Love Letters

I thought I would take advantage of Valentine’s Day as an excuse to share pictures of some of the people I love most:

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I try to get a picture of all of them together, but so far I haven’t been successful!  I am so blessed to have 5 grandchildren – age 5 and younger!  I am spending this season of my life taking care of the two youngest, Nora age 18 months and Max who is almost 3 months, while their parents work.  I try to find as much time as I can for the other 3 too, because they are all the delight of my life!

My husband is over the moon about these babies too!   In my free minutes with the little ones I wanted to do something that would make him smile for Valentine’s Day.  I decided to make him a whole bunch of Love Letters, and hide them all over the house where he would find them.

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I saw lots of similar ideas on Pinterest and other blogs, but I started out by going around my house and collecting little things I could use.  Some other sites used all kinds of candy but I just used random things.  Then I printed out little sayings to go along with each item and taped them together.   I hid them in the refrigerator, his sock drawer, the pocket of his coat, the seat of his car, the cereal bowls, the floor of the shower … everywhere I could think of!

Here is the Love Letter template I made using DJ Inkers clipart!

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Here is a sample of how they looked with the sayings printed on, then I ran them off on pink paper.

love letters done

I was thinking how I might have used this idea with my Kindergartners too.  Recognizing and noticing good behavior or small achievements is so important to children, and their parents.  I often sent home little notes to reinforce these things, and I know it meant a lot to them.  You could use these “Love Letters” with a small inexpensive candy or toy as a way to celebrate something with one child, or the whole class!  If you are looking for some ideas here are some of the items I used and sayings I made up (or borrowed!)

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I hope you had a great Valentine’s Day yourself – I miss the school parties, but I celebrated with a very special dinner party at the home of good friends!

Small Group Organization

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i-knowDuring my teaching career I was always searching for the very best way to run my classroom.  Sometimes I even wished that someone would just tell me how I had to organize my day, but I didn’t really mean it.  The truth is, there is not one right way to do things.  Every teacher has to find what works best in his or her individual classroom, based on personality, teaching style, volunteers, space available, administrative restrictions, specials schedules, and a host of other variables.  Sometimes even a certain group of children thrive better with a different set up.  Over the years I tried lots of different ways to organize the day, but I am going to share what worked best for me.  One of my readers, Debbie asked for some information about how I used small groups and volunteers – this is for you!  Hope I don’t bore or overwhelm the rest of you – skip to the parts you think are interesting!

As a teacher I understood that my primary responsibility was to teach the district curriculum, which was based on State Benchmarks, and developed from National Standards.  We had defined curriculum for Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, and Science.  Music, Art, P.E. and Health were taught by “specials” teachers.  During my last few years of teaching my district had adopted several programs that we were required or expected to incorporate into our schedules:  Everyday Math, Reader’s Workshop, Writer’s Workshop, Handwriting without Tears, and Making Meaning; and some teachers were using Daily 5.   Each of these fine programs comes with specific lesson plans, sometimes even encouraging teachers to use scripted dialog to teach.  But as a Kindergarten Teacher I felt a huge responsibility to honor who the individual children are in our classrooms, and to use what I know about how children learn best.

When I switched from teaching half day Kindergarten to Full Day I was so excited because I felt like I had more time to teach the fundamental requirements in a way that worked well for me.  That isn’t to say that I didn’t struggle with fitting things in, interruptions, all the assessments that were required, and the huge range in my students’ readiness for what I was teaching.  Of course if I used every bit of each teacher’s manual for all those programs it would be impossible for me to get through the day, not to mention those little 5 year olds who begin the year so excited about being in school.  For the most part those programs should be tools to teach the curriculum that is required.

I know that children learn best when they are actively engaged with multisensory activities in a safe, fun environment.  I also know that it is easiest to learn when children can make connections and relate new learning to what they already know.  For those reasons I loosely organized my school year into thematic units, incorporating holidays and seasonal changes along with the study of units like:  ME – (5 senses, families, homes, feelings, etc).;  Animals –  (living vs. non-living, body coverings, habitats, etc).; Transportation (push and pull, float and sink), Weather, Ecology (earth materials), and lots more.  Using units like this allowed me to easily incorporate Science and Social Studies objectives, expose the children to rich literature and non fiction books, and it also gave lots of opportunities for hands on fun.

