I just started teaching a small group of 2-3 year olds, and I'm having a really hard time. My day is just way too chaotic, and I need to figure out how to teach them how to behave in a school setting. My experience is with teaching older children, but I am quickly finding that these methods just don't work with kids so young. I thought I could start the school and the kids would learn by routine and repetition, but I'm having limited success. I am managing group time alright - circle time, art etc. But centers is a nightmare. They mistreat the toys, and are constantly fighting. I don't get a moment to just relax and play with them. I am constantly cleaning up their mess and handling disputes. I think that I've been going about this the wrong way. I've been doing little theme-based lessons (nursery rhymes and such), but I think I need to directly teach them classroom behavior (sharing, no hitting, playing nicely with toys, listening, cleaning up etc. ) I have a couple ideas on how to work on these things, but could really use some advice from more experienced pre-K teachers. Do you have any games, exercises etc that you use to teach your kids these things? Also, how do you discipline? I try to use a lot of positive reinforcement, but it isn't working as well as I'd hope, and I don't want to be putting them in time-out all day.
Do you have too many toys out for center time? I once worked with a teacher who had hundreds of pieces of play food and plastic dishes in the housekeeping center. She would get mad when the kids pulled it all out and didn't clean up. It is so much more appropriate to have a few pieces of food, a few dishes, a few dress up props. Similarly in blocks, just put out one tub of legos, blocks, etc. at a time.
I find Playdoh is wonderful for working on classroom behavior. Most kids will happily play with it for a long time if given rolling pins, cookie cutters, etc. I have my kids bring their own cans (mostly for hygiene) and keep their playdoh in their cubbies. I write names on the cans and lids. They learn to put all their playdoh back in their can and put it away before moving to another center.
Having said all this...I teach 4 year olds. I take my hat off to the two year old teachers across the hall!
Your post sounds so familiar! I had a very similar experience a few years ago when I was teaching twos and threes for the first time.
Directly teaching classroom behaviors is a great way to start. Some ideas:
Make a safe/unsafe chart with visuals and pictures and the kids' suggestions.
I made sure the safe part had a big smiley face and the unsafe part had a huge stop sign.
Read the book series that has "Hands are Not for Hitting" if that's an issue you're having. We read it, made up a little "hands are not for hitting" song. As an activity, we did handprint art and then each student dictated what hands ARE for and we wrote them as captions on their paper and hung them up. (Did similar activity for kicking and biting.)
We also made a rule book. I had pictures of smiles and stop signs and pictures of whispering and yelling, hitting and gentle, cleaning up and leaving a mess, etc. Students chose their own pictures to glue on their page and picked either the smiley face or the stop sign, depending on what they chose. Together we wrote the words and put the child's picture on the page. For example, one page had: "Maxwell says, 'Yes to kicking balls,' " and it had Maxwell's picture, a smiley face, and a foot and balls. Then we read it a lot as a whole group and left it on the shelf to be taken out and read. It's been a few years and I kept the book because it's too cute.
We made similar social stories using pictures of the kids in the class and the expectations. Each page walked through some steps of the day with real pictures of our classroom. "At center time, we choose an activity. Then we play. When we hear the bell, we clean up all the toys," etc.
For the fighting issue, is it mostly over toys? I thought about what my goal for the kids was. Some were too young to fully get "sharing" but I thought taking turns was a reasonable expectation. I introduced three ways to handle wanting what someone else has via role plays with an assistant. 1) Share (using it together) 2) Taking turns and 3) "You can have it in ___ minutes." My kids were especially fond of number 3 and they would say to each other "You can have the dinosaur in three minutes."
I modeled it and would pick students to role play with at large circle and made a huge deal out of students who did indeed offer to take turns or give me a turn in a few minutes. I also got a simple timer and let the children set it if they needed it for turn taking. (The rule was one, two, three, four, or five minutes... some kids were clever enough to say twenty.)
We worked together to decorate signs that had pictures for the three choices and referred to them often.
Also, lots of puppet shows. I made Smarty the Zebra the character who didn't know the right thing and Lisa the Puppet would ask for help deciding what to do/say to Smarty.
Yes, that was one of my problems. I had way too many toys out. It's funny because I spent so much time acquiring those toys just to realize I had too many. I have since reduced the amount of toys, and it has helped immensely. I just have some problems with the kids behavior, but I'm not very sure how to handle it. Like today, I thought that I would try to teach them how to look at me when I needed them to. I tried the "1, 2, 3 look at me" and asked them to answer "1, 2 look at you." They looked at me... like I was crazy. Not one of them even clapped along. Of course, this is another issue because they don't sing along with any of the songs I do. I try to get them to, but they are just quiet - weird I know. That's why I need someone with experience with kids this young to give me some pointers on how to do things in an age appropriate way.
