Kindergarten classroom management: We’re all in this together

Kindergarten classroom management: We’re all in this together

Let’s visit the nightmare: You’re standing in front of a classroom of 20 kindergartners. Two are out of their seats for the umpteenth time. Several students are fidgeting; one is drawing on her desk. A few more are talking and giggling together. And no one seems to be listening. It’s 2:00 in the afternoon, there’s an hour to go, and you’ve lost your way. You hear yourself raise your voice: “SIT DOWN AND BE QUIET!” They do, but one student starts crying in the back of the room. You ask yourself: Where have I gone wrong?

You haven’t; you’re just human. Any way you look at it, a room full of mostly 5-year-olds is a challenge. It may be time to up your kindergarten classroom-management game.

Classroom management has a simple premise: Students who understand your expectations, the rewards they earn when they meet those expectations, and the consequences when they don’t, will respond better and learn more effectively. The ways in which you communicate those expectations and set your students up for success make the difference. You need patience, organizational skills, creativity, intuition, and adaptability.

5 important aspects of kindergarten classroom management

When Edutopia, a website dedicated to improving K-12 education, used its social media platforms to ask its community of educators for their best classroom-management skills, they received more than 700 ideas. They grouped the suggestions into five broad categories:

  • Build better relationships. This was the No. 1 theme cited in the Edutopia responses, with more than 100 teachers and administrators chiming in. The key is to balance warmth with strong boundaries – greeting kids outside the classroom, taking time to talk one-on-one, practicing active listening.
  • Mind those boundaries. You can be personable and friendly while staying authoritative. You should set up expectations, rules, and consequences early on, and stick to them – including modeling your own behavior.
  • Teach from a position of strength. This doesn’t mean “be an unmovable object.” Rather, it means understanding and managing even the most difficult of students or situations, looking beneath behaviors for underlying causes. Build your students’ confidence with language, and watch out for cultural stereotypes.
  • Involve the adults in your students’ lives. Whether you send home a daily folder, use apps like Remind or Class Dojo, or use texting and email, making a connection with a student’s parents or guardians and keeping them informed of both a student’s positive and negative behaviors is key.
  • Take care of yourself first. Don’t forget that if you’re tired, stressed, hungry, or low on energy, you’re more likely to be easily frustrated by a busy, distracted, noisy bunch of students. The benefits of mindfulness and self-care “include improved executive function, greater empathy, and increased resilience—all qualities that will empower you to make better decisions when confronted with challenging classroom situations.”

Matching developmental milestones to classroom-management strategies

How does the fact that these are kindergartners change your needed classroom-management skills? Understanding the developmental milestones they’re reaching will go a long way toward adapting your process to their needs. Most kindergartners – about 80 percent – are 5 years old. They are well past their toddler years, but not quite a “big kid” yet. They are maturing physically, cognitively, emotionally, and socially. Imagine yourself on a seesaw, riding up and down between two extremes in all those areas.

While no one knows better than a teacher that every child is an individual, here are some milestones most of your kindergartners are experiencing, from Amy Morin, LCSW and editor-in-chief of VeryWell Mind:

  • Physical development: Both their fine motor skills (buttons and zippers, coloring, using silverware) and their gross motor skills (hopping, running) are increasing.
  • Emotional development: Kindergartners can use words to describe their feelings, though they may also get overwhelmed and have a meltdown. They very much want to please you. They are better at separating from their parents and have a longer attention span.
  • Social development: Five-year-olds also want to make and please friends. You may hear them express a desire to “be like the other kids,” in terms of appearance or activities. Because of this, adults need to be aware of any exclusionary or bullying actions among their students.
  • Cognitive development: By the time they’re in kindergarten, children can generally count to 10 and may be able to say the alphabet. They understand the difference between what is right and what is wrong. They are developing skill with such things as singing and dancing.

The best kindergarten classroom-management tips, from teachers

Networking with other teachers is the best way to get new ideas. Here are some tips from a few of the fabulous teacher blogs out there:

“As tempting as it is to just start teaching, take the time to make sure all your learners are not talking to their peers, their eyes are watching, their ears are listening, and their bodies are ready. When you set this clear expectation, your students know that when you start to teach, it is time to listen.” – from
“Centers in kindergarten are a must! However, figuring out how to start kindergarten centers can be tough. My advice to you is DO. IT. SIMPLY. My goal for that first week of school is to have students go to their station and stay! So, when I have a fun and engaging task for them to do there, it is simple.” –from
“My kindergarten teach uses clip charts; I call mine the Monkey Clip Chart. It uses colors and fun terms like Top Banana, Monkey See Monkey Do, and even A Little Monkey Business. Each student uses a clip with their name to move up and down depending on their choices. If a student makes a poor choice, they move down, but they have the choice to correct their behaviors. I send home their color every day in their agenda.” From
“It’s all about procedures, procedures, procedures. How to enter the classroom, what to do when you enter the classroom each morning, how to hang up your coat and backpack, what to do with notes from home, what the morning work/tasks are, how to join the class on the rug, how to respond/ask a question and wait to be called on, how to work in a group…When you start writing it down, it’s really surprising the number of behaviors kids are expected to know by the end of kindergarten. In between teaching them to read and count, kindergarten teachers also help little ones understand how to behave in a classroom, how to walk in a line, the right way and time to sharpen a pencil, and so much more.” From
“I do the first modeling. I get up and literally show the students what to do as I talk through the steps of the procedure,” she explains. Sometimes she shows her kids the wrong way to do things, too. “The students love this – and it is a great way to demonstrate some common things you could see without a procedure in place.” –
“Many kindergarteners are still learning to read, so combine written directions with images on your kindergarten classroom management anchor charts and procedure cards. This will ensure kids at every level can understand the message.” –

Learning new aspects of classroom management

For every tip above, we could have listed 100 more. One of the best ways to hone your classroom-management skills is to take a continuing education course that focuses on one aspect of the whole. Educational Development and Services – EDS – offers several courses that explore how to encourage, build, and emphasize proper behaviors and responses in the classroom that then allow students to learn. Explore Discipline Designed for Today’s Classroom in EDCU 9896, Create a Positive Learning Environment with EDCU 9895, learn the Key to Motivation and Learning in EDUU 9358, Create an Inclusive Classroom Environment with EDNU 9984, and many more. Explore all classroom management courses here, or download a course catalog to see even more possibilities.

–Image via iStock photos