Classroom management is the key to teaching EVERYTHING in ANY grade! And it is extra important in Kindergarten where we often find children that have never had any school experiences before. Here is how to start your kids off right in in Kindergarten or Pre-K so that you can successfully teach the rest.
Obviously, Kindergarten and preschool teachers must teach children all classroom expectations from the very beginning– from lining up, to sitting and listening, and the list goes on! So if you teach Kindergarten or preschool, remind yourself daily how important it is to be patient, and don’t get frustrated if progress is slow! The less time your students have been in school before, the longer it will take. But setting up your procedures and expectations will have huge pay-offs in the end, so keep at it!
As far as discipline is concerned, I use a lot of pro-active techniques, and then when those don’t work, I use time-outs. Time-outs may seem a little old fashioned, but they do put an immediate stop to the behavior in question- usually!
Use Proactive Techniques
One important proactive technique is that I try never to ask them to sit longer than they can. So when they start to get wiggly (usually after about 10 minutes or so at the beginning of the year,) we stand up and sing some of my songs. That helps them get their blood moving and sends oxygen to the brain. It also usually makes them happy, and provides a good review of whatever concept the song was directed at. All of those things are good for maintaining a happy, positive environment, which boosts learning. This in turn makes them feel more successful as learners, and that influences behavior also.
Also, I try to get them to practice the behavior that I want as much as I can, and I do this a lot at the beginning of the year. So, let’s suppose I am reading a story and someone blurts out a comment without raising their hand, which is a no-no. Instead of immediately putting the child in time-out, I say, “Whoops, let’s try that again. I’m going to read this page again, and we’re going to see if everyone can be nice and quiet the whole time.” Then I do it again, and praise the kids if they get it right. Sometimes, I have the whole class clap, too. Rarely, a child will do the same thing twice in a row, but that almost never happens. If it does, I back up again and repeat my spiel.
Have Children Model the Behavior You Want
Another thing to do is to choose a child or a couple of children to model the behavior that you want. Example: “Okay, let’s all watch Sophia and John while they listen to this page quietly.” Then read it, and have everyone clap if they get it right (which they will, of course!). If the child persists, it is probably willfulness, so I put that child in time out. If that doesn’t work, I tell him that he will have to practice being quiet at recess time or inside playtime. To make a child just watch while everyone else plays with toys is pretty hard on a kid, and they rarely forget it.
So the next day, if we start over with the same problem, I talk the child through the consequences of the day before, and remind the child of how it felt to watch everyone else play. That usually helps the child learn to think about where their actions are leading them. If the child is able to think it through and stop heading in that direction, he or she often will.
Keep a List for Documentation
One thing I always do is keep a list of the things the child did to get into time out. I just keep a note pad on a table nearby. I do this because, in the flurry of activity that is Kindergarten, I often forget exactly what the child has done. So if a parent wants to know what happened, I am able to tell them exactly what transpired. I used to not write it down, but I often felt quite foolish when questioned by a parent after school or the next day (which is worse!) So now, if I write just a few quick notes next to a child’s name, that helps me out. If the child does the same thing again, I put a checkmark by his name to remind me how many times we dealt with that issue.
This is not a list that I put up for the children to see and be humiliated by; that is not my purpose. My purpose is just to have some kind of documentation at hand of troubles we had. Also, if I start writing misbehaving children’s names on a board for all to see, then I would also need to begin writing the good kids’ names as well. This starts to get time-consuming, and there seems to be so little time as it is. I do a LOT of, “I like the way so-and-so is sitting nicely,” etc. Kindergartners eat that sort of thing up, and it is very effective.
When All Else Fails…
Last but not least, if all else fails and you can’t seem to get through a lesson, try redirecting a child to a different activity. I do have an aide, and that helps. Sometimes, I would ask her to take that misbehaving child and do some make-up work with him or her, or have that child practice making patterns or sorting, or something else- ANYTHING else! Just get that kid away from the group lesson so that everyone else can have a chance to learn. I have a set of small paper plates that have numbers written on them with a black marker. She can have a child the correct number of counters on each plate, or clip the correct number of clothespins on each plate. (These are great for math lessons, too!)
