Effective classroom management is vital for creating a positive and productive learning environment in kindergarten. This blog post will explore the principles and strategies for successful kindergarten classroom management. In kindergarten, behavior management requires a balanced approach that combines preventative and reactive strategies. By understanding the importance of behavior as communication and implementing effective management techniques, we can set the stage for a successful and calm kindergarten year.
Principles for Successful Classroom Management
- Behavior is communication
- The only behavior you can control, is your own.
- Prevent misbehaviors with social-emotional learning, classroom setup, explicitly taught routines, and teacher language.
- Go SLOW to Go Fast
We will talk about all of these principles for success in this blog post. I truly believe if you believe these principles and put in these proactive measures for kindergarten classroom management, then you won’t need all these different classroom management systems you see all over social media. What I see when I see those behavior systems are either quick wins that don’t last, extrinsic rewards that don’t last, or public shaming. I’ve definitely had years where I felt exasperated and tried different systems, but I can say with certainty that what I’m about to tell you is the only consistent strategy that works year after year and with every single group of students.
There are no quick fixes for classroom management. This is a long game that involves believing that children want to do well but may need help to do it. Teachers need to see children’s misbehaviors as opportunities to learn about what the child needs to learn. There may be quick wins by using a new fancy class reward system, but that doesn’t have the lasting effects that these strategies have. That will get stale and you’ll find yourself needing 10 more systems to try during the course of the school year. If you’re ready for a more lasting and effective system, keep reading!
No behavior charts!
The first thing we all need to agree on for kindergarten classroom management is to throw away those behavior clip charts. I am not trying to shame anyone for using them in the past but there is a ton of research that shows how clip charts negatively affect children and how they don’t work.
Dr. Mona Delahooke, child psychologist, says that, “Clip charts create more stress for all the children in the class who fear that they will see their status shift due to ‘bad’ behavior. Visual charts… make students feel less safe in the classroom by activating the ‘fight or flight’ pathway of the brain when a child fails to meet expectations. For children who do not yet have efficient or predictable ‘top-down’ control over their emotions and behaviors, these charts are not useful and can cause additional, needless stress for vulnerable children”. (From parents.com)
These charts not only create undue stress for children, they also negatively impact their self-esteem. Children who find themselves routinely at the bottom of the clip chart start to see themselves as the ‘bad kid’ of the class. This starts a sad cycle of misbehaviors. The child sees themselves as bad so they act “bad” so they get labeled “bad” so they see themselves as “bad” and the cycle goes on and on.
So now that we all understand, let’s talk about the strategies that DO work.
Behavior is Communication
It is essential to understand that behavior is a form of communication for young children. By understanding this, we can approach misbehaviors with empathy and see the misbehaviors as opportunities to teach and reinforce social-emotional skills. Children’s behavior is their way of communicating to you. Put on your detective cap, because it is your job to figure out what they are trying to communicate. Behaviors serves one of four functions, and understanding which function it is, helps you to make a plan for how to help. Children engage in a behavior either to get attention, to escape or avoid something, to gain something, or to get sensory satisfaction.
If a child is trying to get your attention by misbehaving, the best course of action (if it is safe to do so) is to ignore the misbehaviors and give a ton of extra praise for the correct behaviors. If the child is trying to get out of doing work, then letting them take a break actually rewards them for their misbehaviors. Instead, give a motivating reward for finishing their work or before you give a direction, give them a time limit or a number of activities to complete.
In young children, misbehavior also tells you, the teacher, about their social-emotional development. Misbehaviors showcase areas that the child needs to learn social and emotional skills. You can help them in the moment learn these skills and you can also make note of areas where they need help and teach the class during a social-emotional lesson.
Preventative Behavior Management: The Power of Good Teaching
There are so many things that we, as teachers, can do to help prevent misbehaviors. Preventative behavior management is a huge component of kindergarten classroom management. In fact, it’s important to remember, that the only behavior we can actually control, is our own. We can control our classroom setup, our teacher language, how we set up transitions, and more to prevent misbehaviors.
The language we use with students significantly impacts their behavior. By using reflective and responsive statements instead of empty praise and evaluation, we encourage intrinsic motivation and self-reflection. Simple strategies like saying, “I notice ____” instead of generic “good job” statements can make a significant difference. For example, “I notice you worked really hard today during math!” as opposed to “good job”, because the students don’t know what they did that was good or what you want them to do again.
Another key piece of teacher language is making it clear when something is a choice and when something isn’t. A lot of teachers add on, “ok?” or “can you” to their directions. This implies that the direction is a choice. This means that some kids won’t follow it because they didn’t know they had to.
Finally, teachers can be very clear about what it IS they want to see, as opposed to what they DON’T want to see. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t run!” just say what is you want them to do – “walk!”.
For more tips on teacher language, see this blog post!
One of the best ways to prevent misbehaviors is to have strong relationships with all your students. Children need to know, like, and trust you before they can learn from you. They also need to trust that you will still be there for them after misbehaviors occur. Greet students every day with a smile and show them that you are happy they are at school. Take the time to get to know your students and their interests. Talk with them and play with them.
You also want to make sure to help build relationships between students – building a classroom community is important to preventing misbehaviors. Encourage students to work together, collaborate, and support one another. Implement activities and projects that promote teamwork, and encourage students to work or play with others. Create opportunities for your students to connect with one another and find things in common. When you create a supportive and inclusive classroom where students feel valued and motivated to succeed, fewer misbehaviors occur. Morning meeting is the perfect time of day to work on this. Check out this blog post to learn more.