Oh, I do fully realize the ever-increasing pressure for reading and writing.  I also know that some districts are requiring 2 hour blocks of time set apart strictly for literacy activities.  I think you can do it all, and still use topics of learning that engage and motivate the children.   The most important thing I tried to keep in mind was that everything we did in my classroom had to be directed by the curriculum.  Whether we were acting out the Three Little Pigs, trying to sink paper boats by filling them with metal washers, or investigating how the tree outside our window looked when the leaves were changing color, we were always covering curriculum benchmarks.  When I first came around to this realization I had to look carefully at all the activities I introduced.  Some things were fun and cute, but really not connected to the curriculum.  I know that language development and fine motor skills can be enhanced during any activity where children are supported, encouraged and scaffolded by a caring adult.  But with the increased demands for reading and writing I became much more selective about the lessons and activities in my room.

I felt that the children in my class did their best work and were most ready for learning in the morning.  Many children were very tired in the afternoon, especially in the beginning of the school year.  So I structured my morning differently than the afternoon.   The afternoon was usually more low key, especially for the first half of the school year.  I always tried to get as many parent volunteers as possible and I scheduled them to come in the morning when the children had the most energy and focus.  I asked for volunteers who could commit to coming every week or every other week.  I often had parents who wanted to come once in awhile, or once a month, and they were always welcome, but I found out that those parents sometimes came along on a field trip, attended a program or class party, or some special event instead of helping in the room.  Also, parents who commit to coming regularly get to know the children and routines and really contribute a lot to working with small groups of children.  Sometimes the best use of a parent volunteer was asking her to run interference so I could concentrate on working with a group or doing assessments myself.  Volunteers who were good at that would help keep children on task and answer questions or solve problems so I would not have to divert my attention from the children I was working with.   Some parents were more comfortable than others with different activities, and as I got to know the regular volunteers I could sometimes plan my lessons and schedule activities for different parents based on what they liked to do with the children.

Here is a form I used for Parent Volunteers.  I included it in my First Day Packet.

Volunteers Needed

I know it’s taking me a long time to get around to talking about how I organized small groups, but what those groups were actually working on is the most important part.

I began each day with routines and rituals that helped build a collaborative school family environment.  I wrote about those in another post on this blog.  The more you include, the longer circle time lasts so I saved the Calendar activities, which are an important part of Everyday Math – until the end of the morning or right after lunch.  During morning circle time I always introduced or reinforced what we had been learning about.  It always included a read aloud and interactive reading and writing,  I also introduced and modeled exactly what the children would be doing for the rest of the morning.  Usually there were about 4 required “jobs” that everyone would do.  I knew that I needed to differentiate for children of various abilities and readiness, I did that through Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop, by having different expectations of children at varying levels, and by sometimes including different activities.    I ended circle time by making a list on my easel of the jobs the children would be completing that morning.  I used sight words and lots of pictures.  I encouraged the children to take responsibility for completing all the work, but I also kept check off lists to keep track.

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I laminated charts like this and put them on a clipboard so I always had one handy.  I often used this type of list where I could make a note about the child’s work or behaviors I noticed.  It was the easiest way I found to do anecdotal record keeping.

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I also gave these to volunteers to write down anything they noticed, if a child struggled with an activity or went above and beyond what was asked, etc.  I punched holes in these and kept them in a binder, it was really helpful to get an overview of how a child was doing.  If I noticed I had not made notes on a certain child in awhile I would star their name and be sure to make some notes as we worked.

My classes always made many books, completing a page for a book was usually one of the activities.  They also did many drawing and writing responses to literature, recalling facts from informational texts, adding their own ideas as a take off to literature.  Sometimes they made a construction paper project to go along with their writing and drawing because I think cutting and assembling projects is great for fine motor development and following directions.   I modeled everything I asked them to do to be sure they understood before I sent them to work in their groups.  Sometimes they also might be doing a science experiment or math activity.  Everyday Math has many math games, and I also used lots of old activities from Math Their Way.  At the beginning of the year we also made several Alphabet Books.  Sometimes they completed a page in those books too.   I realize that explaining and modeling all these activities during circle time can be overwhelming for some teachers.   Some people I worked with were much more comfortable doing one activity at a time, but I guess I am a bit of a multi-tasker.  I did this for many years and my kids always did great, we were able to accomplish much more.  I did all I could to help them including the list with a sketch of what they were to do, I put my examples up for them where they could see and remember what to do.  Of course I built up to doing several activities, I didn’t start the school year doing as much.

