Using Guides to Speech and Action

At the Associated Student’s Child Development Lab, the “Guides to Speech and Action” developed by Katherine Read Baker are followed and practiced while guiding children’s behaviors in the classrooms. The Guides to Speech and Action have been successfully used as guidance techniques in our program for over 35 years. 

A copy of the “Guides to Speech and Action” are available in the ASCDL and on this Web site.  Copies are distributed during orientations to the ASCDL.  There are 15 individual specific guides. The guides have been excerpted, with personal permission, from Read’s book The Nursery School (1976).  Katherine Read Baker is well known in the field and history of child development. A little known fact about Ms. Baker is that she actually had a “Chico connection.”  Because of this connection, she came to CSU, Chico and was the anchor for a conference that generated enough revenue to fund a scholarship for child development students at CSU, Chico and Butte College.

  • At the ASCDL, the first and most important guide is that the health and safety of the children (and staff) are a primary concern at all times (Guide # 14). As Baker states, “the skillful teacher never relaxes watchfulness for things that affect the health and safety of children.” The health and safety of all present at the ASCDL is always at the forefront.
  • It is extremely important to always be alert to the total situation (Guide # 13). Always try to position yourself in the classroom environment so that you have the most global view. Consider having your back to the walls or fences to maximize your ability to observe as much of the environment as possible. Even when adult-to-child ratio may be low or when all adults are extremely busy trying to meet children’s needs while following through on multiple classroom activities, always strive to be alert to the entire situation.
  • There are several guidelines directed at speech. One of the most important is to “State suggestions or directions in a positive rather than a negative form” (Guide # 1). A positive suggestion is one which tells a child what she or he CAN do. When this is done, suggestions are being made that will encourage independence and positive choice making. For example, remind a child about washing her or his hands by saying, “You can come sit down for lunch after you wash your hands” instead of, “You can’t have lunch because you haven’t washed your hands.” Or, instead of saying, “You can’t paint with water colors until you clean up all those blocks” consider saying, “Let’s pick up those blocks together, then you can go paint with water colors.”  Putting suggestions or directions positively also represents a step in developing a more positive attitude toward children’s behavior inside ourselves.
  • Another way to consider your speech is to think about your voice as a teaching tool (Guide # 3).  As Baker states, you can use words and a tone of voice which will help the child feel confident and reassured.  It may be necessary to speak firmly, but it is never necessary to raise one’s voice. Sometimes it is necessary to say something to a child more than once, but it is never necessary to yell it the second time. The most effective speech is simple, direct, and slow. Move across the playground to give children directions or help down from the slide. It is always better to move nearer the person to whom you are speaking rather than to call or shout across any play area. Your words will get a better reception if they are spoken quietly, face to face.
  • At the ASCDL, redirect children by suggesting an activity that is related to her or his purposes or interests whenever possible (Guide #6). Honor the impulse behind the behavior. For example, encourage children to throw balls instead of sand. If a child begins painting on the walls or the floor, remind her or him to paint on the paper. Or, when children are climbing on furniture in the classroom, invite them to climb on the playground structure instead.
  • Be sure to never use your speech and language to change behavior by methods that may lead to loss of self-respect such as, shaming a child or labeling a child’s behavior as “bad”, “mean,” “rude,” or “selfish” (Guide #4).  Remember, use your speech and language to encourage children in what they CAN do.
  • At the ASCDL, avoid making models in any art medium for the children to copy (Guide #8).  Art is valuable because it is a means of self-expression. The young child needs avenues of expression which models may prevent. The  objective is to encourage children’s creativity and not confine them to copy or imitate. For example, when asked by a child to “make a tree” by a child, encourage the child to make his own tree by asking “what do you need to make a tree?” or, “how would you draw a tree?” and then, support the child in his endeavor.
  • The most effective way of handling children’s behavior is “forestalling” (Guide #11).  Preventing a problem before it happens is more effective than a mop-up after a difficulty. Staying alert to the total situation is a good way of preventing the escalation of problems. Working with children to solve problems is another way of forestalling escalation.  For example,  when two children both want to be the “mom” in a dramatic play scenario, guiding them to discover they can both be moms and take their children to the park, is a way of helping them to solve a problem before they come to blows!  Remember, work to have a global view and foresight so that problems can become learning opportunities and not involve serious consequences.
  • Finally, we want to offer children as many “Yeses” as possible.  Sometimes, limits are necessary. In which case, they should be clearly defined, consistent, and take into consideration children’s individual needs and developmental level (Guide #12) . 

Children will feel most secure with adults who believe in their strengths and abilities and who work to keep them safe. The Guides to Speech and Action given to us by Katherine Read Baker are just that, guides. As you begin your work and participation with children and staff at the ASCDL, we want you to recognize your own strengths, as well as, the strengths and skills of the children.  Being familiar with and practicing the Guides to Speech and Action is a good way of doing this.