Linzeek, we must have crossposted. Thank you so much for the great ideas!!!!!!
I love, love, love the Hands are not for Hitting idea. I know the parents would love it too.
For your chart, did you get pictures and post them on a board, then have the kids pick a smiley or stop sign to go with them? I really like this. I really like the book idea too. I could make copies of it to send home so parents can maybe reinforce the message. Do you know where I can get some images for this? I think I could do this with my group.
Can you explain the social stories to me a little more? Is this something you posted on the wall?
I love the role playing, but I'm all by myself, and unfortunately a couple of my kids are really young and very immature. I have one that still can't sit for circle time (and my circle time is super short). I like the three ways to get toys though. I'll have to think about how I might implement this in my class.
Again, I really appreciate the advice. Socialization is much of the reason why a lot of these parents have placed their children in preschool, and I want to make sure I'm not overlooking the most important reason for them being here.
I really don't think you can teach behavior by direct instruction, especially to kids that little. What I did:
--very, very specific directions. Kids this young don't know what "use your words" means; you have to tell them what those words should be. Eg., "I'm sorry he took the truck you were using. That would make me mad, too. But you cannot hit. You can tell him, 'I don't like that!' and if he doesn't listen, tell me and I will help you." Expect to have to practice that one approximately 47987894367 times, but they'll figure it out eventually.
--Again, take a look at your materials. It sounds like you've already taken out some toys, which is a good start, but you also need to consider which toys they're fighting over. Is it possible to just have more than one of some really popular items? Sharing is great, but it's a hard skill to learn, and we really need to scaffold toddlers and young preschoolers as they develop it.
--If you aren't already, consider limiting the number of children who are allowed in a given area at a time. Think about space and materials. With some practice (and a lot of reminders at first), they will start to self-enforce those rules with the help of visual cues like 4 stick figures taped up in the dramatic play area.
--Encourage the children to clean as they go. You won't always be able to enforce that 100% of the time, but when you can, you'll be amazed. Not only does it make cleanup tons easier, but it also does an amazing job of extending their attention spans and really increasing the sophistication of their play, because it's easier to just keep playing with something than to clean it up.
--For discipline, I am not a big fan of time-out. It just doesn't seem to accomplish much. I do like using logical consequences, though. Eg., if someone is throwing blocks, ask them to choose something else to play with for the rest of center time that day. If someone hurts someone else, have them do something to take care of the victim, eg. getting a wet paper towel to put on the boo-boo. (Yes, it will be drippy. So what?) If someone makes a mess, they clean it up. Present these things very matter-of-factly, not as a punishment, but just something that's happening now because of prior choices. Talking about different choices that could be made in the future is good, too.
I have taught this group for 6 years, and I do feel for you; I do most of what the others say and it truly works.
As for the 1, 2, 3 method that did not work; instead I use the "Red light" system.
I explain to the children that when I won't their attention I will call out "Red light", they will need to stop what they are doing: playing, singing, talking, working, etc. and look at me for instruction. I will then tell them what I won't them to do or not do. They can not go back to whatever they were doing until I say "Green light".
We practice this at the beginning of every day the first week of school until they get used to it. Now when we go out on field trips or just on the playground I can always get their attention.
It worked so well, that on a field trip with about 50 students from my school of that age and other schools with the same amount it was so chaotic that a child could not be found, I just said red light and all of our children came to me leaving just the other school children to be sifted through. They found their child and we resumed the play.
For the chart, I tried to get as many pictures of the kids as I could, especially for the "safe behavior" side. Pictures of friends playing nicely, helping, cleaning, being gentle, etc.
For the unsafe side, I used mostly google images. I tried to find the file on my computer, but I don't have it anymore. Anyway, if you google image search "kids kicking" and other behaviors you're seeing you'll find some usable ones.
I made copies of social stories with some of my students who had behavioral issues. It was a suggestion of a behavioral specialist who had seen success with autistic students with them. A key tip is to acknowledge the feelings and the actual words you want them to use, like "When my friend won't let me have the truck, I feel angry. I might want to _______. To be safe, I can _______ and tell my friend __________."
I agree that I haven't seen time out be useful. I agree with the "apology of action" idea where you "make it right" by cleaning up the mess, helping the friend get a band aid, etc. Also, red light, green light works or "Freeze/Unfreeze." My little ones were experts at freeze dance and freezing games, so when I needed them to stop quick, freeze always worked.
Marilyn - I will be trying the red light, green light this week. It sounds like just the thing I need!
