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Dec 17, 2018 |
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“Share everything. Play fair. Don’t hit people.” Author Robert Fulghum made it sound easy in “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.”  Kindergarten (and early childhood) teachers would help children master these important life skills. Children would learn at an early age to get along with their peers and control their behavior.

Most classroom teachers recognize that teaching these skills is not as simple as Fulghum made it sound. While some children develop them with ease, others struggle with self-regulation, perseverance, attention, or problem-solving. Fortunately, research in the area of soft skills by James Heckmann and others has led to a shift in education. These important skills are being more widely taught as we begin to learn how they are related to positive academic outcomes. Current trends include growth mindset, effective habits, and social-emotional learning.

As a result, many teachers are providing direct instruction in non-academic areas to ensure that their students are successful in school and in life. One important skill is self-regulation, which is  the ability to manage one’s movements, emotions, thoughts, attention, and behavior. Self-regulation allows a person to control impulses in order to react or respond to situations appropriately. There are many activities that can be incorporated into classroom routines to promote self-regulation.

  • Play games such as “Red Light, Green Light,” “Simon Says,” or “Mother May I.” These games teach children to pause before reacting. They provide opportunities to practice listening. Visit this website for directions on how to play these games and more.
  • Read books about self-regulation. Choose books that show different behaviors. Discuss how the characters acted and how they could have acted differently. Use these read-alouds to provide children with words for talking about feelings and behaviors.
    • “The Angry Dragon” by Michael Gordon
    • “When Sophie Gets Angry--Really, Really Angry” by Molly Bang
    • “My Mouth is a Volcano” by Julia Cook
    • “Waiting is Not Easy” by Mo Willems
  • Teach kid-friendly breathing techniques. Show children that breathing can help them calm down or refocus their attention. Start by using breathing exercises with the whole class. For example, when transitioning from an active task to a quieter one, model a breathing exercise for children. Have them copy you. When children have learned several, begin prompting individual children to use breathing at needed times. The goal is for children to use breathing independently to regulate their behavior.
  • Talk about problem-solving. Use think-alouds to show children how you solve simple problems throughout the day. For example, “We usually use a red marker to color our thermometer, but I cannot find it. That is a problem. I can solve it by looking again for the red or choosing a different color to use.” Also, use problem-solving as a compliment. “Rosa, I like the way that you helped solve a problem in stations. You and Jenny both wanted to use the blue dough cutter. You solved the problem by taking turns.”

Self-regulation is a vital skill. Most adults are not even conscious that they are using it. But for children to master it, they need opportunities to talk through and practice the techniques that allow them to manage their own thoughts, words, and actions.

How do you promote self-regulation in your classroom? Add a comment below to share your best practice. We will select a few original ones to shoutout in a future Education Solutions blog post.


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NCFL Partners

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Toyota, one of the nation's most successful corporations, began a partnership with NCFL in 1991. In addition to a commitment of more than $50 million, Toyota has also contributed a wealth of in-kind support — including advertising, planning and management expertise — to form one of the most progressive corporate/nonprofit partnerships in the nation.

Three major programs have been developed through the Toyota partnership based on the family literacy model of parents and children learning together. These models have influenced federal and state legislation, leveraged local dollars to support family literacy and led to successful programs being replicated across the country.

Read more about Toyota's commitment to communities

William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

NCFL received its very first donation in 1989 from the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust to promote and implement family literacy programming, first in Kentucky and North Carolina and later nationwide. The Kenan Family Literacy Model in part laid the groundwork for 30 years of subsequent family literacy and family learning programming developed by NCFL.

Kenan has continued to support NCFL’s place-based family literacy programs since our inception. Most recently, it has invested in our organization’s Sharon Darling Innovation Fund, which will launch emerging ideas and programmatic evolutions in the multigenerational learning space.

Learn more about the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust

Dollar General Literacy Foundation

The Dollar General Literacy Foundation began partnering with NCFL in 2006. A signature effort of this partnership is the National Literacy Directory, a resource that launched in 2010 and strives to guide potential students and volunteers to literacy services, community education programs, and testing centers in their communities.

The National Literacy Directory contains over 10,000 educational agencies located across the United States and has a dedicated toll-free number to help support those wanting to pursue educational opportunities in their communities.

Dollar General also provides support for development of NCFL’s innovative family learning resources centered on financial literacy and Parent and Child Together (PACT) Time®.

Learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation

PNC Grow Up Great

PNC Grow Up Great believes deeply in the power of high-quality early childhood education and provides innovative opportunities that assist families, educators and community organizations to enhance children's learning and development.

PNC Grow Up Great has partnered with NCFL since 1994, most recently in Louisville, Kentucky, to support Say & Play with Words, our pre-Kindergarten vocabulary-building initiative.

NCFL's work is also featured on the PNC Grow Up Great Lesson Center website. The Lesson Center includes over 100 free, high-quality preschool lesson plans and research-based instructional techniques and strategies. All lesson plans contain Home/School Connections printouts, in English and Spanish, to help families extend and reinforce the learning at home.

Learn more about PNC Grow Up Great

U.S. Department of Education

Initiated through the U.S. Department of Education in 2018, the Statewide Family Engagement Centers (SFEC) program provides 12 grantees and 13 states with five-year, $5 million grants to promote and implement systemic evidenced-based family engagement strategies. NCFL was selected to lead SFECs in two states, Arizona and Nebraska, and is a primary partner for two other SFECs in Kentucky and Maryland/Pennsylvania. 

The SFECs work to support family engagement through state- and local-level agencies while providing both professional development to school districts and direct services to families related to children’s academic outcomes and overall well-being.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Education

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

NCFL was named a recipient of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s "Voices for Economic Opportunity Grand Challenge," which seeks to elevate diverse voices in order to broaden the conversation about the issues inhibiting economic mobility and generate deeper awareness along with actionable understanding. NCFL will develop and launch a podcast series that will highlight the remarkable stories of low-income, diverse families across the U.S. who have improved their communities through Family Service Learning.

Foundation Website