Positive Behavior Begins with Effective Environments


When it comes to classroom management, some things are easier said than done. And you’ve probably heard many opinions on discipline about what “you should be doing.” But as an early childhood professional, you know that positive behaviors start with positive environments, classroom preparedness and good techniques. Caring for the littlest learners is one of the most important jobs, and it takes many years of research and learning to hone our practice. Managing a classroom takes more than a good instinct.

But there are some tried and true approaches that can support you, whether you are a brand new professional or a long-time educator. Read more below for the essentials of creating effective early learning environments.


Why is classroom management important?

Classroom management is about the well-being of everyone sharing the classroom. It can be defined by the techniques and skills used by educators or teachers to keep the students focused, attentive and engaged in learning in the classroom environment.

A well-managed classroom:

  • Minimizes disruptions
  • Maximizes learning
  • Results in fewer behavioral issues
  • Creates time efficiencies
  • Sets an expectation of consistency
  • Creates a safe and supportive environment


To create a well-managed classroom that supports social and emotional development, early childhood educators can use the Pyramid Model.

As you work to create an effective learning environment and plan activities, there are actually many steps you can take that can help prevent challenging behaviors. The Pyramid Model for Supporting Social Emotional Competence in Infants and Young Children helps early educators (1) build skills for supporting nurturing and responsive caregiving, (2) create learning environments, (3) provide targeted social-emotional skills, and (4) support children demonstrating challenging behavior.

One key component of this model that provides a foundation for early learning is the High Quality Supportive Environments. Below are some techniques for building effective environments in a classroom:


Provide adequate materials.
  • Provide enough space in group areas and learning centers so children have space to play without having anyone too near to them
  • Offer enough choices of materials and provide duplicates of popular toys or materials to minimize wait times as children are still learning to take turns or share
  • Create a well-balanced daily schedule and stick to it as much as possible
  • Attend to basic needs, such as food, water and rest, in a timely manner as this can help to improve behavior


Pay attention to room arrangement.
  • As you prepare your room, think about its color and lighting. Children’s senses are more likely than adults’ to be stimulated by the things in their environment, such as color and light. Taking a minute to look critically at your classroom can be helpful. Ask yourself, Do I have too much going on? What about the color or materials? Is there a lot of artificial light or natural light? Are there ways to increase the natural light by simply pulling the blinds or shade up, for example? What about removing items from the windows? What about the color of the walls? Are they light, neutral, or inviting?
  • Don’t forget to consider your outdoor environment, as well. Is it inviting? Consider what you can take outside from the inside and visa versa.


behavior, readingProvide a balanced schedule.

Maintaining a set and predictable schedule is important to preschoolers at various levels of development.

  • Varying the length of structured activities may be necessary to meet the children’s varying attention spans.
  • Modifying transitions between activities may also be necessary.

As you plan for a balanced schedule, keep these considerations in mind. Well planned schedules and routines:

  • Support learning and enable young children to anticipate what happens next
  • Allow children to control their lives
  • Can provide a sense of security

The time of day when activities take place can impact children’s behavior. For example, children have less energy and attention span right before lunch and at the end of the day. Varying the sequence of activities gives children the chance to recharge their batteries when needed.


Structured transitions.

As you plan for structured transitions, take these suggestions into consideration:

  • Be organized
  • Give children warning
  • Allow sufficient time
  • Give clear directions
  • Be consistent
  • Meet individual needs
  • Avoid having children wait
  • Guide children through transitions
  • Use transitions as opportunities to teach
  • Have as few transitions as possible


Individualize instruction for children.

The little learners in your classroom are all special and have a unique way of learning. When you adapt your curriculum to meet the interests, needs and abilities of the children in your classroom, you are also successfully creating opportunities for learning that build on their interests.

Effective educators and teachers are intentional in how they approach and what strategies they use to support the interests of the children in their classroom. Besides embedding significant learning in play, routines and interest areas, strong programs also provide carefully planned curriculum that focuses children’s attention on a particular concept or topic.

Family Engagement Is Essential. Are You Doing It?


Teach rules and expectations.

To help you plan for positive behaviors within your environment, teach your children rules and expectations.

  • Create and follow a few simple classroom rules. For example, three rules can include:
    • We take care of our classmates
    • We take care of ourselves
    • We take care of our classrooms
  • Discuss being part of group. One way to do this is by reading books about taking turns.
  • Stay close to areas where challenging behavior occurs, ideally at the level of the children. This allows you to quickly step in and redirect the behavior.
  • Build loving relationships in which children can develop best.


Design engaging activities.

When children engage in activities that are well suited for their level of development and are interesting and fun, they are less likely to exhibit challenging behavior.

When they are unmotivated and uninspired in the classroom environment, they become bored and can exhibit challenging behavior. That’s why it’s important to provide children with ample and engaging activities that peak their interest and are well suited for their development level.


Provide clear direction to children.

Model and give children opportunities to practice the behaviors you expect. Acknowledge children when you notice they are following the expectations. Say, “Thank you Lyndsi for taking care of your friends by walking in our room.” Or “I see Ben putting blocks away; he is taking care of our classroom.”


Don’t spend your energy saying “Don’t”

Save saying “no” for dangerous situations. For example, running in front of a car or jumping off something too high. For non-dangerous situations, switch to asking for what you want: “Gentle hands” or “Walk around the room” instead of “Don’t run!” 


Occasionally you may need help with challenging and persistent behaviors and setting up your environment to better manage and individualize for the children in your care. This would be the time to contact your local child care resource and referral, so that they can help. Describe the situation, share your observations and act on their suggestions, as needed. Remember, these experts are well trained and positioned to help you succeed!



Bergen, S. (2016). Early Childhood Orientation Guide. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

EarlyChildhoodVideos. (2017, January 17). Building Supportive Environments: Setting Rules and Expectations. Retrieved September 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6qIa2CanBM

Lesperance, M. (2018, November). Timing is everything: understanding the importance of timing, length, and sequence of activities. Teaching Young Children.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth to Age 8. Position Statement. Retrieved September 2018, from https://www.naeyc.org/sites/default/files/globally-shared/downloads/PDFs/resources/position-statements/PSDAP.pdf

National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations. (2017, November). Pyramid Model Overview. Retrieved September 2018, from http://challengingbehavior.cbcs.usf.edu/Pyramid/overview/index.html

The Pyramid Model Consortium: Supporting Early Childhood PBIS. (2016). A New Way to Support the Early Childhood Workforce. Retrieved September 2018, from http://www.pyramidmodel.org/