Classroom organization and routine of activities promote effective learning
In Dr. Susan Landry’s book, Effective Early Childhood Programs Turning Knowledge into Action (2005), she writes, “Successful teachers know that the arrangement and management of the early childhood classroom have direct effects on the kinds of behaviors children exhibit as they live and work together. The difference between chaos and an orderly atmosphere that facilitates learning depends in great part on how the teacher prepares the environment. That preparation involves what happens before school begins, when children arrive and depart, when scheduled transitions occur, when children interact freely with equipment and materials, and when conflict arises.”
A well planned classroom ensures children’s physical safety as well as provides an emotional security that encourages and hones their intellectual development. In her book, she describes these four components as critical to the classroom environment:
- Protecting children’s health and safety;
- Supporting children’s physiological needs for activity, sensory stimulation, outdoor experiences, rest, and nourishment;
- Providing a balance of rest and active movement throughout the day; and
- Protecting children’s psychological safety (i.e., children feel secure, relaxed, and comfortable, rather than disengaged, frightened, worried, or stressed).
Key within the design of the physical space is organizing a classroom management system and routines that promote the successful use of the environment. When the environment is structured so that children know the expected routine, they can learn successfully with each other, and development of their social competence is supported. For example, using a helper chart with a job created for every child in the classroom helps a child feel part of the classroom community. At the beginning of the school year when children are adjusting to a new environment, providing a classroom job can help a child overcome a difficult separation from a family member. Creating center spaces designed to accommodate small groups of children for interactive learning helps children practice initiating social interactions.
Dr. Landry stresses that ”The key to management is a set routine. Children feel more secure when there is structure, so a well-planned day with built–in supports is critical to the children’s behavior, well-being, and receptiveness to learning.” She further states that teachers should use charts to help order the daily routine, allow children to use print in a meaningful way, and provide examples of print around the classroom. She goes on to describe five specific charts:
- Rules Chart - This chart helps children understand expectations classroom rules, activities, and directions.
- Helpers Chart - This chart gives children the opportunity to help with tasks around the classroom. Teachers should change the tasks frequently and have the children think up jobs.
- Attendance Chart - This chart lists all of the children in the class. Children can help list who is present and absent using the chart.
- Daily Schedule Chart - This chart visually shows children the plan for the day. This can help children associate an action with the printed word.
- Learning Area Planning Chart - This chart uses words and pictures to describe the purpose of each learning area. It allows children make choices and actively participate in their own learning.
The rules chart is one of the most important charts in the classroom. These rules should be developed with input from the children. Rules should be limited to three or four behaviors that are stated positively, such as "Use your walking feet" as opposed to "No running."
In Gatrell’s (2012) article, "From Rules to Guidelines - Moving to the Positive," he says that rules can cause teachers to focus on catching negative behaviors compared to reinforcing positive actions. By stating rules positively, teachers can change this mentality. He writes, “Think about the likely differences in learning climate in these settings: One classroom has the rule, 'No talking in line.' Another has the guideline, 'We are quiet in line so we don’t wake the babies.'"
Wien (2004) argues that rules aren't helpful in preschool classrooms because they are usually worded negatively. It's as if adults expect children to break them. When an adult enforces rules, the children know they have done something wrong. However, many times the teacher never tells them what do instead (Readdick & Chapman 2000). For example, if a child hits another child, some teachers may immediately send them to the time-out chair, instead of explaining more positive strategies to handling anger. Gatrell (2012) states, "Rules can cause teachers to label children, lump them in groups, and enforce rules accordingly: be lenient with the 'good children,' who mostly obey rules, and be strict with the 'naughty children,' who often break rules."
To change the perception of rules from law enforcement to gentle guidance, teachers can model the rules and recognize children's attempts to follow the rules. Recognizing their positive actions as well as describing the behavior encourages a repeat of these expectations. For example, "High five! You used your walking feet all the way down the hallway! Way to go!"
- Gartrell, D. (2012). From rules to guidelines: Moving to the positive. YC Young Children, 67(1), 56.
- Landry, S. H. (2005). Effective early childhood programs: Turning knowledge into action. University of Texas System with Rice University.
- Readdick, C. A., & Chapman, P. L. (2000). Young children's perceptions of time out. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 15(1), 81-87.
- Wien, C. A. (2004). Negotiating standards in the primary classroom: The teacher's dilemma. Teachers College Press.