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Honoring Unique Needs and Personalities in an ECE Classroom

As an educator, you likely have noticed a wide range of personalities and preferences among the children that you care for. Some children enjoy high-energy active games, while others prefer quieter activities. Some are drawn to social activities, while others might enjoy spending more time playing alone. Considering the unique needs and personalities of the children in your care is key to creating high-quality learning environments that support each child’s learning, exploration, growth, and development.

Different Personalities & Temperaments

A child’s personality can be observed as early as infancy, with new and unique traits appearing throughout that child’s early development.  As you seek to understand each child’s personality to support the development of tools for self-expression, it can be helpful to consider general temperament types:

  • High-Activity. Children with high activity levels have a lot of energy and require time to run around and stretch their legs throughout the day.

  • Slow-to-Warm-Up. Often described as “shy,” these children might need to experience a new environment or person a few times before they feel comfortable.

  • Easy.  Children described as having easy temperaments are typically easy-going, have mild reactions to change, and are not easily upset.

  • Intense. These children have big emotions and can be highly sensitive, quick to react, and difficult to soothe.

Learn more about different personality types by reading, An Introduction to Temperament, an article from the Good2Know Network archives.

Recognizing & Honoring Uniqueness

As educators, the way that we support and respond to children’s personalities can play a key role in supporting their development and self-esteem. When children feel they belong and feel comfortable in the classroom space, they are more likely to explore, take on challenges, and try new things.

An article from the Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning (CSEFEL) highlights the importance of our interactions with children: “…quality caregiving practices support all children’s development, yet certain practices might be especially important for certain temperament types.” For example, children with an easy temperament might be less likely to speak out about their needs or distress, so checking in often can help them learn to initiate conversations about their feelings. Similarly, children who are slow-to-warm might require extra support while trying a new activity. You can help them to increase their sense of competence and independence with words of encouragement such as, “I’m here. I’ll be right in this chair watching you try on the dress-up clothes.”

Creating Inclusive Classroom & Curriculum

Creating a diverse curriculum that includes a wide variety of activities, is an important way to honor different personalities and learning styles. The classroom environment should reflect the needs of the children who are a part of the learning community. From the number of centers to the amount of open space, your classroom set-up should be designed to meet the unique needs of each child:

  • For high-activity children, you might consider incorporating more open space that allows children room to move around. Other helpful features could include a climbing area with large pillows and cushions to give children an opportunity for physical activity, as well as plenty of items that children can throw, squish, and squeeze.

  • For children who are slow-to-warm, you can pay special attention to the drop-off area in your classroom to ensure that it is warm and inviting so children feel welcome.

It is also important to consider the unique needs of each child in your classroom to ensure that the space accommodates everyone. All children have a right to be included and participate in the classroom’s curriculum and activities.

Think about the children’s interests when planning your curriculum and try to select activities that you think will be enjoyable for the group. Occasionally organizing children into smaller groups can allow for more individualized time with each child and give you a better understanding of each child’s interests and preferences.

Navigating Challenging Behavior

Some temperaments and personality types might be associated with behaviors that can be challenging. For example, children with a lot of energy might have a hard time settling down for naps or other quiet activities. Additionally, a particular activity or time of day, such as morning drop-off, can be over-stimulating for some children.

Additionally, the way that your own personality interacts with the children is important to consider. A child with temperament or personality that is different from your own might demonstrate more behaviors that you find challenging. CSEFEL explains, “knowing more about your own temperament traits will also help you to take the child’s perspective…a caregiver who enjoys movement, loud music playing, and constant bustle might try to imagine what it would feel like to spend all day in a setting that was calm, hushed, and quiet. This reflective process can help you become more attuned to the experience of each child within your care. You can then determine what adjustments might be needed to create a better fit for each child.”

It can be especially helpful to keep a notebook or a designated place to jot down your observations regarding challenging behaviors or times of the day. This can be revisited when you have time to reflect and brainstorm ideas for addressing these situations.

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