Some teachers have an innate sense when it comes to classroom management while others learn through trial and error. Today I will share with you how my classrooms under the age of 6 operate in hopes to help your classroom function a bit smoother.
1) Group your classes by age. I put my 3-4 year-olds in one class and 5-6 year-olds in another. Often times I see groupings of ages 3-5 year-olds. The movement ability of a 3 year-old versus a 5 year-old is dramatically different. 3 year-olds are beginning to learn how to skip and balance while most 5 year-olds can do these things easily. Having a classroom with such varied abilities can result in loss of engagement and behavior problems. You'll hear the phrases "it's too hard" or "I'm bored". So, my first piece of advice is narrow the age range down and take away the ability for behavior challenges.
2) Use colorful gaffers tape on the floor. Children need to learn distancing and self awareness. Having a physical space for them to stand helps provide these boundaries when dancing. My preferred method of choice is gaffers tape. Why?
Students can't move it.
It is inexpensive and it comes in multiple colors so you can easily change the colors for variety.
You can write a child's name on it. This helps me out when setting choreography. It is a quick reminder of where their spot should be versus looking through my notebook. Plus, having their name on a spot provides them with a sense of ownership that they love.
Yes, some teachers use moveable plastic dots on the floor for marking out personal space. The dots function fine however, I personally don't want the repeated conversation of "put your dot back down on the ground please". Also, gaffers tape is just a safer and less time consuming option when you transition between across the floor and personal space activities often. You don't need to spend transition time moving dots out of the way.
3) Transition frequently. As I just mentioned above, I transition between across the floor and personal spots frequently. This happens at least every 5 minutes. I find that transitioning frequently suits the needs of all learner types and keeps them engaged longer. Some children are very active and need to move around constantly so keeping them on one spot for too long isn't practical. Providing them a release with across-the-floor movement before focusing on a slow movement skill has proven to be most effective in my classroom.
For extra smooth transitions, assign an across-the-floor leader of the day. He or she will stand on the beginner spot while the other students will find a place in line. This will establish a quick and efficient routine that eliminates hurt feelings and behaviors about not being able to go first.
4) Have a set structure students can remember. My classroom is broke down into a 5-finger method. The first thing I do when I start class is share the goals for the day. Each goal is represented by one finger on my hand. When a goal is reached I lower the finger and review what is remaining. This helps calm students who need to know what is coming next. It also eliminates the questions of "when are we going to__". This is the 5 step structure I follow:
Warm-up - This includes many short exercises such as: arms and head, toes and knees, transfer weight & balance, little jump patterns
Across-the-floor - This includes a few exercises such as: leaps over an object, gallops in all directions, free choice across-the-floor
Free choice activity - This is where students get to create and move how ever they want. I usually chose only one of the following activities per class: freeze dance, using props, playing with music tempos, etc.
Learn a dance - work on whatever choreography is needed for the next performance.
Pro-tip: If the dance involves use of a prop, provide the students with free time to dance
with the prop how they would like
Stretch & go home - This includes a variety of short exercises that stretch and strengthen the legs, back, stomach and arms. I personally use a lot of imagination in these activities. A couple of examples are: pretending to be walruses and boats while doing back stretches and making a cookies while straddle stretches,
5) Classroom reset. Are things getting wild? Bring everyone in close and sit in a circle. Lower you voice to a whisper and give praises on the positive things you were seeing. Give reminders about the negative behaviors you saw without naming a child. Review the remaining goals you have for the day and provide instructions leading back into the next task. Finally, make observational praises as the students are doing as you asked. "I see Sara found her spot on a pink piece of tape. Oh now I see Henry did too!"
The key points to note here are:
Lowering you voice helps students calm down and listen to your words.
Child seek approval so hearing praises will motivate them to follow directions too so they can receive them as well.
6) Rewards. There are many reward systems teachers develop for their young students. I'm not a fan of them. Some use sticker charts or prizes to reward students for participation and good behavior. I believe that good behavior should be expected and therefore does not warrant a reward. Plus, it eases the disappointment when they reach the age sticker charts are no longer used.
Other teachers use vocab. mastery charts with a reward for completion. I believe that this system gives the mindset of completion when in reality you will always have to work on the basics.
So what do I use? At all levels. I reward my students with the ability to learn more challenging technique when a skill is mastered. I never imply that they have completed learning a step, I just alter their focus to another goal. In a classroom with 5 year-olds it might look like: "Sara, I see that when you jump across-the-floor, your legs are super straight. Good job! Let's make things a little more challenging and add these arm shapes to your jump too."
On a side note, I also focus on the positives when correcting technique. "Sara, I see that when you jump across-the-floor, your front leg is super straight. Good job! Let's work on straightening the back leg too." The more positive you can be will result in a more confident dancer.
7) Repetition. Children love and find comfort in repetition. They will watch the same shows on TV over and over again. So, they are perfectly happy doing the same dances over and over too. When it is time to switch things up a little I'll add a prop or switch song tempo. This little addition brings life back into a dance that has been used repeatedly.
8) Take a break spot. At times children will need to take a break. Whether they are over stimulated, hurting from a minor fall, or processing an emotion; have a dedicated safe space for them to rest in. It is NOT a space to use for consequences. It is just a safe space to use for a moment where they won't get hurt while the class continues. They are always free to re-join the group whenever they are ready.
There is no right or wrong way to structure your classroom. What works one year might not work the following year with new students. All you have to do is find a balance between the different types of learners in your classroom and make sure their needs are met. I hope these tips provide you with some insight on how I try to eliminate challenges that might arise.