A new school year means loading up your classroom with supplies. But along with the usual fresh bottles of finger paint and Kleenex boxes, early childhood educators need to find an extra supply of a less tangible resource: time.
Every year brings different children with somewhat different needs. That means investing time in getting to know the little ones in your classroom and developing positive relationships. As many experts tell us: for children to thrive, first they need to feel safe and secure.
As renowned education psychologist, Asa Hilliard, said, "Relationships matter more than anything else. Human beings need to be nurtured. Teachers must nurture in ways that tap into the genius in each child."
But connecting with students and building relationships doesn't require elaborate plans or Pinterest-worthy activities. Instead, you can create genuine connections without a lot of hoopla.
Here, we share a few practical suggestions from trusted early education experts to help you build positive relationships with children. Plus, we’ll share a surprising way technology can help you find the ever-elusive time you need to do this vital work.
Play, play and then play some more
In a blog post for the National Association for the Education of Young Children focused on developing authentic relationships, Colleen Schmit suggests making your classroom a fun environment. Schmit is an early childhood program evaluator for The Nebraska Department of Education and says playing games, singing songs, and team-building with students helps them feel safe and relaxed, while also encouraging creative thinking. As Schmit explains, "Kids that enjoy learning become lifelong learners."
Sing their praises
In handout from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, researchers Gail E. Joseph and Phillip S. Strain recommend providing as many positive, affirming statements to children as you can each day. This could be as simple as giving plenty of praise and encouragement such as, "You are really concentrating today!" or "Thanks for sharing so nicely." Some educators even send positive notes home for parents and children to read together. In this case, more is always better and can impact how students both feel and behave in your classroom.
Be all in
Whether you're reading a book together, eating a snack, or sitting and playing with blocks, being present and undistracted in your interactions with children builds trust and connections. As Patricia Jennings and a team of researchers found in this recent study, by learning to be more mindful and present through the CARE for Teachers program educators were "better able to establish and maintain supportive relationships" with their students.
Here’s the hard part: finding the time for connection
These are all wonderful ways to connect with students and encourage them to feel secure enough to explore and learn. The problem, as Schmit from the Nebraska Department of education, explains, is other obligations can impede our efforts.
In her blog post for NAEYC, Schmit says, "Teaching can be hard and overwhelming. Often stressed about meeting standards and preparing for assessments, sometimes we forget this very important part of our job."
But a new tool, Ignite by Hatch, helps teachers like you focus more time on building those relationships, without sacrificing the data and documentation you're required to collect.
With Ignite, as children play research-based, child-facing games, the platform automatically captures documentation about each child's achievements towards kindergarten readiness skills. (Following the guidelines for screen time, children only play 30 minutes of games each week.)
Then, Ignite gives you information about how students are progressing in their learning along with strategies and suggestions for instruction. These suggestions include differentiation and activity recommendations. You also get reports that help you share objective feedback during teacher/parent conferences.
With Ignite's continuous skills assessment, you can easily monitor achievements, helping you ensure children are progressing toward meeting kindergarten readiness goals. Plus, your administrators receive updates that help them quickly see where children are in developing these skills.
In a recent independent content validation study, teachers reported that Ignite's game content and relevant standards measurements make assessment and documentation more straightforward and less time-consuming.
And as childhood educators like you tell us, that creates more time for those special moments of connection, giving students the supportive relationships they need to take the leap into learning.