My children had assigned tables of 5-6 children because I found that sitting with the same group for several weeks was the best way to help the children get to know each other in our large class.  I put a different shape and different color on each table, red circle, yellow triangle, green square, etc.  I could call a group by their color “Red table please line up.”  They usually ate snack at their own table, and always sat at their table as we got ready to go home in the afternoon.  Sometimes the children did all their work at their own table – they would get the materials they needed for each job and bring them to the table, or I would have baskets of materials on the table for them.  Sometimes I would call them away from their table to sit with me individually or with a group.  Sometimes a parent might call a group to complete a task or do an activity too.  Other times the children moved from table to table as they worked.    That depended on what the tasks were and whether I had volunteer help that day.   I would often pick one activity and work with small groups of the children at a time.  Sometimes both a volunteer and myself would be working with small groups while other children worked independently.  Sometimes the volunteer would oversee one activity while I monitored the rest.  The BEST was when I happened to have more than one volunteer (I was blessed!) and we could each work with small groups.  Children gain so much more from any activity when a caring adult is interacting with them.  Regardless I asked each child to show their work, read their own writing, read the book we were making, etc. to an adult before they put it away.  Reading these child created books, and reading their own writing, was what made these activities valuable.

When I worked with a small group of students I chose my group for different reasons.  Sometimes I worked with children of similar abilities, sometimes I wanted to be sure there were role models in the group.  Sometimes I wanted to be sure that my group didn’t have too many children who needed a lot of help – I usually worked with those children individually or in smaller groups.  A lot of it depended on the task or activity I was doing.  Children not only have a wide variance in their ability, but also in the pace that they work.  Different activities take a different amount of time too, that is why rotating stations never worked well for me.  There were always those children who were not finished, or those who had been done a long time.   Other times my groups and activities were very flexible.  If there was a chair available a child could come over to work, when they were done they moved on to another job.  Check off lists helped me be sure that each child completed the assignments.  When they were done they independently got their snack, then after they cleaned up they chose a center to work/play at.   I would ask volunteers to monitor some of these activities, I would oversee others.  Again the children always showed their work to an adult before they were done.   In the morning most of the centers in my classroom were usually available – we used a clothespin chart to limit the number of children at each center.  If you want more details please look at the post I wrote about Free Choice Centers.

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During the afternoon I was usually alone in my classroom with the children.   We used that quieter time for Reader’s Workshop, Writer’s Workshop, Literacy Centers and Math activities.  The children experienced many math activities in small groups in the morning too.   At the beginning of the year I alternated between Reader’s and Writer’s workshop.  Later we sometimes had time for a block of each during the afternoon.  There were also some times that I changed and began my day with Reader’s Workshop, then moved on to regular circle time.  I have another post about Literacy Centers and the types of activities that were available.  All of those activities could also be chosen during free choice center time.

I had a series of cubbies under a large chalkboard where I kept the materials for literacy centers.  Some of these changed, others were more permanent.  I also had shelves containing tubs of books that were sorted by genre or theme.  The baskets were labeled as well as the shelves they belonged on.

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In the afternoon I seldom allowed the children to choose among all the centers in our room.  Usually they were limited to only literacy centers – which included things like reading the room, writing the room, the writing center, our library, listening center, as well as the games and Handwriting Without Tears materials.  There were lots of opportunities to read, write, listen and speak in different ways.

Other times the children were restricted to just math materials in the afternoon.  Again, math tubs were always a choice in the morning, but by limiting choices in the afternoon I knew all children were finding time to use these materials.  Here is how I organized and stored math tubs.  The children took out the tubs and carried them to the carpet or a table to work.  The top 2 baskets A and B contained books that we were working on.  The tubs with numerals were the math materials, the shelf numbers matched the tubs in size and style so it was easy for the children to put things away.  The shelf on the far right was a mailbox – each slot was labeled with a child’s name.  I had 2 sets of those in my room to accommodate all the kids.

