Congratulations to the winners of our Early Childhood Winning Ideas Monthly Contest! Each of these entrants - teachers just like you - won $50 in Scholastic products for sharing their ideas. Thanks to everyone who submitted entries to the contest. And remember to check out the latest contest topic for more chances to win!

Consistent Routines and Simple Tricks

by Linda Dammann

One of the most important strategies I use to keep little ones calm in the classroom as the weather gets warmer is to maintain a consistent routine.  I also try to make my expectations for behavior clear.  Although these are things that have been established since the very first day of school, they work no matter what time of year it is!  As I get "spring fever"  and get bogged down by all of the things that I need to accomplish, I sometimes find myself getting lax in these areas--and those are the days the children are the most squirrely!

Some children do need a little help curbing their energy in the classroom, however, and I have found that these simple tricks work well:

  • I have a "tool box" filled with all kinds of hand fidgets: junior sized "tangles", squares of upholstery cloth (soft on one side, rough on the other), and several kinds of stress balls. When a child has difficulty keeping him/herself calm, I let them choose a tool from the box. Manipulating the fidget with their hands often keeps their mouth and body quieter! When they choose their fidget, they are reminded "It's a tool, not a toy," and that it will be taken away if not used properly. This also puts the purpose of the fidget into perspective for the rest of the class so they don't think someone is getting special privileges.
  • I had a child who liked to blurt out questions - often times silly ones like, "Why are you wearing brown shoes?" - and it increased as the weather turned to Spring. Ignoring wouldn"t work, so I tried this and it worked like a charm! I tied 3 ribbons to a binder ring (the number could be varied for your situation) and clipped it to his belt loop. I explained to him that that was how many questions he could ask me that day. We talked a little bit about good questions and not-so-good questions. I promised him I would answer his questions, even if they were silly, but I would take a ribbon for each one. When his ribbons were gone, I would not answer any more of his questions that day. He agreed to this and we tried it. At first, when he started to blurt out a question, I asked him if he really wanted to ask it. Many times he said yes, but you could tell he was beginning to think before he spoke. After about a week, we didn't need it any more, and he never did lose all three ribbons in one day! The best part was, because I had committed to answer his questions, he was still getting the attention he needed, and I didn't get frustrated over his constant interruptions.
  • The last idea takes no prep time and no money, and it helps ME re-focus and keep calm! When two or more children are beginning to get out of control and feed off each other, I simply look around for the child(ren) following directions. I praise them for sitting quietly - suddenly, everyone else is waiting to be noticed for their good behavior.

Alternating Between Calm and Active Activities

by Delsheree Gladden

In my classroom I try to alternate between calm and active activities. I also remind them what activity is coming next to help them channel their energy better. Even still, living in Colorado, we have very long winters where it is just too cold to play outside, so sometimes cabin fever makes keeping things calm even harder. To help the children expend energy even in the winter I try to incorporate more activities that involve movement into every lesson like a song with actions and movement in circle time, a hands on activity during science like wrapping up in blankets to feel how a polar bears fur keeps him warm, etc. Preschoolers are naturally very busy people, body and mind. Trying to make each activity incorporate both sides of preschoolers' needs help them to learn when it is appropriate to wiggle and move and when it isn't. 

Introducing More Experimentation and Exploration

by Melissa Haile

It's spring and the weather is really warming-up. One thing I do is to make learning even more fun and exciting. I plan more advanced theme units that require more experimentation and exploration. Some examples would be magnets, sink & float, life cycles, & gardening. Now that many of the young students know the daily routine, are more independent, and somewhat responsible the activities take a shift towards encouraging students to explore their surroundings and make inferences based on hands-on experiences. I introduce more informational text and the students become much more involved in the reading that takes place. We begin hatching chicks in the room, experimenting daily with sinking and floating objects and discussing topics dealing with water. We are growing beans on our desk and planting a real sunflower garden outside (the students take turns watering it daily and weeding it). We have a frog hatchery and an aquarium of fish to discuss and monitor each day. The students really enjoy the magnets and doing several experiments to find items that they can attract and repel. This week we are learning about birds and making bird feeders. The children have begun keeping journals of all their findings and experiments. I've introduced math centers in the afternoon so that students can explore learned math topics and keep practicing. I really feel if you keep the atmosphere fun and CHALLENGING then students become much more interested and involved in the lessons. Taking time to plan-out your year so that you build the excitement really can make a difference.