Gav_def - I have been instituting logical consequences more - for throwing toys and such - and I think they are starting to get it. I think that will probably take a little more time, but I plan to keep at it. I also work with them on using their words like you said. The problem is that I have a couple kids with limited speech so that kind of thing can be difficult sometimes. It has been really effective for one child in the class though. I'm going to be honest with you though... I have no idea how to get them to clean as they go. I mean, if them dump out a bin or make a big mess, I make them clean it up immediately, and I'm trying to schedule in clean up times, but I'm always so busy and they are always trading toys. This week, I had them put all the toys on the floor into one basket to clean up. It worked a lot better. I think that having them put stuff back where it goes is a little much for them, but picking everything up off the floor and putting it in one basket was pretty clear, and I got a bit more help. I still have to organize it later, but at least everything is put back correctly, and the place doesn't look like a hurricane hit it when parents arrive
Linzeek - Thanks again. I really appreciate the help. I will definitely check out the site.
I worked with a teacher who had a really great idea. She had a small shopping cart. When the students did not put the toys away correctly she would go and put those toys in the shopping cart and put them in the closet. The students had all night to think about their favorite toys in the closet. The next day the students had to put all the toys away correctly before they could start working again. The children did not like to wait until the toys were put away and the cart items got smaller and smaller each day.
I'm only in my second year of teaching preschool (having previously taught elementary), but one thing that has really worked with my kids (three turning 4) is that when I want their attention, I count down from 10 or 5 to zero. From the beginning of school I have taught them this routine and use it several times a day so they're used to it. I count loudly enough for them to hear me no matter what they're doing and when I say "zero!" they are to freeze and look at me. That way I can give them the next direction and I have their attention. While I don't embarrass the children, when I say "zero!" I give them a second to freeze and GENTLY remind those who don't freeze that their eyes should be on me. They caught on really quickly and they actually love using the time I'm counting down to find a funny position in which to freeze (By the way, my kids often don't sing along with me or at least they didn't at the beginning of the year. Now--in February--they will sing along with songs that they know pretty well.)
Oh how I feel your pain! I could have written this post myself a year ago! I work with threes and I totally agree with all who have suggested to limit the number of toys available at any given time. I find that LESS IS MORE is applicable in almost all situations, but especially with toys. The idea is to set the children up for success. Only put out the number of items that they can successfully clean up themselves. Take all of your excess and cycle it IN/OUT of your centers weekly. It keeps the centers FRESH and also makes clean up manageable for this age group. I also find that clean up time is an awesome opportunity for learning and assessment. When cleaning up, I make a game out of it. I will sit with the block or lego bin and ask children to bring me only "green blocks" or "square blocks". If we are cleaning up dramatic play, I have them separate food from dishes, baby clothes from dress ups. It helps them think of clean up in an organized fashion and it makes it a game. On another note, I have also found that managing transitions is part of the key to taming the chaos. We use our rug area as a transition gathering place. Anytime children are in between instructions (finished cleaning up, eating snack, waiting for the next activity or for others to finish up) they are invited to have a seat on their name on the rug with a book. It gives them a landing place so that they are not wandering around creating chaos. It takes some time to establish this but if it is always the same place (the rug) same activity (read a book) eventually they catch on. Routine and consistency are your biggest friends! hope this helps!
Hi Lorax, i guess we are facing te same problem. i have been teaching 4-5 yrs old over the past 4 years and now i wanted to try the smaller group (2-3). For the first few days i really had a hard time settling the children, the classroom and me..I get panicky when the children starts to cry and throw tantrums...but when i did this activity..it really works so try this one: set up stations in your room at least 3 stations....blocks area....music area with different musical instruments and a mark-making area- where children can use different resources in mark making such as pens, crayons, paints and more...just make sure that children access at least 2 of this areas. then the following day you can set up another stations... don't worry about cleaning up...you can clean up the class whenever you think the children are tired playing.
I am returning to the classroom after two years. I am working with children that are three yrs old. It is hard for me to get their attention. I have only been in the class for two days. I felt so defeated, that's why I decided to visit some site on-line to get some ideas. Thank you for these ideas, I will try some of them when I go back to the classroom.
as far as clean up the key is consistency. I let my kids know 10 minutes before clean up and every minute until the clean up bell rings . To help prepare them for whats comming .Also I have center inspectors who go to each center after clean up and make sure every toy is in its home ,I have a wild bunch as well but I try to include them in as much as possible esspecially in transition and reading (ie: to line up I say all aboard get on the train hands on the shoulder of the person in front of you then when I make the chuga sound we move the train