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It took a lot of time to introduce each of the centers – free choice centers, math tubs and literacy centers – in the beginning of the year.  I took time to explain and model every thing in our classroom before the children used it.  I brought each math tub and literacy tub to the whole group at circle time and talked about how to use and care for the materials.  Often I chose one game or activity to use in small groups in the morning before it was available for everyone to choose at the centers.  During the year when I changed an activity or added a game I would take time to model and explain it first.  I learned that taking all that time, especially in the beginning of the year when it is SO hard for them to sit still, is really worthwhile.  It makes a huge difference in how independently the children can use the materials and clean up!

It takes some experimentation to find a system that works best for you.   Nothing works wonderfully all the time with all the children.   I tried to always think about giving children opportunities to make choices every day as well as challenging them cognitively.  I wanted them to have time to work closely with a small group of other children and an adult, to be able to participate in whole group activities, and I also expected them to learn to work independently some times.  It’s a lot to ask of a little 5 year old!

Super Kids Club!

I was looking at some old files and came across this idea that arose out of desperation one year!  I really loved teaching Kindergarten, and I always loved my kids, but there were a few groups that challenged me to be a better teacher!  I adopted the philosophy and practice of Conscious Discipline, by Becky Bailey and I really felt it worked well.  But in the middle of the year I sometimes felt like I needed to go back and reinforce some of our values and get all the kids working together as a group.

So one year, about mid year, I created the Super Kids Club!  When the kids came to school in the morning I had a picture of this little monster guy on the board and I told the kids that our class was going to start our own club.  I passed out “Club rings” – little plastic rings from Oriental Trading, and we colored pictures of the Super Kid monster to wear as necklaces.  We talked about how a club is a group of people who care about each other, just like all the kids in our room.

Then I told them that all clubs have special rules that everyone follows.  Our basic classroom rules were:  Be Safe, Be Kind, and Be Helpful.  In the fall we spent time talking about these rules and what they meant – and that my most important job is to keep the children safe.  These rules really were just a way to go back and reinforce these ideas.  I printed two on a page and copied them to send home to parents.

We learned a song that we started to sing every morning to reinforce these ideas.  It was to the tune of BINGO – they spelled out the letters for SUPER.

Then I asked each child to sign a pledge to be a Super Kid!

 

One thing I learned for sure, after all my years in Kindergarten is that every group of children is different.  When you have a more challenging class – or even just one or two children with challenging behaviors, you have to try everything you can think of!  There might be things that usually make a difference and they’re just not working.  But those kids are going to keep showing up every morning and you have to keep trying different things until you find something that works!  And when you find something that works – it might only work for a short time, and you’ll need to try something else!  That’s why Kindergarten teachers are so creative and flexible!  We never give up!  Just keep loving those kids, and keep trying new things!

Routines!

It’s August!  When I was teaching I was already starting to feel beginning of the year pressure and stress!  Maybe only an early childhood teacher can understand that, but the beginning of the year is often overwhelming!  It is a combination of not knowing who is going to show up on your class list (special needs, behavior issues, dominant personalities, fearful (or tearful) little bunnies, anxious or demanding parents), the amount of materials we use and store, and planning how to keep the children safe and occupied those first LONG days of school, without overwhelming them.  And all of that is easier said than done!  That means we need to be well prepared and totally ready to start the year!  That is how I used to spend the month of August.

One of the most important things you can do to insure a smooth start to the year is to spend some time thinking of the routines you want to establish, and how you will teach and reinforce these at the beginning of the year.  Routines and rituals are two ways to provide consistency for young children, and to help them feel safe and confident at school.  Even adults like to know what is going to happen, and what we will be expected to do.  Developing, modeling, and practicing routines builds that sense of security and comfort, and it also just makes the day go more smoothly.  Adding rituals is a way to bond your children together as a school family, I will be blogging about those soon!

One of the things I loved about Kindergarten was how closely I got to work with parents, some volunteered in my room, but I developed relationships with most of them.  Parents needed to trust me to care for their child and keep him safe 7 hours every day, not to mention teaching the curriculum.  I spent more time with my children than their parents did during the school year.  Some parents need the comfort of knowing that you have specific procedures in place for how to handle everything from bathroom issues to bus helpers.  Building a partnership with parents is vitally important, and some parents will be reassured when you can explain your routines.

