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Using ABA in a Preschool Classroom


Teaching social skills and learning from the natural environment are two main goals in ABA. so how can we use ABA in a preschool classroom to target these goals?

In the school that I work in, we’re using Hanley’s Evaluation of a Classwide Teaching Program for Developing Preschool Life Skills as an ongoing curriculum for the year. We use this ABA preschool curriculum with students who are about three or four years old. 

One day the students in my classroom lined up and one student who tends to have his hands on others was in front and another student was behind. The student at the front turned to the student behind him and said, “Nice waiting.” It was just such a reflection of that positive feedback that he hears from this type of teaching program. 

How to Use ABA in the Classroom

So often in ABA, we focus on tabletop skills and behavior management, or DTT (discrete trial teaching). What Hanley was looking at with his curriculum is how we can teach young students at a very young age some of these really pivotal skills that are going to be life changing away from a table. These are skills like tolerating waiting, asking for help, waiting quietly, and so much more. His theory was, if we can teach kids how to follow basic instructions, how to respond to their name, and other things that are going to change the trajectory of their learning, then we’re teaching them so much more than what they can get in a one-to-one setting.

What’s really cool is that all of his teaching skills are introduced during circle time. It isn’t this long, drawn out thing. It’s really about describing the skill quickly with some role play or visuals. A lot of the time, the teacher can bring out puppets or use actual individuals, and say, “Little Jimmy, come on up here and do this with me.”  The teacher describes why the skill is important, then they model it with either puppets or another student, then they have have students get up and practice it too. It’s so cute to see the students pair up and rehearse these skills!  This can be done in a larger group setting too if you’ve got enough adults to be able to help out and prompt the appropriate play.

Teaching Replacement Skills

If you’ve ever been in a preschool classroom, you know that some kids bite, hit, knock down blocks, and exhibit many other not-so-nice behaviors. We could look at that through a behavior management lens, but, ultimately, we have to teach them not to bite or not to knock down towers. The way that this is approached by Hanley is to teach them all these replacement skills. Is the reason that they’re biting because they’re frustrated and they can’t wait? Is the reason that they’re knocking down towers because they don’t know how to seek appropriate attention? Focusing on replacement skills will indirectly decrease negative behavior. It’s a really nice approach when working with younger kids. 

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Hanley’s ABA Classroom Resources

The other thing that’s really nice about using ABA in a preschool classroom, especially Hanley’s, is that there’s a training piece for all the staff who are working with the kids. After you’ve introduced it in the small group circle time, and the kids have practiced it, then there’s a system. Every time something happens, there’s instruction for how the staff should respond. Hanley gives you an exact script to error correct and how to generalize the skill throughout the entire day.  You introduce the skill at circle time and then the teachers are constantly looking for opportunities to praise and provide feedback throughout the entire preschool day. 

So for example, if a teacher works on the skill, ‘Responds to Name’, their goal is that within two seconds the child will stop the competing behavior, orient toward the speaker, and say, “Yes”. So the teacher needs to create multiple opportunities to call the child by their name – during free play, during snack, during work time centers, and so on.  And what the teacher is supposed to say is, “When I call your name, stop what you’re doing, look at me and say, yes.” 

It’s very routine. Everybody uses the same strategies. The students start to understand the expectations and start to develop that language also. It’s all phrased positively. And it’s also training teachers to not react with negative reactions. It allows for a lot of positivity and skill building within the classroom. 


So in summary, we showed how to use Hanley’s classroom-wide teaching program within preschool classrooms. You can read about it for free in his journal article. It’s a really awesome program because it teaches more in the natural environment than at the table and provides teachers with a great script of how to teach as well.

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