Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to control the classroom environment

When I first started teaching, I had a rough time. I inherited a classroom full of boys, and at the risk of sounding sexist, this class was the most rough-and-tumble class that I have had up to date. Usually every class has a child or two who displays challenging behaviors. This class had seven...out of thirteen.

Just thinking about it gives me chills.

I used to wake up DREADING the day, and praying the class caught a case of pink-eye...or chicken pox...

Luckily for me, our preschool had enrolled in a Quality First program funded by First Things First of Arizona. First Things First is a God-send to the preschool community! They provide invaluable resources and funding that we otherwise would suffer without! Check out there website here.

Quality First hooked us up with a coach, and the coach hooked us up with another program called Smart Support. Smart Support, in turn, gave us a consultant to come and observe the classroom. We had several meetings about what behavior we wanted to address, and the Smart Support consultant helped me learn more about transitions, classroom visuals, teaching friendship skills, teaching about feelings, and "calm-down" techniques.

If you have never heard of the following website, please check it out! It has some great resources, including scripted stories, a solution kit, classroom visuals, etc...

Center on the Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning

I realized that the kids were never to out of control crazies meant that I needed to breathe, roll up my sleeves, and change my outlook on classroom management.

Things that I have learned so far:
  • If you want a class that will follow directions, respect each other, and be able to self regulate, you need to control the environment.  
Contact paper over visuals to keep them from getting damaged by curious little hands.
I learned to make rules and expectations well known and VISIBLE by reviewing them at circle time, posting them around the classroom, and carrying pocket sized versions of them around with me at all times. Three year old children need to reminded over and over and OVER again before it starts to "click." I learned to be okay with that. My mantra of choice? "THIS TOO SHALL PASS."

Classroom visuals are a great for making a classroom more organized and welcoming for a young child. They help make the environment a safe, predictable place. There are many ways to make use of them in your classroom:
    • Art Displays (which are a source of pride for children. They are even better when they don't look like everyone else's!)

    • Picture Schedule
An example of a picture schedule. You can substitute the computer generated images with real photographs of classroom activities.
    • Classroom Rules

    • Photo Albums 
 I keep photos of family members, art in process, parties, sensory activities, children playing blocks, dress up, and manipulatives. The photo albums are kept throughout the classroom to be perused through at will.
    • Labels, labels, labels!
Label everything! Label toys, shelves, doors, walls, easels, art supplies, cubbies, nap mats, books, and puzzles. Here is an example of foot prints being used to label the line-up area.
The foot prints help children know where to stand for line-up time. This helps make them familiar with colors, and is a apart of the daily routine.
  • You, as a teacher, do NOT need to be in control at all times...
This was the hardest for me. What are we going to do--Let the children do whatever they please? The answer is yes...and no.

Yes, because we need to let children make decisions about where they will play, what they will create, and how they will do it. I started keeping all classroom centers open. I let children take toys from one center to another. I put out more art supplies to be available at all times.

She uses the paint to paint her face, arms, table, and paper. She put glue on her hands, and then dipped them into the fake snow. My inner control freak was like, "NOOO!!! What are you doing?!" My inner child couldn't help but wonder how that would feel if I did the same thing. Look at that smile! She was really enjoying this sensory experience. I gave her more glue.
I learned that children learn by DOING, by using all of their senses, and by creating messes! I began putting out more sensory activities, allowing children to splash in the mud, to get soaked in puddles, to paint their bodies from head to toe, and to use more of everything when they wanted it.

By controlling the environment with class rules, a predictable schedule, and allowing time for young people to make their own decisions, creations, and messes, we in turn create a happier classroom.

No, it doesn't mean that children have free rein of the classroom.

They still have to follow rules, respect each other, and keep a clean classroom. They still have to wash their hands, and make safe choices. The teacher doesn't fade into oblivion, but rather, the role of "teacher" changes into that of a facilitator of early learning.

My circle time has changed dramatically. It's been cut short to 15 minutes--sometimes longer and sometimes shorter, depending on interest level. I stopped sitting in a chair, and joined them on the floor. I don't try to "teach." We sing songs, read stories, play games, and just talk.

I still make time for "teachable" moments, and make use of open-ended comments/ questions. I still act as a resource for comfort in times of need, information in times of new discoveries, and affirmation in times of doubt.

Isn't that why we became teachers in the first place?


    1. Gina, you have a remarkable blog going here; I want to be a child in your classroom! I am part of NC's cadre of Behavior Specialists - our job is to educate and support teachers about the importance of social emotional skills in young children. We base everything on CSEFEL's Pyramid Model, and you express it all very well here. If you ever come to NC, we'd love to make you one of US! Keep up the great work, Gina :)

      1. Wow, Smokie, thank you! I really appreciate the feedback, especially from a professional behavior specialist! I've benefitted very much as a teacher from programs like yours...which sounds a lot like Smart Support. I don't know if NC is in my future or not, but I appreciate the offer. Have a good one!

    2. Fabulous post. You have learned how to respect and support children's learning. You have been able to lose some of the strict rules we have as adults and allow yourself to appreciate more how children learn and enjoy it. Well done.


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