As you think through your day you might make a list of things that the children will be doing every day.  What I learned about Kindergarten is that you have to be very concrete and model every step that you want children to take.  Then you need to keep reinforcing each step until they become ingrained and you hear the kids say “this is the way we do it.”Here is a list I made of some of the daily activities in my classroom that I developed routines for.

Here is a copy to print if it will help you think through the procedures you need to develop:

List of routines

Of course every classroom, school and teacher are different and you have to develop the procedures that will work best in your situation, but this list might help you think through some of the decisions you need to make.

Coats and backpacks – Some of my classes used hooks in a coat room, other kids had individual lockers.  You need to think about how you will teach them to find their own space, put away their backpack, lunch box, hats, mittens, boots, scarves, snowpants, etc.  (In Michigan we needed it all!)  Thankfully we didn’t have to do all the winter clothese at the beginning of the year.

Modeling is the single most efficient way to teach these procedures, and you need to model again and again.  But another helpful idea is to take photographs of the children doing exactly what you want them to do, and make a book that you can read together until the routines become ingrained.  Also if a child needs more support you could copy the book for parents to read and reinforce at home.

This book includes a few of the rituals I added, but you can see that it is a good reminder of what the children need to do each day.  When I had children in my classroom that needed more help I sometimes turned these pictures into a step by step chart that I hung where they could refer to it.

Attendance and lunch count

When I first began teaching full day Kindergarten I made name cards and the children placed them in these boxes that I covered with contact paper to show whether they were buying the main item, choice or brought lunch from home.  When their name card had been picked up and put in the box I could also tell they were present at school.  But we offered more options – the children could select the main choice, an alternate, yogurt and graham crackers, or just milk.  Of course some children also brought their entire lunch and didn’t need to buy anything.  So I made a graphing chart:

I found this small pocket chart in the dollar section of Target and used my sewing machine to stitch 5 columns.  I laminated each child’s photograph, and photos of all the lunch choices.  I also copied a clipart picture of a lunch box and a single serve milk carton.  The children would place their picture in the correct column to show their lunch choice for the day.  Later in the day we would move these photos to a yes/no graph chart (pictured to the left).  This gave us several opportunities to analyze graphs every day, and I didn’t have to move the kids’ pictures!

I made that pocket chart from some that were also offered at Target a few years ago – this time I sewed two together to make it long enough for my entire class to choose the same answer on the graph.  Here are some of the graph questions I saved:

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I used this graphing system, but I also took attendance by having the children each recite his/her own name.  At the very beginning of the year I called each child’s name and asked how they were getting home – they would tell me their bus number, or pick up, or School Aged Care.  When all the children knew their bus numbers, etc. I told them that they were going to begin to take attendance by themselves.  The first time I put them in alphabetical order around the circle.  I explained that each child only had to listen for one other child’s name, and then say his or her own name.  It only took a few times for most children to chant off their name at the right time.  I liked this so much – they were all quiet because they had to listen for when to say their name, they learned each other’s names quickly, and when an adult stopped in to our room the children could recite their names to introduce themselves.  Parents and visitors were always impressed.  Sometimes I even told the children to line up according to their attendance and they could do it!  I ran into a former Kindergarten student who was a senior in high school and she told me she could still recite the class list from kindergarten!

Calendar Procedures

There are so many valuable things you can do with the Calendar.  Many math programs include lots of calendar activities.  There are also songs and poems that you can incorporate – but you have to decide what you want to include.  How will you count the days of school?  Weather?  Zero the Hero?  Seasons?

Bathroom procedures

You need to take the time to talk very directly about using the bathroom – putting the seat up and down, using toilet paper, flushing, washing hands.  I had a step by step line drawing of how to use the bathroom that I showed the children during this talk, then posted by the potty!

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Sorry, I don’t have a copy of the girl version!

Snack?  You need to decide if you will include snack in your day – will they bring their own or take turns bringing class snack.  If they bring their own where will they store them?  Will it mean another trip out to lockers?  How will they know what to save for lunch time?  So many issues to decide!  I asked for donations of non-perishable snacks like graham crackers, pretzels, popcorn, cheese crackers, etc.  I modeled and they practiced washing hands, counting out snack into a cupcake liner and sitting to eat, then cleaning up.

Lunch procedures also lend themselves nicely to a Routine Book.

