The two key methods I use to manage behaviour are modelling of appropriate behaviour and natural consequences.
Too often I seem to encounter adults that present opinions that imply children are naturally malevolent and not just small human beings. Unfortuately and ironically this ideas is prevalent amongst adults working in the mainstream education system. I have lost count of the number of times colleagues have talked of children with an ‘us versus them’ mentality. The ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach is not an appropriate way of securing and developing appropriate behaviours. When it does work it is typically because the child fears the consequences that will be imposed on them by the adult if they do not comply and display the desired behaviour.
Modelling behaviour, as the name implies, consists of imitating the behaviour we would like the child to acquire. Children reflect what is around them, it’s that simple. This is summarised nicely in the poem Children Learn What They Live by Dorothy Nolte.
If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.
If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.
If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.
I am in firm agreement with author Alfie Kohn that both punishments and rewards are ways of manipulating behaviour that destroy the potential for real learning. I believe children learn far better through experience of natural consequences – anything that happens naturally, with no adult interference. When you stand in the rain you get wet.
When children behave poorly or make poor choices avoid lecturing them. In the entire history of humankind I do not think anyone has every responded positively to the phrase “I told you so”. Show empathy for the situation they are in – “You’re soaking wet, that must be uncomfortable”. Validate their feelings – “It sounds like that must have been upsetting”. Offer suggestions that may help but don’t rescue them – “Standing close to the fire would warm and dry you.”
There are some situations when natural consequences are obviously not appropriate. A child wanting to jump from a significant height should not be allowed to experience the natural consequences for example. Natural consequences should not interfere with the rights and safety of others, a child should not be allowed to throw stones at another child for example. Care should also be exercised as some children will not perceive the long term consequences of certain actions like not brushing the teeth or regularly eating junk food. It would be appropriate to allow the natural consequences of these types of action.
Intrinsic motivation refers to behaviours that are carried out in order to achieve an internal reward rather than some external reward. Activities are considered to be intrinsically motivated if they are performed because the individual enjoys them or has an interest in them and wants to be better at or learn more about them. This is in contract to extrinsic motivation in which actions are performed in order to earn an external reward or to avoid punishment of some form.
Intrinsically motivated activities create positive emotions for the individual and create give a sense of meaning, progress or competence. It is widely believed that people learn and develop far more and far more effectively when intrinsically motivated.
The child led approach to forest school where children are free to opt in and out of activities supports participation in intrinsically motivated activities. This approach is far more likely to support positive behaviour and children have no need to protest or rebel against activities that are not interested in taking part in.
This child led approach does not devolve the leader of responsibility. It is the job of the forest school leader to provide opportunities that provide:
- Challenge: Activities should be planned that provide an achievable level of challenge to learners. Too easy and they will achieve little reward for completion. Too difficult and you risk negative impact on self confidence. Activities should be planned so they can be adapted on the fly to provide an appropriate challenge.
- Curiosity: Sessions should be planned with a variety of activities and experiences and in a way that supports different learning styles. This will increase the chance of something in the session grabbing the curiosity of the learner.
- Control: All people, children included, want control over themselves and their environment. Ensuring learners are listened to and allowing children to take ownership of sessions supports a feeling of control.
- Cooperation and Competition: Offer opportunities for learners to work together in pairs or groups both in co-operation with each other and in competitive games and activities where they are able to compare their own performance to that of others.
- Recognition: Learners enjoy having their achievements recognised by others. Positive feedback and celebrating successes can increase internal motivation.