Consistent and Realistic Expectations for VPK age children
Anyone who has spent time with four and five-year-old children understands that they have limited attention spans. Typically, they have the most difficulty with activities that require sitting and listening for prolonged periods of time. They can sit and listen to a story or watch a science demonstration that precedes a hands-on activity for about 10 to 15 minutes. Anything longer, and they are fidgeting, looking around the room, or talking to a friend. In order to keep on task and focused, four- and five-year-olds need to be actively engaged in their learning.
Watch this segment of a large group lesson. Notice how the teacher breaks up the content so that it matches the children’s developmental interest and abilities.
Four-, and five-year-olds are filled with energy and need to be active and to have productive avenues to direct this energy. Keeping a steady and even pace to the activities in the classroom will help channel children’s energy in the appropriate direction. Too many activities that require sustained attention will result in the children losing interest. Also, there needs to be age-appropriate transitions for one activity to the next. Using a familiar song, jingle, or physical movement to indicate transition from one activity to the next can help reduce the confusion in the classroom.
VPK age children can follow simple two-step commands with success. When a teacher asks her VPK class to clean up the center activity areas and line up to go outside. The children scurry because they are anxious to play on the playground. However, when children are given too many directions to follow, they will not be able to process all the information. Situations that request more than what a child can do result in frustration and give the appearance that children are not following directions. This is especially true when children are transitioning from one activity to another, as following directions can be difficult with the added activity in the room.
Learning to get along with other children is one of the most important milestones for VPK age children. Children need to learn how to work and cooperate with one another. Aggressive behavior can be seen in the way in which some four and-five-year-olds express their anger or frustration over a situation. However, it is not acceptable classroom behavior. At this age, children need to understand that using words instead of actions is the more effective way of communicating their feelings. Behavioral interventions such as removing the child from the situation coupled with a verbal explanation are the most effective ways to deal with aggressive behavior. If children are presented with circumstances that are socially and cognitively frustrating, they can behave aggressively. That is why it is so very important that classroom activities are appropriate for the developmental level of the children.
Below is an example of how two children solved a conflict with the assistance of the teacher. The teacher is artful in her management of the conflict and assisting these VPK age children in understanding how to solve this situation in a way that is developmentally appropriate.
Rules that are Relevant, Clear, and Understood:
Every teacher runs into situations in which children do not follow the rules. One of the most important parts of social education is teaching children that communities, such as the classroom, have rules that must be followed. This helps children develop self-discipline, so they will better follow these rules in the future. How do you plan to make these rules, communicate them to the students, and enforce them?
There are three important aspects to creating rules that are relevant and clear. First, you must create the rules, Next you need to practice the rules so they are easily recalled and applied when needed. Lastly, you need to have a response for when the rules are broken. These will be discussed in the depth below:
When developing classroom rules and expectations, make sure they are realistic and obtainable. For example, you may have a rule that whenever children use markers, they must replace the cap when they are done. For older children, you can ask that they replace the correct color cap, but for younger children, this may be difficult, so it may be an unrealistic rule. Every child should be able to follow all the rules without much trouble, and the rules should be similar to rules they encounter in other classrooms.
Teaching Rules: The Basics
Here are some general ways to assure you provide rules in a relevant way to young children in you VPK classroom:
- Make sure you have the child’s attention before you give the direction. Many times, the child may not even hear the direction or realize the direction is being given to him. The teacher can begin a direction to the whole class by saying, “I need everyone to listen” or the teacher can begin a direction to an individual child by tapping him on the shoulder or saying his name.
- Minimize the number of directions given to children. Research shows that teachers give a very high number of directions to children, many of which teachers do not follow through with. It is important to give only directions that you want the child to comply with, give directions in a positive way that tells the child specifically what to do, and give the child time to respond before giving another direction. Also, it is important to follow through if the child does not follow the direction.
- Individualize the way directions are given. Some children may respond well to verbal direction, while others may need physical prompts or pictorial prompts to follow the direction
- Give clear directions. Tell the child exactly what you want her to do. Avoid directions that are vague such as “be careful” or “settle down.” These directions could be substituted with “hold on to the railing” or “sit quietly.”
- Give directions that are positive. Maintain a positive tone when you give directions. For instance, saying “Walk” instead of “Don’t run!”
- Give children the opportunity to respond to a direction. Avoid giving multiple directions at one time without giving the child a chance to respond and without acknowledging the child for responding
- Follow through with positive acknowledgment of children’s behavior. It is important that children understand when they are following directions.
Practicing the Rules and Expectations:
Always teach expectations to students before implementing consequences. If students break a rule they did not know about, it is unrealistic to punish them for it. One of the best ways to make sure students know the rules is to involve them in the process of defining these rules. Gather all the students together and ask them for ideas for classroom rules. Students may suggest rules that they have had in other classrooms, rules that they have at home, or rules that they make up themselves. At each suggestion, explain why it would or wouldn’t work, and write down the ones that work, with some modifications as necessary. If students don t think of a rule that you think is necessary, guide them toward it, or suggest it yourself if they can’t think of it. If a student objects to a rule, make sure to address that concern and explain why it is necessary.
The importance of practice:
Just because children can articulate the rules doesn't mean they will follow them. Far from it. Young children are just beginning to learn self-control, effective communication, responsibility, empathy, and the myriad other skills needed to live and learn peacefully with others. To be successful, they need lots of encouragement, support, and practice in applying the rules to a wide variety of classroom situations.
How to Practice: The Strategies
Two key ways for VPK children to practice the rules are modeling and role-playing.
- Modeling the rules
If we expect students to walk when moving around the room, put away the equipment, show interest when a classmate is speaking, or settle into their seats quietly when they come to circle, we have to show clearly and directly what these actions look like.
Modeling is a good technique for doing this. It typically includes these steps:
- The teacher names the expected behavior and connects it to a classroom rule.
- The teacher (or a student) demonstrates the behavior.
- The teacher asks students what actions and expressions they noticed.
- The teacher asks for students (or additional students) to demonstrate.
- The whole class practices the behavior.
Watch the Video to see how this techniques is used in a VPK Classroom
2. Role-playing the rules
Role-playing is useful for practicing appropriate behavior in more complex social interactions where students must choose from a wide range of possible behaviors. Good topics for role-playing include sharing materials, including classmates in activities, and supporting someone who makes a mistake. Role-playing allows the teacher to acknowledge the complexity of these situations and give students practice in making responsible choices. Here are the steps:
- The teacher brings up a situation, connecting it to classroom rules.
- The teacher describes a scenario.
- The teacher starts the action, freezes it before the negative behavior occurs, and asks for suggestions of positive behaviors.
- The actors act out students' suggestions.
- The class role-plays the same issue using a different scenario.
Watch this video to see how this technique is used in a VPK classroom
Be a "practice coach" for learning and for life
Will practicing the rules guarantee that students will live by them? No. There will still be times when children forget or choose not to follow the rules. But when teachers allow students time to think about and practice the rules, students pay more attention to the rules. It sounds simple, but it’s true. Practice is as important to social learning as it is to academic learning. As teachers, one of our greatest services is to be a "practice coach" for learning and for life.
Watch this video to see how to be a “practice coach”
Responding to Rule Breaking:
The first time students break a rule, make sure they understand not just that the rule exists, but why it is necessary. The punishment for breaking a rule should fit the rule as well as possible. If the student doesn’t put a cap back on a marker, for instance, you should certainly start with a reminder of the rule; take away marker privileges only after the student repeatedly ignores the rule. If a student is verbally or physically abusive toward another student, the consequences should be more severe. Always talk to the child about the purposes of the rule, and why it is wrong that the rule was broken.