A well-organized and purposefully arranged classroom can support positive behaviors. Consider the physical layout, accessibility of materials, and designated spaces for different activities. If there are materials or areas of the classroom (like maybe the finished work bin) that all students need to access, can they get there without a huge traffic jam? If everyone’s trying to get somewhere, this can lead to pushing and shoving. We can avoid this by making sure there’s enough space for everyone. For more help with a kindergarten classroom set-up, check out this blog post!
Something that every classroom needs is a cozy corner or a calm spot where children can regulate their emotions can be particularly helpful. This is especially important as a tool for kindergarten classroom management, because there will be times when students need to take breaks. To learn more about setting up and managing a cozy corner, check out this blog post.
Involve students in the process of creating classroom rules to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility. Make sure to keep the rules concise, positively worded, and prominently displayed. It’s important to continuously refer to the rules and reinforce them through specific praise and reminders. For example, “Wow, you really helped take care of the classroom when you pushed in your chair!” Or “Remember our class rule: everyone is kind. How can we show kindness at recess?”
Establishing Clear Routines and Expectations
One of the key aspects of kindergarten classroom management is establishing clear expectations and rules. This helps create a structured and predictable environment for students, which is essential for their learning and development, as well as preventing any misbehaviors. Sometimes misbehaviors occur because students don’t know what is expected of them. So, clearly communicate your expectations to the students and make sure they understand the rules of the classroom. By setting clear expectations and rules, you create a foundation for success in your kindergarten classroom.
Take the time at the start of school to explicitly teach students how to enter and exit the classroom, how to line up, how to ask for help, how to transition between activities and other important routines. Model and demonstrate these procedures, and then provide opportunities for students to practice them. By consistently reinforcing and practicing these procedures, you can create a structured and organized classroom environment that sets the foundation for success. To learn more about establishing routines, check out this blog post.
Create a routine daily schedule.
Kids thrive when they know what to expect for the day. This is an important part of kindergarten classroom management. They need to know when transitions are coming, when their favorite times of day are, and what’s expected of them during the day. Create a visual schedule that outlines the activities of the day and go over it in your morning meeting, so everyone knows what is happening for the day. This helps students understand what to expect and reduces anxiety or confusion and helps reduce misbehaviors. If there are any changes for the day, be sure to let students know ahead of time, how that change will disrupt their schedule, and what to expect from the change.
Planning for Transitions:
Transitions can be challenging moments for young children. We can help prevent misbehaviors by preparing students for upcoming transitions. We do this by going over the schedule, providing warnings, and using visual timers to help them understand how much time before a transition. Teachers can also prevent misbehaviors when students are left waiting between transitions by trying to keep transitions as short as possible. When children are left waiting, they often start misbehaving or getting too silly. If you can’t change the time length of the transition, you can engage children with activities like singing songs or playing games to maintain their focus and minimize misbehaviors.
Teaching Social Skills:
As I mentioned, a lot of misbehavior is telling you what social skills the child needs to learn. You can help prevent these misbehaviors by explicitly teaching social skills through modeling, practice, and reflection. I do explicit, pre-planned, and preventative social-emotional lessons every week with my students. Focus on areas such as listening, expressing feelings, problem-solving, kindness, independence, cooperation, and other areas you see your students needing help in. Incorporate social-emotional learning (SEL) activities into your kindergarten classroom management and daily routines and provide opportunities for students to practice and reinforce these skills. Check out my social-emotional lessons and activities here!
Reactive Behavior Management: Teaching in the Moment
While proactive strategies form the foundation of classroom management, reactive strategies are necessary when addressing misbehaviors. Here are some things to consider when responding to misbehaviors.
Assume Positive Intent
As teachers, we should believe that children want to do good. If they aren’t making a good choice, then they either need instruction on what it is they should be doing instead, or lessons to build up social and emotional skills. Understanding this, our kindergarten classroom management should be targeted at how we can best support the child in learning from their misbehaviors.
The first time a child misbehaves – have the child redo the behavior with the correct language and choices. I would also do this if this is the first time in a long time they have done this misbehavior. For example – drawing on the table. Simply say, “Drawing is for paper. Here’s a wipe, wipe off the marker.” If the drawing on the table continues, I say, “drawing is for paper. All done with drawing today. You can try again tomorrow.” Then the child moves to make a different play choice. They have lost the privilege of coloring, but I always remind them when they can try again – that it’s not a one-and-done forever deal.
Let’s say that this child then goes to the block area and uses those toys inappropriately or knocks down someone’s structure. I would say, “Your body is not ready to play right now. Take a break.” They would then go to the calm corner to regulate themselves. Before they leave the area, we sit and chat about what happened and how we can do better next time.
Every misbehavior should be seen as a teachable moment. Additionally, when we see misbehaviors with many students or happening very frequently, we can use them as teachable moments with the whole class. We should discuss what happened as a class (without using names, so this is where puppets are a great idea!) and then have the class brainstorm ideas for what the children could have done differently. To learn more about how I turn misbehaviors into teachable moments, check out this blog post!
Kindergarten classroom management is a dynamic process that requires a balance of preventative and reactive strategies. By embracing the principles of behavior as communication and good teaching, we can create a positive and supportive environment for our young learners. Proactive measures such as teacher language, classroom setup, explicitly taught routines, and social skills instruction lay the foundation for successful behavior management. When misbehaviors occur, we respond with empathy, teaching in the moment and utilizing respectful consequences to reinforce positive behaviors. By implementing these strategies, we can foster a sense of belonging, support social-emotional development, and create a classroom where every child can thrive.