Some people joke that teaching kindergarten is like herding stray cats, said Christal Hembree with the Harrisonville Early Childhood Center. But there are a million strategies to keep 5- and 6-year-olds engaged.
If kindergartners know the expectations and consequences, Hembree said, they are more likely to be successful. To get everyone’s attention, she says, “Give me five.” That’s the signal to stop, raise five fingers and count backwards to one, followed by a hush. “This also gives a visual for kids that don’t hear me to know that I need their attention.”
Flexibility is also important. “If (a student) has to stand on his head to focus while I’m teaching, I just put him behind the others so he doesn’t distract those that can sit criss-cross applesauce,” she explained. If a student needs time away from the group, a safe seat, similar to a time-out spot, is available. “Controlled options allow students to be in control, without them knowing that adults are really in control.”
Julie Strickland, a kindergarten teacher at Blue Ridge Elementary in Raytown, quiets her class with a whisper. “If you hear my voice,” she says, “clap once. If you hear my voice, touch your nose.” Any chant or rhyme makes a lasting impression. One student threw a tantrum anytime it wasn’t her turn until Strickland and a colleague created a jingle: “It’s not always your turn. It’s not always your turn. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but it’s not always your turn!” The tantrums stopped.
Amy Meinke of Hawthorn Elementary in Kansas City, North, has discovered rules sung to a familiar tune make following instructions much easier. She’ll sing “We whisper while we work” to the tune of Farmer in the Dell. Counting is another powerful tool. For example, Meinke will say, “Your turn is over on 3 … 1-2-3, finished.”
“Usually, the child will finish before you get to zero,” Meinke said.
Posting pictures of students behaving well is also a motivating tool, said Tracey Redfern, who teaches at Hillcrest Elementary in Belton.
At Meadowbrook Elementary in North Kansas City, Rhonda Deason rewards kindergartners for doing the right thing. “Students will work hard to earn those tickets simply to sit in the teacher’s chair for an hour, read to another class or eat lunch with the teacher.” Choices prevent arguments, she’s found. If there’s a clash about what to wear, for example, she suggests giving the child two choices.
Another strategy Deason uses is “lips and hips.” When walking through the building, students put one finger over their lips and one hand on their hip. “This reminds them that voices are off in the hallway and we don’t touch anything on the walls.”
Sometimes stories change behaviors. A student who couldn’t keep his hands to himself was fascinated with cowboys. “I told him the reason cowboys had belt loops was to wrap their thumbs around them as a reminder to keep their hands to themselves,” explained Deason. “Problem solved!”
Having taught for 20 years, Marde Mason of Kellybrook Elementary in Liberty believes all kindergartners want to be good. They just need to be taught to manage their feelings and emotions. “By setting up predictable routines and by talking about expectations when going about your day with a child can head off most melt-downs with 5-year-olds. They are very bright and can do and manage more than what most adults give them credit.”