Classroom management is a skill that is absolutely essential for all preschool teachers. Keeping your preschoolers engaged and involved is what will keep your classroom running smoothly. In order to do this, you need to have some systems in place to help you manage what would otherwise be difficult situations in the classroom. Here are a few scenarios that you can plan for.
1. WHEN YOU HAVE A BORED CHILD
Preschoolers always need to know what is expected of them, and what is not. That includes knowing what they are free to do during specific parts of the preschool day. Sometimes, your planned activities will flop. The children, or maybe just one or two of them, will not be interested in doing what you had set out for them to do. It is at these times that it is essential for your preschoolers to have acceptable alternatives. Having open-ended materials helps with this a lot. Center time should be flexible, meaning the children should be able to decide for themselves which center(s) they will engage in and how.
Circle time is another time that preschoolers can sometimes get bored. If you force circle time, this will be even more likely. Make circle time optional and set clear boundaries as to what is acceptable during that time and your preschoolers will find something to engage in. Try not to worry too much if you have a child that never chooses to come to circle. They are probably still listening, and are most likely gaining more from it then if they were required to be present.
Sometimes, you will have a preschooler who just does not know what to do with themselves. This is often the case with children who engage in a lot of screen time outside of preschool. Some children also have a parent who is always directing the child’s play. These children need to be taught how to play and will need you to lead them through play experiences for a time.
2. CHILDREN THAT ARE AGGRESSIVE
Children who are aggressive towards their peers need to understand that it is your job to keep everyone in the classroom safe. They need to know that you will not let them hurt anyone including themselves, their peers, or you. Sometimes just redirecting an angry child is enough, but you need to have a plan for when it is not.
Children who are aggressive in the classroom are often connection seeking. Stay calm, but firm, and help them navigate their emotions without engaging in power struggles. If you can, work with the child one-on-one when they get into an aggressive state. This will ensure that everyone is safe and will also give the child the connection that they crave.
When the child is calm is the best time for teaching calming strategies. The child should practice these skills daily, so that when they really need to use them it will be easier to put them into action. The goal is for these calming strategies to eventually become second nature. There also needs to be ways for the child to use their aggressive energy in safe ways available at all times. Also, be sure to praise the child when you observe them being kind to others.
3. WHEN YOU HAVE A CRYING CHILD
Of course, how you handle a crying child depends on why they are crying in the first place. Either way though, your calmness can go a long way. If the child is not physically hurt, just sitting quietly next to the child and taking a few deep breaths can do a lot. In general though, you want to make your classroom a calm and comforting place for children.
Having a specific space in the classroom set up for when children are feeling sad can help them manage their emotions. Include stuffed animals, books about emotions, fidget toys, and a comfortable place to sit where it is quiet. Post pictures of the calming techniques that you teach your preschoolers, too. This will naturally become a space where your preschoolers go when they are feeling big emotions and need to calm down, supporting emotional self-regulation skills.
4. CHILDREN THAT ARE STRUGGLING WITH SEPARATION ANXIETY
Although preschoolers tend to be moving away from the intense separation anxiety that toddlers experience, every child is different and they all have days that are harder than others. The best thing that you can do for your preschoolers with separation anxiety is to make sure that their parents understand what the expectations are at drop-off. They should come up with a special routine for drop-off and stick to it. Come in and greet the teacher, hug, special handshake, and goodbye.
This needs to be kept short and consistent. The longer the parent stays, especially if they are feeling at all uneasy about drop-off, the more the emotional distress builds for the child. If the child is still upset after their parent leaves, the best thing you can do for them at that point is to just be with them. Talk to them, read to them, give them a hug. Just show them that you care and support them.
5. WHEN YOU ARE WAITING FOR THE LAST CHILD TO BE READY
Getting a classroom full of preschoolers ready for outside, especially in winter, can be quite the scene. Having a mixed age group in preschool can help with this though. First, have everyone help cleanup, but start sending the kids who take the longest to get ready to the bathroom and then to get ready just a little before cleanup is done. This way they have the most time to get ready and the others do not have to wait as long.
If you still have some children that end up ready before everyone else, have them help their friends. They can help the kids that do not know how to zipper yet. They can also help their friends by letting them know if their shoes are on the right feet. Giving your preschoolers that are ready first the responsibility of helping their friends not only encourages prosocial behavior, but it also helps keep boredom at bay. After that, if you still have some stragglers, it is time for you to get ready and race to see who will be ready first!
6. CHILDREN THAT DON’T KNOW THE ROUTINE
To have a great first month, focus on creating a predictable routine. This will be a new routine for all of your students (and you!) so be patient as your students learn the routine. Also, don’t forget to go back to the basics and teach them how to line up, open glue, cut with scissors, wash hands, etc. To make lining up super easy, put masking tape “dots” on the floor where each child needs to line up.
7. CHATTY STUDENTS AT CIRCLE TIME
Are your students super chatty at circle time? Consider adding a “talking stick” to your routine, where the person holding the talking stick gets to talk. Circle times should start out being only about 5-10 minutes. As attention spans develop, you can try lengthening out your circle time. If your students are especially wiggly, act out stories or bring out musical instruments, bean bags, or scarves to movement time.
If some children finish before others, be sure they have a transition activity they can go to without disrupting the class. For example, a great transition after snack is quiet reading. During your day, use music during your transition times. You’ll find that your students will eventually start transitioning by themselves when they hear the music.
9. CHILDREN NOT INTERESTED IN ACTIVITY
We’ve found that one of the best ways to encourage good behavior in the classroom is to praise it when we see it. When difficulties do arise, however, we’re usually able to work most things out in class. We follow a 3-step behavior plan if we see students getting upset. We first monitor the situation to see if they can work it out. If not, we’ll talk with them to see if they need help using their words to work it out. If that still doesn’t work, then we’ll redirect them into another activity.
If your students start acting up, chances are they’re not interested in the activity anymore. Either change the activity or scrap it altogether and find something different they’re excited about. If you have a student who gets upset when asked to do something, offer him/her two choices, making sure that both choices are okay with you. If you’re still struggling with helping a child make good choices, perhaps discuss starting a sticker chart with his parents. Good behavior earns stickers, and the child can earn a small reward once he/she earns enough stickers.
Knowing ahead what you will do to manage specific situations in your classroom will make it so much easier for you to manage your preschoolers. You can even teach your preschoolers some of these systems over time. This will encourage prosocial behavior that will allow them to help themselves and each other in these situations.