Erica MiklasErica Miklas was inspired by her time as a kindergarten teacher to research how educators understand pupils who struggle to regulate their behaviour.

Faculty member shedding light on understanding of play-based learning and dysregulation

For educator Erica Miklas, a successful classroom hinges on empowering students to explore, make choices, and actively participate in guiding their own learning journeys.

A PhD candidate and sessional instructor and advisor in the Faculty of Education, Miklas has dedicated her research to educators’ perceptions of children with dysregulation in full-day kindergarten programs.

“I’m not sure if teachers have the know-how to address students’ needs effectively,” she says. “That’s why I’m looking into how well educators understand dysregulation and how it connects with the play-based learning program.”

After completing the concurrent education program, Miklas worked as a supply teacher while pursuing her master’s degree. She later secured a full-time position as an assistant teacher in a kindergarten classroom.

During this time, Miklas had several “light bulb moments” that suggested some teachers may lack the appropriate understanding or skills required to work with students who struggle with dysregulation: difficulties regulating emotions or behaviour.

This can result in the child being impulsive or having difficulty focusing attention and may be symptomatic of such conditions as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or autism.

Miklas recounted instances of students labelled as having a disorder before an appropriate diagnosis, a lack of patience, or insufficient time spent with the student.

“It seemed to me that some of these students weren’t really given a chance, or an opportunity to learn the skills they’re meant to at this stage,” she said.

These experiences encouraged Miklas to expand her research after studying ADHD and play-based full-time kindergarten, examining both teacher and early childhood educators’ perceptions for her master’s dissertation.

She is currently exploring the stigma associated with dysregulation, how students are labelled in the classroom, and ways they can flourish while investigating educators’ understanding of the play-based kindergarten program.

Play-based learning is the foundation of the kindergarten program in Ontario, which comprises four frames: belonging and contributing, problem-solving and innovating, demonstrating literacy and mathematics behaviours, and self-regulation and well-being.

“I’ve been conducting interviews for the past two weeks, and it’s becoming evident that some individuals lack a comprehensive understanding of what self-regulation truly entails and how to integrate it into the classroom, which is an important aspect of this,” Miklas explains.

She has been awarded the Ontario Graduate Scholarship for the past two years to help fund her research.

“Teaching kindergarten requires a unique set of skills, and although there is a service-learning course tailored for early years education, it’s optional. Without a background in psychology or early childhood education that includes child development, one may lack this understanding. My research aims to shed light on this gap."

Her goal with this project is two-fold: to equip kindergarten teachers with resources addressing these areas of concern, and to implement change in educator programs across Ontario.

“I aim to integrate this into Bachelor of Education programs in some way, ensuring students are familiar with it,” Miklas says.

“Having experienced the kindergarten program and witnessing how it should be executed — emphasizing play-based, inquiry learning where the teacher serves as a guide, allowing students to select their activities and explore freely —I believe this approach can be applied across the board, extending beyond kindergarten.”

It’s a teaching style she still utilizes, even at the university level, and while the approach is slightly different, the principle remains the same.

“You’re still relying on the students to guide you as the facilitator in the classroom. You’re not the be-all and end-all in the classroom,” Miklas explains. “I consistently encourage students to share their experiences with each other, particularly in placement classes. It’s important to have open discussions so that everyone receives valuable information.”

In observance of Teacher Appreciation Week from May 6 to 10, DailyNews is highlighting stories of current teacher candidates, alumni, and researchers in the Faculty of Education, acknowledging their important work and dedication.

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