Any kindergarten teacher will know – independence is the name of the game. Not only is it a critical skill for young children to develop, let’s be honest… there’s one of you and twenty of them. Twenty young children who are used to getting help for most things. So, how do we have a classroom set up for kindergarten independence?
Labels, labels, labels. You should label everything. Students will know where to find things and where to put things back. This will help with being independent learners and help with cleaning up the classroom too. In addition to helping children be independent, it does help with some literacy development to see the print around the room and start associating the abstract word to the object inside. You can read more about labels dos and don’ts in this blog post!
Clearly defined areas in the classroom set up for kindergarten
It definitely helps young students to know where in the classroom to go when they are looking for something or looking to do something. When they want writing help, where should they go? I try to have all my writing tools in one area of the classroom. When they want to play and build something, they go to the building area. (Looking to learn more about setting up play areas? Check this blog post out) When they want quiet and they want to read, they go to the library. All the math tools are in the same area and away from the coloring tools.
I also make sure that my classroom has clear paths from area to area and that my shelves aren’t too high – I want my students to be able to see what they need around the room, and I always want to always have a sight line to all my students and what they are doing. I love tips from Holly from Research and Play – she has a great blog if you are looking to make your classroom more Reggio based. Her tips help with setting up clear areas for student learning and play.
Classroom Set Up for Kindergarten Best Secret: Snack Scissors
Such a simple one, but trust me, you will thank me later. How many times during snack or lunch do you hear, “Can you help me open this?” Despite all the lessons on helping each other and giving things a try first, some of those snack packages can be very difficult to open! I keep a designated pair of scissors hanging near my classroom sink and trash can.
My students know whenever they need help opening some food, they can go use those snack scissors, throw the top of the package in the trash, rinse of the scissors if they get yogurt on them, and sit back down to enjoy their snack quickly and independently. This is every teacher’s dream! You’ll know how beloved your snack scissors are when someone accidentally takes them to their table and you get five kids coming up to you asking where the snack scissors are.
Having class jobs teach students responsibility and make them feel like an important team member of the classroom community. They also help foster independence. When you hand over some of the responsibility of the day to your students as part of a classroom job, they learn to start taking over different routines. Eventually, your classroom can run itself!
For example, we teach the calendar helper job for months… but by the end of the year, my students are leading the calendar without me! We have a lunch helper job who helps bring the lunch box cart to the cafeteria – saves me the trip and gives them some ownership! Having a table washer helps because they wipe down the tables after snack every day! Is it something they do on their own from the start? No! You have to teach them, but after a while, you will be so thankful you have these class jobs set up!
Ask 3 Before Me
This is one of my favorite routines I teach my students – “Ask 3 before me”. I am definitely not the first teacher to use this phrase and I won’t be the last either. This phrase has been such a lifesaver. I teach my students to ask 3 other students before asking me, the teacher. This relates to asking for help opening water bottles or asking for help remembering a direction to an activity. No matter what the child needs help with, they are encouraged to ask three other students before going to an adult to ask for help. It helps make them more independent and it helps them to learn to ask their peers for help and develop socially. Children love helping each other so this trick will save you a lot of time throughout your day.
Teach and Practice Routines in a Classroom Set Up for Kindergarten
The bottom line to having an independent classroom is teaching your students the routines you want them to be able to complete independently. It won’t just happen overnight. You need to model for your students the routine you want to see and then you need to give students a chance to practice it. They need to practice it again and again. If they stop doing it the way you expect, pause the group and have everyone practice it together.
For some routines with a lot of steps, like morning jobs or packing up, it is very helpful to have routine posters or visuals with the step-by-step process. For example, I have these routine charts I hang up to remind my students that when they are coming in for the day they have to first, hang up their backpack, second, put away their folder, third, sign in and order lunch, fourth, respond to the morning message, and lastly, make a play choice. These visual steps help my students to independently navigate this complicated daily routine.
Even a classroom set up for kindergarten can run itself by the end of the year if you set it up to promote independence. With labels around the room, clearly defined classroom areas, snack scissors, class jobs, “Ask 3 Before Me!” and carefully taught and practiced routines, your students will be independent learners in no time! Let me know in the comments which idea you want to try this year to help set your students up for independence?