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8.7: Behavior affected by environments

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    Pause to Reflect

    Can the environment influence a child’s behavior? Take a moment to reflect on the following scenarios:

    1. In an infant room where some of the children are walking and some are not, teachers have placed the immobile babies on soft blankets in the middle of the room. Activities for the mobile children are placed on the outside areas of the space. As the children waddle from one experience to another they step on the babies on the blankets.
    2. A group of children is in the block area building some tall structures. “TIMBER!” one child shouts out loud, while the other 4 children clap their hands. The teacher looks at her watch and without a transition warning, the teacher yells “clean up time.” The children run to another area.
    3. There are 2 children at the easel boards painting. One child is waiting for her turn and says, “PLEASE hurry up – I’ve been waiting a long time.” As one child is finishing her artwork, she drops some paint and the paintbrush on the floor and leaves it there. With paint on her hands, she holds her hands up high and walks all the way across the classroom to the bathroom to wash her hands, tracking a little paint along the way. The girl who was waiting picks up the paintbrush and begins to paint – she too steps in the paint on the floor. The teacher quickly grabs a towel and begins to wipe up the floor and sternly asks the children to please be careful.

    What environmental changes might you make?

    As demonstrated in the scenarios, a poorly arranged physical setting, transitions that are not well planned, and quick teacher responses can trigger challenging behaviors. Both teachers and children can become frustrated. By altering floor plans, planning for each segment of the day, and thinking through the communication and interactions we will have with children, we can avoid many challenging behaviors.

    All three aspects of the environment; physical space, social-emotional tone, and routine can affect children’s behavior. The environment sends very powerful messages about how to behave and feel.

    Below is a chart of environmental modifications we can make to minimize certain behaviors by Dodge, Colker, and Heroman. [109]

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Environmental Modifications to Minimize Behaviors


    Possible Causes

    Changes to the Environment

    Running in the classroom

    Too much space is open; the room is not divided into small enough areas; activity areas are not well defined.

    Use shelves and furniture to divide the space. Avoid open spaces that encourage children to run.

    Fighting over toys

    Too many popular toys are one-of-a-kind; children are asked to share too often.

    Provide duplicates of toys. Show children when it will be their turns (e.g., use a sand timer or help children create a waiting list for turns).

    Wandering around, inability to choose activities

    The room is too cluttered; choices are not clear; there is not enough to do, too much time.

    Get rid of clutter. Simplify the layout of the room and materials. Add more activity choices. Revisit schedule.

    Becoming easily distracted; not staying with a task

    Areas are undefined and open; children can see everything going on in the room; materials are too difficult or children are bored with them.

    Use shelves to define areas. Separate noisy and quiet areas. Assess children’s skills and select materials they can use in interesting ways.

    Continually intruding on other’s workspace

    Space is limited; poor traffic patterns prevent children from spreading out.

    Define work areas for children (e.g., use masking tape or sections of cardboard for block building, and provide trays or placemats for toys). Limit the number of areas open at one time to allow more space for each.

    Misusing materials and resisting clean up

    Children do not know how to use materials appropriately; materials on shelves are messy; the displays are disorderly.

    Make a place for everything. Use picture and word labels to show where materials go. Provide consistent guidance on how to clean up.



    Pause to Reflect

    The chart above focuses on the effect the physical environment has on behavior. Can you think of ways the social-emotional and temporal environments affect behavior as well?

    This page titled 8.7: Behavior affected by environments is shared under a CC BY-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Cindy Stephens, Gina Peterson, Sharon Eyrich, & Jennifer Paris (College of the Canyons) .