Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Using Antecedent Physical Activity to Increase On-Task Behavior in Young Children

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Using Antecedent Physical Activity to Increase On-Task Behavior in Young Children

Article excerpt

According to the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics (2007), there are more than 4.5 million preschool age children (3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds) in preschool programs in the United States. Due to the number of children attending these programs, children must share teachers attention, and the majority of their instruction is done in a group. Because the primary purposes of education programs are promoting academic and developmental growth, helping young children acquire the skills they need to facilitate their learning is important.

The concept of "on-task" is represented in the literature in various ways. For example, some of the terms used include attention to task (Duncan et al., 2007), academic engagement (Nicholson, Kehle, Bray, & Van Heest, 2011), participation in group (Bushell, Wrobel, & Michaelis, 1968), and learning related social skills (McClelland & Morrison, 2003). The similarity of meaning among these terms is apparent regardless of the multiple disciplines from which they originate. For the purposes of this study, we use the term on-task behavior to describe behaviors such as looking at teacher, keeping hands to self, singing songs, and reciting poems.

Skills needed during preschool group activities include listening and responding to questions, looking at the teacher, and keeping hands and feet to self. Young children may require behavioral interventions to support learning these skills. They may engage in off-task or aggressive behaviors that results in escape from the learning demands of group instruction. Some children may also exhibit stereotypic behaviors during group instruction (LeBlanc & Ruggles, 1982). Stereotypic behaviors (e.g., rocking, hand-flapping) may be disruptive to learning new skills as well as teacher-student interactions (Morrissey, Franzini, & Karen, 1992). Whether children are looking at the floor, hitting their peers, or flapping their hands in front of their face, they are likely not engaging in learning. Implementing behavioral strategies that improve their on-task behavior is essential in helping set the stage for learning during teacher-directed group activities. Although demonstration of these on-task behaviors does not guarantee learning is taking place, it does provide a context for learning that is important in preschool.

There are a number of traditional behavioral interventions used to address problematic behavior in individuals (Carr, Langdon, & Yarbrough, 1999). However, many of these interventions can be classified as reactive rather than proactive. Reactive interventions would include those that focus on consequent manipulation, generally waiting for the behavior to occur (e.g., response cost) or specifically targeting the shaping or development of new behaviors (frequently through differential reinforcement procedures). Proactive interventions are generally environmental manipulations done to alter the antecedent conditions to prevent a behavior or make that behavior less likely to occur (Horner, Carr, Strain, Todd, & Reed, 2002). Despite the proven effectiveness of reactive interventions, they still essentially allow the behavior to occur for a period of time. Approaching these challenging behaviors proactively (cf., Reeve & Carr, 2000; Sugai et al., 2000) by altering antecedents in children's environments may allow a teacher to avoid aberrant behaviors and the subsequent disruption they can cause. Using antecedent conditions to positively impact children's on-task behavior during group activities is a promising alternative to waiting until the unwanted behavior occurs and responding to it.

One intervention that has been used in antecedent conditions to improve behavior in children and adults both with and without disabilities is physical activity (PA). In the field of special education, PA has been used to reduce maladaptive behaviors (Watters & Watters, 1980), aggressive behavior (Yell, 1988), disruptive behavior (Bachman & Sluyter, 1988), and stereotypic behavior (Bachman & Fuqua, 1983). …

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