Monday, June 4, 2018

Lock Down Drills in ECE: Are We Doing What is Developmentally Appropriate?

Our Early Childhood Community has been experiencing a lot of stress and confusion related to doing lockdown (also known as active shooter) drills in Early Education and Care settings (ECE).

As the leadership team of the Chicago Chapter of IL AEYC, we hope to use the NAEYC position statements, our own experiences, and the concepts of best practice and trauma informed care to make recommendations on how to do these drills in a way that supports the diversity of needs of teachers and children in ECE settings.

First and foremost we want to bring attention to Principle One of the Code of Ethical Conduct:

“Above all, we shall not harm children. We shall
not participate in practices that are emotionally damaging,
physically harmful, disrespectful, degrading,
dangerous, exploitative, or intimidating to children.
This principle has precedence over all others in
this Code.”

We understand that administrators, teachers, and families want most of all for their children to be safe. We also know that there is an increasing fear of people who may try to harm children in our centers, homes, and schools. Due to the unique way that ECE is provided, professionals are serving young children in a variety of settings with a variety of regulations. But “above all, we shall not harm children.

Our team has heard stories children being told to be “quiet in case a shooter comes,” of administrators pretending to be “bad guys” jiggling door handles while children are hiding in fear. We must not emotionally damage children in the process of trying to physically protect them. We must also remember Principle 1.4: “To appreciate the vulnerability of children and their dependence on adults.” We cannot just use what works in workplace and high school lockdowns in settings in which we have infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and early elementary school children. Our drill formats and policies must address the unique vulnerability of young children.

We must also remember our training on Developmentally Appropriate Practice:

“Early experiences have profound effects, both cumulative and delayed, on a child’s development and learning; and optimal periods exist for certain types of development and learning to occur.”

Our team believes that this also means providing trauma informed care. This a program that:

  • “Realizes the widespread impact of trauma and understands potential paths for recovery;
  • Recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, families, staff, and others involved with the system;
  • Responds by fully integrating knowledge about trauma into policies, procedures, and practices; and
  • Seeks to actively resist re-traumatization."

Even our littlest children and also our teachers and families, come to us having experienced real and substantial trauma. We must find ways to to implement our lockdown drill policies in a trauma informed manner that does not actively re-traumatize children, teachers, or families.

Suggestions for implementation of lockdown drills:

Adults practice drills before they are enacted with children. Never do a drill for the first time with children and families present. Meet as a team, discuss the issues, make a plan, and practice it before you do a formal drill.

Practice being still and quiet in a developmentally appropriate way and use that practice during your drill. We have found teachers inadvertently frighten children during drills because the children do not have practice being still or quiet and teachers feel panicked then that children might be in danger as they wiggle and chat in developmentally normal ways. Practice playing quiet games or playing statues in the context of your safe and welcoming everyday activities so that you have those tools to use when you need them for a drill. This also includes the language that you use to describe the drill and what expectations are. Be careful in your choice of words.

Practice all drills and safety measures in the context of reciprocal relationships. Principle 2.3: “To welcome all family members and encourage them to participate in the program, including involvement in shared decision making.”
Communicate with families about your procedures for drills, who regulates your drill policy, and how you will enact the drill, before you act one out. Listen to families’ and children’s interests and concerns. Know the individual children in your care and who will need more and less support during a drill.

Remember your responsibility as an advocate. Principle 4.11 “When policies are enacted for purposes that do not benefit children, we have a collective responsibility to work to change these policies.”

It is our duty to actively speak out against policies that do not benefit or worse harm our children and families. Communicate with your administrators, your funders, and your community about the needs of young children around lockdown drills. 

Post Author:
 Leslie Layman is Harry S Truman College's Child Development Program Coordinator. She also teaches Child Development courses and creates and leads the ECE professional development trainings at the college. The bulk of her experience is in serving children with special needs in and out of the classroom. She has B.A.’s in Psychology and Italian from University of Wisconsin-Madison and a M.S. of Child Development with a Specialization in Children with Special Needs from Erikson Institute. She has experience coordinating community programing, writing curriculum, and working closely with families via in home consulting and care. She has completed multiple continuing education courses on tinkering, making, and education and collaborates with faculty and students to create unique learning experiences in the Early Childhood Education Laboratory spaces at the College. She has a special interest in equity and inclusion in early education, and in all things play.

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