When I first modeled our lunch procedures I brought in a real lunch box and talked about eating my sandwich or main part of lunch first, using the open lunch box as a crumb catcher, etc.  When I made a routine book I tried to keep it to 7-8 pages and couldn’t include every detail, but I would often remind them of all the details when we read it.

Routine books can really be used to teach and reinforce almost all procedures in your classroom.   Sometimes songs and chants are helpful too.  For lining up we often chanted:

My hands are hanging at my sides

I’m standing straight and tall

My eyes are facing straight ahead

I’m ready for the hall!

Quiet Time – This is another issue you need to make decisions about.  Will you actually have the children lie down to rest?  Will they be expected to be silent or only quiet?  Will they just rest or look at books, or listen to music?  Will they bring rugs or towels?  Where and how will these be stored?  Will you just have lower key activities?  There really are no right or wrong answers across the board, you just have to decide what will work for you and your children.

You will also be modeling how the children will put their work into their mailboxes or cubbies or folders, and how to empty their mailboxes, etc. at the end of the day.  They will need to practice retrieving their coats, etc. and getting dressed to go home.  Many children get very anxious about dismissal time, and finding the right bus – talking through and practicing can help this go much smoother – so can having older children who come to help the little ones find their buses.

Some children really need to visualize all the events of the day.  Here are some simple drawings that you might use to make a visual schedule.  I know there are some wonderful computer programs that provide great pictures too.

Here are printable versions of all the ones I kept:

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Teachers make so many decisions every day.  You have to make thoughtful choices about how you are going to introduce and reinforce everything.  Taking the time to develop consistent routines will make every day go more smoothly and help children feel secure and confident about school.

Challenges!

I guess every teacher goes through this – that first day of school you almost hold your breath waiting to see “who shows up” in your classroom.  This is probably especially true of Kindergarten teachers because the names on our list are often totally unknown – of course sometimes we have had a sneak preview – happy or not!  My family often joked about knowing which childrens’ names they would be hearing all year by our dinner conversation on the first day of school.

One of the quotes I posted on a wall in my classroom said  “Teaching Kindergarten is like trying to keep a tub full of corks underwater, all at the same time!”  I absolutely loved my job – it was what I always wanted to do, I found it fulfilling, exciting, challenging …. and exhausting sometimes!  But there were times that those first weeks of school almost did me in – all the children were so needy!  In my district we could have up to 28 students, with no paraeducators.   But it usually wasn’t too long before most children learned our routines and gained some independence, and I loved talking with them, playing with them, watching them, guiding them, and seeing them learn and blossom!   That is MOST children.

Every child is a unique individual who comes to school with their own personality and strengths, distinct family unit, and about 5 years of experiences that have impacted his/her relationships with other children and adults.  Some have lots of ‘school smarts’ and seem to easily understand the idea of sitting at circle time, waiting for their turn, not shouting out their ideas, following rules and expectations, and keeping their hands (and feet — and teeth) to themselves.  Others are new to the whole school game – some sit quietly – some follow along, others are tearful and scared, (loudly or quietly!)  And then there are those children that we sometimes say should count for 5 (or 10) because they march to the beat of their own drum!!

It would be so much easier if we could just concentrate on the children that are ready to learn, the ones who are eager and cooperative and have supportive parents.  The ones who are not disruptive, or destructive, angry or belligerent, aggressive or passively recalcitrant.  We feel so successful when we look at most of our class – they are learning and growing, excited and loving school!  If only we didn’t have to find a way to survive the year with those little bunnies that bring us so many challenges — but we do!

The term “No child left behind” has so many negative connotations, and has brought about some ridiculous, inappropriate changes – but there is truth behind that statement.  As a teacher it is our responsibility to do our very best for every single child that walks through our door.  I wish there was a magic solution – a technique that they just forgot to include in your undergrad training, a secret that no one has shared with you yet.  But there are no easy answers.  There is nothing that will work every day with every child.  But the one thing I can say, at the end of my career looking back – it is also those challenging children who bring the greatest sense of satisfaction when you do feel that you have made a difference.

I jokingly referred to those difficult little ones as “an opportunity to help me become a better teacher.”  There were many times that I dissolved into tears feeling like nothing I did made any difference; and nothing I tried was working for a certain child.  But then I sat down and thought of one more thing to try – we don’t have the choice of giving up!

