classroom management,  empathy,  kindness,  social emotional skills

Taking a step back

I can tell that my students have been spending too much time together (since I teach in a child care center my students can potentially be together from 7am until 6pm 5 days a week, and I am with them from 9am until 6pm every day) because of the ways that they have been treating each other lately. Little ones can be downright mean, and it breaks my heart the way that they talk to each other. I know that some self-centeredness is developmentally appropriate, that doesn’t mean that it is acceptable in my classroom.

I do my best to encourage kindness and caring, but I too find myself responding to their behaviors in ways that don’t actually teach them to be nicer.  On Friday I’d had enough. I was nearly in tears as I told them how sad I was because of how they were treating each other, and me.  I tried my best to explain that ignoring others when they are speaking to you, talking over people when they are trying to tell you something, purposely leaving others out of games, and making rude comments to each other are not going to get them very far in life.

I went home exhausted and disheartened.  I work hard, but it seems like I am failing to teach them the most important lesson – that we need to take care of each other.  After some serious contemplation about why these things were happening in my classroom, I started looking for ideas that will help me change the emotional climate of my little group.  Here are some of the strategies that I am looking forward to implementing.

This first idea is the one that I will be doing during circle time Monday morning. It can’t wait, and I just might have the kind of impact that I am looking for.  The basic idea behind the this activity is that you give each student a piece of paper shaped like a heart, then you list a number of scenarios or situations where someone treats you in a way that hurts your feelings. For every different scenario you ask the children to crumple up their paper heart.  After each scenario they get to un-crumple the heart and see how it has been damaged by this particular situation.  At the end you talk about how the paper is still a heart, but it doesn’t look as smooth and clean as it did at the beginning. This is supposed to represent what our hearts look like when people treat us poorly.  I’ve seen this idea in many different places, but this article on TeachStarter explains it the best.

The next idea that I love is from Teach Preschool. They gave each student a bag containing beads of the same color, each student got a different color.  In order to make a colorful friendship bracelet the children had to share their beads with each other.  It sounds like a really simple idea, but this will be really difficult for some of my kiddos, not only because they will have to share, but also because they will have to ask each other from help and be polite and kind in order to get what they want.

The Upper Elementary has a really great craftivity available in her Teachers Pay Teachers store that I have also been considering. It’s called Garden of Goodness. The children write things that they like about their classmates on flower petals, then each student is able to use all of their flower petals from others to create a flower.  At this point my students have a much easier time coming up with things that they do not like about each other, so this would be a great way to re-frame how we think about each other.

The last idea that I have been thinking about implementing is a kindness chain.  My Catch a Star Classroom gives a great description of how she implemented this idea in her classroom.  Basically you start a chain that hangs from your classroom ceiling, you add a loop every time that you catch a student being kind, writing their name and good deed on the loop. When the chain reaches the floor the class gets a reward.  I love this idea because it will help me focus on noticing the positive things that my students are doing, and because it will give the children the opportunity to share the loops they earn with their parents at the end of the day.  I really want my students to be kind because they want to, and because it is the right thing to do, not because they want a reward, so while I do have a reward in mind for them, I may not tell them about it. I think that I am going to encourage them to see if we can get the chain to reach the floor, and then when it reaches the floor I will surprise them with a reward.  I’m hoping that this will help them focus on the intrinsic rewards of being kind – how it makes others feel, and how you feel about yourself when you are kind to others.

I know that this will be a process, but it is so worth it to me, especially since I will have all of these kiddos throughout the summer, so we still have quite a bit of time together. If you have any additional ideas for me I would love to hear them! I will keep you posted on my efforts!

(All photos are from the listed blogs, please follow the links to see their full posts!)

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