A friend of mine used to have a bowl with a thin edge that she kept in the back of the room. It had clothes pins in it. The misbehaving child was to go clip all of the clothespins around the edge of the bowl. When he finished with all of the clothespins, he could rejoin the group. The problem was that he actually LIKED the clothespin bowl- but it seemed that the kid was going to misbehave no matter what! At least it got him off doing something with his hands so that she could teach. It seemed to calm him down in any case, and that was a good thing.
A child like that, I think, is often still in “Preschool Mode,” and just can’t sit through a group lesson. He needs to have his hands on some real objects. A volunteer can help with that sort of thing, too. If you KNOW a child will disrupt a lesson no matter what, just put him aside to begin with and give him the manipulative, if it helps. That way, it is not a punishment, but a method of classroom management. I just tell the child that he or she is not in trouble, I’m just fixing it so that he or she can be good and get to play later. Sometimes, kids hate being away from the group, and will gradually learn to conform their behavior to what you want.
Routines are the Key!
I think that half the battle in K is getting the kids into a routine, so that they can easily follow your instructions even if they are NOT listening at all (which for some of them, might be true 90% of the time anyway!) When I introduce to the kids a procedure, such as how to clean up toys when the bell rings, or how to rotate from one group to another, I ALWAYS pick some children that follow directions well to demonstrate the behavior that I want. I take them through the whole rotation, from one table to another, ringing the bell in between “groups,” so the kids can see what is going to happen.
Watching other children model the correct behavior really helps the English language learners. They often cannot follow what you say, but a cooperative, motivated child will watch carefully and do what the other kids demonstrate. And that’s most of the kids right there! They do almost always wish to please their teacher- or at least they want the teacher’s attention!
Sometimes, I choose a child that often misbehaves to demonstrate the correct behavior! They are usually quite shocked that I picked them, but then rise to the occasion and show us all exactly what to do! After that, I TOTALLY know that this child understands exactly what is expected! If he or she does not comply later, I just put him or her in time out, giving NO attention to that child at all. What Kindergartners want most of all is your attention. Be careful not to give it when the child is misbehaving, or you will wind up reinforcing that behavior that you were trying to avoid!
I try to hold off on any kind of “whole class earns a point” type of system, such as the traditional “Marble Jar” game until closer to the end of the year, when the kids have become very comfortable and perhaps start to see how far I might let my boundaries stretch. Systems like the marble jar, in which the teacher is constantly trying to catch them being good, tend to be time consuming and hard for me to remember to do. Yes, I routinely I do a lot of reinforcing, but mostly just verbally. When I get out the jars, I usually do it during the last month of school, and make it a competition between groups to see which group can earn the most cubes. That way, they are more motivated to behave when working alone at a particular center if there is no volunteer. I put a marble, token, or cube in front of each child on the table at the beginning of the group time. If I have to ask a child to settle down, then he or she must bring me their cube. At the end of that rotation, each child that still has a cube gets to put it in his group’s jar. I count or weigh the cubes when the rotation is over to see which group is the winner. The kids like to see the cubes weighed with a balance scale.
When I put a child on a contract, basically it is just a paper that I write down their issues of the day on, so that the parents can see how they did during each time slot of the day. I only do this when I absolutely HAVE to- no choice, since the child doesn’t respond to anything else. In that case, I have a happy face stamp that I put on there if the child had no problems during that time slot. The child that I started it for was ADHD and ODD (Oppositional defiance Disorder) and responded to nothing at all! I also made a little book for her to read and color in when she was having a hard time. (Click here to read more about this.) She would read it with my aide and then illustrate a page or two, drawing pictures of herself following the rules. For this kid, it worked like a charm. I hear a lot about the fact that people have never heard of this technique, so it’s a good one to keep in your back pocket in case you need it. Parents love it because it is a more positive approach. I have only had to use it twice in my teaching career of 24 years, though! So you can imagine just HOW DIFFICULT those two kids really were!
Check out my Classroom Management DVD and CD for songs to help with routine and behavior!!