Early Childhood Etiquette

I have learned some excellent strategies for maximizing behavior and attention in early childhood learners. I thought I would write a brief post to share them with you.

As with all youth, students in early childhood have a deep and poignant notion of fairness. In terms of behavior, there are 3 principals I stick to:

1. Make the desired behaviors clear from the beginning. Whether you begin the school year with these students or are only there for the day as a substitute or guest, outline 2-3 behaviors and model what they look like. Review these expectations during whole group meetings regularly (at least 2-3 times/week for E.C.)

2. Have immediate, tangible consequences for behavior. Most teachers use the color system (green, yellow, red) to manage behavior. The most important element of this system is that students are NOT on yellow or red for the rest of the day. Their subsequent behavior causes them to move from yellow back to green or yellow to red, ect. In other words, the students understand that if they change their behavior (for better or worse), it will be reflected on the behavior management chart. (We all appreciate second chances right? And when you’re 5, I think you should get 3rd and 4th and 5th…)

3. Be at the child’s level to communicate about his or her behavior. It is incredibly important to squat down and discuss the behavior eye-to-eye with the student. This signifies that you believe he is capable of understanding you and that you expect him to respond. Here is a sample conversation:

“Billy, I sent you to yellow because I noticed that you were coloring on another student’s sheet. Tony was working hard on his project. How do you think he felt when you colored on it?”


“It is important that we are kind and respectful to our classmates. How can you be more respectful at your next center?”

“Keeping my hands to myself.”

“Wonderful, Billy. I will be watching you at your next center and if I see that you are focusing on your work and keeping your hands to yourself, I will move you back to green. Ok?”

Most teachers have been exposed to the notion of proximity in terms of managing behavior. If a student is misbehaving, simply walk over and stand next to that student, place your hand on their shoulder, or mention their name in your discussion. Unfortunately, I have been surprised to see so many early childhood teachers placing their wiggliest worms on the back of the carpet, or grouping their most off-task students into one center group. Yikes!

In my classroom, and in other successful E.C. classrooms I have seen, the student who is most likely to resemble spaghetti at carpet time is seated practically under the teacher’s feet. The students who struggle with independent behaviors are sprinkled into groups where students are successfully meeting expectations with focus and behavior. While I understand that these students distract the teacher and other students, they are MUCH more likely to succeed in the proximity of successful students, right?!

Finally, in terms of attention, there has been nothing more revolutionary in maximizing productivity in young minds since centers and mini-lessons. In the last 10-15 years, we have steered away from loooong, whole-group instruction where the teacher talk talk talks and the students zone out. Try limiting your whole-group teaching to 20 minutes maximum. Make sure you are involving students through use of technology, checks for understanding (“touch your nose if you know the answer”), and turn-and-talk discussion with “elbow partners”.

The longer I spend in Kinder, the more fascinated I am with strategies for maximizing learning. Do you have any tried and true tips to share?