Dear Polly, At this time of year some of the children are getting restless and have difficulty following our classroom rules. Although I keep repeating the rules, it doesn't seem to help. What can I do?

Allow Lots of Talk Time

This would frustrate any teacher, but luckily there's lots you can do. Begin by rethinking your schedule to make sure you have enough casual time when quiet conversation is welcome. The fact that so many of your children aren't doing as you ask suggests that too much non-talking and non-playing is being expected of children their age. Young children need time to reconnect soon after entering the classroom. Many teachers warmly greet each child by name, give them a personal comment, and invite him/her to find a book and a friend to share it with on the rug. This simple act accomplishes five things:

  • re-establishes the individual's positive relationship with you.
  • gives the child a destination and focus.
  • provides an opportunity for kids to reconnect with classmates.
  • ensures a pleasant literacy experience.
  • allows you to spend 5 or 10 minutes with the most difficult child.

Increase Small-Group Activities

Alternate between large- and small-group activities. Total class seated activities, such as opening routines, lessons, sharing time, and even small group lessons, should be short, purposeful, and lively. The more pressured children feel, the more grim they get and the more "behavior problems" they have. Skilled teachers seat sociable children near themselves or an assistant. Children who continually disrupt are removed from the group, not with glares, threats, and deprivations but with fun, turns, and important roles.

Reconsider Your Pacing

Alternate quiet and active activities. Follow seated, teacher-directed sessions with music and movement, or at least a hike to a different classroom and a change of pace (library, computer, art). Some children need an adult to work with them at center time so they stay task-oriented.

Reduce Transition Times

Keep transitions to a minimum. Plan and prepare so you can slide directly from one activity to the next without milling around time. Move children a few at a time, and keep everyone busy during this unstructured time.

Partner with Parents

Team with parents and talk with the child who is having difficulty, emphasizing her strengths and enlisting her cooperation in following what's needed for the class to work for everybody.

Seek Help When Needed

If you have a child with exceptionally challenging behavior, seek advice from the school counselor.

Above all, work on those relationships with your nonconformists. Look for children's great traits and appreciate their valuable attributes.