and require high levels of support.
Self-management skills are supported by:
- Clear boundaries and consistent rules and routines so that children can understand behavioural expectations. Memory aids or visuals can be helpful, or you might try checklists that children use to monitor their own progress.
- Supporting children’s self-management skills characterised by warmth, so that children feel safe to explore, make choices and try out new things.
- Discussions with whānau to ensure that expectations for self-management are culturally appropriate.
- Expectations for positive outcomes from using self-managing behaviours, visualising, and planning for success. This can be reinforced by specific feedback about useful self-managing behaviours that highlight the relationship between children’s self-managing behaviours and positive outcomes.
- Clear teaching of particular routines for self-management, such as routines for washing hands, and support for children until they can apply rules or routines without direction.
- Children taking responsibility for managing their own activities. Encourage children to determine and monitor rules for a game or activity for each other. Resist supplying children with ideas, but instead present the decision about what to do as a problem they can solve for themselves by making interesting choices.
- Reassurance and support when children’s initiated ideas and attempts at self-management don’t work out.
Click here to read the referenced version of this research review.