When students first come to the kindergarten classroom, it is so important as their kindergarten teacher to start teaching them what will be expected of them at school. After all, if young children aren’t explicitly taught what is expected of them, how can we hold them to those expectations?
A great starting place is to have conversations about classroom rules and “I Can” expectations. Teach this within the first week of school. Then help students become more independent in practicing these skills, just as we do with academic skills!
Start with Conversations
From the very first day of school, a great way to start is to have conversations about expectations and class rules. We need to explicitly teach what expectations look like in different parts of the school to kindergarten students. During learning or circle time on the carpet, you should expect students to listen carefully without interrupting, stay in their own space, and keep their hands to themselves.
However, at recess, the expectations look very different. Young students need to play safely on the playground equipment and take turns using things like the slide. Even in the cafeteria, students have rules and expectations to follow that are new to them.
I like to include “I Can” statements as we talk about these expectations explicitly. I might even have students repeat the statements, so they can start seeing these expectations as something that is attainable for them. Having explicit conversations helps students begin to understand how they are expected to behave at school.
Model, Model, Model
Another key to helping students learn their expectations at school is to model what you expect them to do. For example, if you want students to know how to behave in the cafeteria, you could first show them. Pretend you are a student going through the lunch line. Model holding your tray with both hands and walking directly to your spot at the lunch table. Show students how it is important to first focus on eating before visiting with your friends. Again, bringing in that “I Can” language helps students remember that these expectations are doable for them and that they can be successful in making good choices at school.
There are different ways you can approach this. For example after you could even pick a few students to model and ask other students what they noticed. Giving students chances to see their expectations modeled helps them remember how they should behave in different school scenarios. This may come up in your daily routines more than once. The best way to approach these situations is with patience and understanding. Create positive relationships between your classroom and their good behavior.
Use Visuals as Reminders
After having explicit conversations and modeling how students should follow expectations, it is important to use visuals as reminders. A fun way to do this is to print classroom posters that show students what their behavior should look like. You will probably want to use them when you are initially discussing expectations with your students.
My favorite posters have “I Can” statements as well as real pictures within the classroom community that match the expectations. That way, students can have a positive reminder that they have the ability to make these smart choices at school. As the year progresses, you can refer back to them as students need reminders.
For example, if you notice a student who is playing on the carpet and having a hard time listening, you can ask them to take a look at the poster and see if they are following the class expectations. This will hopefully help students with the process of learning classroom expectations. Ideally, this will help them to move towards self-regulating their behavior at school so that they can follow expectations with fewer and fewer reminders from us. You can also check out this post for other ideas on how to use visuals to help students follow expectations.
At the beginning of the year, we may be tempted to dive right into academic skills. However, we must start with teaching expectations to students. These important conversations allow procedures in the classroom to run smoothly and time for learning. By explicitly teaching expectations with “I Can” statements, modeling expectations, and then providing visual reminders for students, we can set them up for success. This helps them throughout the year when it comes to making smart choices at school.
By the end of the year they will be ready to take these important things into the first grade and beyond. Early childhood teachers often make the largest impressions when it comes to learning general school rules and so much more. Creating expectations as soon as kids come to school is the best way to start off the year on the right foot!
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