I don’t have the answer – I don’t have a solution – but I do have some ideas of things you might want to try.  I really love the philosophy and many ideas of the program – Conscious Discipline.  I would really recommend ordering the book from Dr. Becky Bailey, or taking a class if you can (www.consciousdiscipline.com).  Along with this program, I have learned from trial and error, fabulous mentors, and some exceedingly challenging children.

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED

1.  The only person you can control is yourself.  You really can’t MAKE anyone do anything.  You can only set up an environment that will help children WANT to do something.

2.  It does not make sense to make children FEEL bad to encourage them to BE good.  When a child feels badly about himself or his behavior he is unlikely to change, more often he will get angry.  It can be hard to turn off that scolding voice, or disapproving look – but they really are not effective ways to encourage positive behavior.

3.  The most effective way to encourage children to be cooperative is to form a cohesive classroom community – a school family.  People are more likely to be cooperative if they feel cared for, and if they care about the other person.

There are so many great ways to build this type of community – check out drjean.org, as well as Conscious Discipline if you are looking for ideas.  Here are a few things that I did in my classroom:

Research shows that the easiest way to build connections between people are eye contact and touch.  Think about politicians who shake your hand, often holding onto your arm with the other hand – and look into your eyes – they heard about the research!  I set the tone for this by greeting each child every morning, and also by including songs and games that require the children to look at each other and use gentle touches.

Give each child a meaningful job that makes them feel important in the classroom.  I had a job chart with as many jobs as children – it takes some work to think of that many jobs the children will consider meaningful – I doubled up and had 2 messengers, 2 children reading the question of the day, etc.  When a child is counted on to perform a job he feels like he is an important part of the school family.

We followed routines and rituals that bound us together – songs to begin and end the day; special handshakes and hugs, celebrations, there are so many!  I plan to write a post about routines and rituals, you probably have a lot you already use.

Set a tone of caring and respect for everyone.  We discussed and modeled everything.  Role playing is a great way to give the children the words and actions they might need to work out problems.

3.  Notice the child.  Look for positive things you can comment on, but instead of saying “I like the way you are sitting” say “I notice you are keeping your hands in your lap.”  This takes the emphasis off your approval and focuses the child on exactly what he or she was doing well.  Even if you can’t find positive behavior to notice – comment on their clothing or hairstyle or new coat.  Just being noticed helps a child feel cared about.

4.  For me – rewards were never a long term solution.  Instead of rewarding children for good behavior or mastering a task – I loved having celebrations!  The main difference between the two is that when you offer a reward you are bartering for the child to do what you want, in exchange for some kind of positive reinforcement.  A celebration is a recognition of great things you notice about your class – or a specific student.  When a class is working toward a reward it is not uncommon for one child to misbehave and keep the whole class from getting the reward.  That gives them a feeling of power!

5.  I had limited rules – Be Safe, Be  Kind, Be Helpful.  I posted this Conscious Discipline quote on my classroom wall – “My job is to keep this classroom safe, so children can learn.  Your job is to help keep it that way.”  Rules make sense to children when they understand that you are trying to keep them safe.  Hearing this is also comforting to some children who are insecure or scared to be away from home.  Of course it is vitally important to keep all the children safe.  If you have a child who is a danger to the other children your first priority is to protect them, you might need to move a child away from others if he or she is trying to hit, bite, throw things, etc.  But when you move them they need to hear that you are doing it because you need to keep all of the children safe – I always told the child “I would not let anyone hurt you, and I can’t let you hurt anyone else.”

6.  When a child is misbehaving, try to figure out what the pay-off is.  Are they looking for attention?  Testing limits? Expressing anger?  Find, devise, create ways to give that child what he or she is looking for in more appropriate ways.  Sometimes children get so overwrought that they are out of control.  Conscious Discipline recommends having a “safe place” in your room where children can go if they are having a melt down and need a place to settle down.  This is not a time out place, you don’t send a child to the safe place – but you can offer it as a place to calm down.

7.   I found that lots of  behavior problems are because the child is looking for power.  I think young children often feel like they don’t have any power – big people boss them around all day long.  In my classroom, and with my grandson – I really emphasize the child’s ability to make choices.  Offering two positive choices is one technique that often works when a child is resisting something you need him or her to do.  If a child won’t clean up you could say “Would you like to put the blocks on the shelf or put the crayons in the tub?”  Make sure that you only offer 2 things that you really are ok with. “Do you want to ________ before snack or after your snack?”  Routinely offering choices throughout the day helps all children feel significant and powerful – they get to choose!  If you always tell the children which center to go to, what project to do, where to sit, etc. some children are more likely to rebel.

