From Chaos to Calm: Creating a Well Managed Preschool Classroom
It is the teacher’s responsibility to deliver an effective instructional program that allows students to develop their potential. Yet, teacher statements like, “I have no time to finish the lessons, as I spend all my time trying to control the students,” are often heard in staff rooms. Teaching students in the early years, needs a lot of energy and enthusiasm. There are many reasons that can make teaching preschool a struggle. Some of these are captured here:
We will delve deeper into each one and consider strategies that can help you create a well-managed preschool classroom.
Understand the Nature of your Learners:
Preschoolers are explorers who are soaking up the world of information and experience. Their short attention span (15-20 minutes) makes them move quickly from one task to another. Keep your lessons short and build in a variety of activities like songs, stories, finger play and rhymes that involve movement. Add different activities every few weeks/months to keep things fresh. As they are unable to sit for too long, try to be flexible about sitting in one position. Allow them to stretch regularly. Preschoolers can only focus on a single thing at one time, and so you should present one thing at a time and give simple, single-step instructions. It helps to have them repeat the instructions. Preschoolers thrive on a predictable routine, so build in a consistent structure to your day, so that they know what to expect.
Consider the Classroom Space and Setting:
The classroom setup depends on the experiences you and your students will share over the year. Consider the type of activities (individual, pair, small or whole group) you do most often and arrange seating and interest areas or learning centers accordingly. It helps to use lightweight furniture that can be rearranged quickly. Setting up a classroom that anticipates curricular and student needs, helps to prevent behavioural problems and minimises disruption. Allow space for student movement and easy entry/exit. Designating and labelling space for storage (bags, bottles, lunchboxes) and equipment (teaching resources) helps create a conducive learning environment for preschoolers who learn best when they have clearly marked physical spaces.
Establish Rules and Procedures:
Establishing norms of expected behavior, gives preschoolers a sense of safety and predictability. Along with your students, decide which activities you need to establish rules for. You can make specific rules for circle time, for using learning corners, and for the use of classroom materials. You can also consider procedures for handing out or taking in workbooks, handling the beginning/ending of the school day, and for transitioning between activities.
Rules are effective if stated positively. For example, instead of saying, “Don’t run in the corridor”, state the rule as, “Walk slowly in a line.” This simple rule leaves no room for misinterpretation. Once agreed upon, display the rules along with pictures that show students using these rules. Remember to acknowledge students who follow the rules and revisit rules when someone needs a reminder.
Manage Disruptive Behavior:
It helps to have some strategies to achieve a balance between firmness and caring in your classroom. When preschoolers test your limits, you can use reminders and redirection. If someone forgets to wash their hands, say, “What do we do before we eat lunch?” When someone pushes during circle time say, “Hands and feet to yourself here.”
Constantly encourage them to use the correct words instead of physical means such as, “Tell Sid what you want,” or “Ask Tia if she is done with the blocks.”
Demonstrate whatever you want the students to do. Model polite behavior, active listening, anger management, and your enthusiasm for learning! If a student runs in the corridor, say, “Stop! Walk slowly in the corridors. Watch me doing it and then you try.”
Giving them structured choices helps foster self-management. Ask questions like, “Do you want to listen to a story before or after lunch?” “Would you like to clean up before or after the swings?”
Lastly, acknowledge positive behavior when you notice a student demonstrating it. Say, “You shared your lunch with Sara, this made her happy,” or “You worked hard to read this story. This deserves a star,” or “I really like the way Mia is listening to my instructions. She is ready to learn.”
Knowing what works with preschoolers is the starting point. If as a preschool teacher, you are aware of their unique characteristics and know which strategies work, you can build a relationship that will enable students to thrive, thus preparing the foundation for lifelong learning.