8.  Make absolutely sure that your expectations are clear and understood.  I loved making books to help children who had difficulty sitting at circle time, or following routines, or following rules, etc.  I would pick one specific thing to work on – I always modeled and role played all the classroom routines with the whole class at the beginning of the year.  But if I had one child who was still unable or unwilling to follow a routine or rule I would take them aside while the other children were engaged in an activity.  With just that one child I would have them go through the routine I wanted to reinforce – it might be sitting at circle time.  I would take a photograph of that child doing exactly what I was hoping they would do every day – sitting criss cross, keeping his/her hands in their lap, raising their hand to share an answer, etc.  Then I would type up a sentence to match the pictures and reinforce what they needed to do – Megan sits in her place at circle time.  Megan keeps her hands to herself.  Megan keeps her legs crossed and her feet never touch anyone else.  Megan raises her hand when she has an important idea to share.  I would make 2 copies of these made into books.  I usually sent one book home after talking with the parents and asking them to read it with their child regularly.  I kept the other copy at school – sometimes I would try to read it with that child right before circle time every day for awhile.  Because the words and pictures matched, the child could usually read it independently too.

You can make this type of books for most behavior issues – a child who does not help clean up – a child who has trouble taking care of their own belongings, a child who pushes, hits, or hurts others… almost anything.  It is a positive way of reminding the child what he or she needs to do.  Whenever I did this the child loved feeling special and having all the photographs taken, and it often made a difference in behavior.

9.  Look for ways to remind the child of what they need to do without always calling their name or telling them what they should do.  There were times I made a square of masking tape to give a visual reminder to children about where they needed to sit, and their boundaries.  Some people worry about the stigma of making that child look different – but it is so much more positive than constantly reminding them to stay in their place – and what if they don’t have a sense of personal space?  Sometimes I could made an X out of masking tape and that was enough of a physical reminder.  You can try giving children ‘fidgets’ – stretchy balls or manipulative toys to keep their hands occupied, or something to hold onto to remind them not to shout out their ideas.  Sometimes this helps, sometimes it is too much of a distraction.  You could try putting a photograph of the child acting appropriately in a place he/she will see it readily.

10.  Sometimes it helps to give special responsibility to a child who is struggling with behavior problems.  If a child does not walk well in line, going down the hall – keep them very near you – and give them a simple musical instrument to tap a beat for the whole class to walk to.  (It isn’t important whether the other children actually march or keep time – the idea is to keep that child occupied!)  Or you might send that child to the office with a note – just to give them a break if they have lots of trouble sitting.  When I had challenging children I almost always kept them close to me during whole group, walking in the halls, etc.

Of course another important step is to communicate with the child’s parents.  Every situation is so different, some parents might welcome your help and concern, others might be defensive or unwilling or unable to follow through.  Sometimes a parent’s involvement can make a difference in school behavior.  One caution is that there are parents who might actually physically punish their child for misbehavior in school, and you have to be sure you are not seriously endangering him or her when you report what is going on.  The best situation is when you can partner with the parents and make a plan for what will happen at school, and how parents will follow up at home.  Parents can offer good insight about triggers and what works at home.  The bottom line is that the parents are not present in the classroom when the behavior occurs,  you need to keep looking for ways to solve the problem, and it is your responsibility to keep them informed.

I found that my heart changed toward these children as the year went on.  It can be very difficult to deal with these behaviors day after day, along with trying to teach the rest of the class.  I sometimes felt resentful of the time they took away from the group.  I tried to give you a few ideas here but really the most important thing is to keep things in perspective.   I realized I had to control my own emotions and reactions, and remember how young the child really was.  Some children come to school with a lot of extra baggage from sad stories in their own little lives, others might have physical or emotional conditions that affect their behavior, some show the affects of their family life – there are lots of reasons for the challenges you deal with – but you can’t change any of that.  But you can create a safe, loving environment in your classroom that makes every child feel valued and cared for and important.  It’s a great lesson for the other kids too!