Classroom Management Techniques in Kindergarten that WORK!

Classroom Management Techniques in Kindergarten that WORK

Classroom management is the key to teaching EVERYTHING in ANY grade!  And it is extra important in Kindergarten where we often find children that have never had any school experiences before.  Here is how to start your kids off right in in Kindergarten or Pre-K so that you can successfully teach the rest.

Obviously, Kindergarten and preschool teachers must teach children all classroom expectations from the very beginning– from lining up, to sitting and listening, and the list goes on!  So if you teach Kindergarten or preschool, remind yourself daily how important it is to be patient, and don’t get frustrated if progress is slow!  The less time your students have been in school before, the longer it will take.  But setting up your procedures and expectations will have huge pay-offs in the end, so keep at it!

As far as discipline is concerned, I use a lot of pro-active techniques, and then when those don’t work, I use time-outs.  Time-outs may seem a little old fashioned, but they do put an immediate stop to the behavior in question- usually!

Use Proactive Techniques

One important proactive technique is that I try never to ask them to sit longer than they can. So when they start to get wiggly (usually after about 10 minutes or so at the beginning of the year,) we stand up and sing some of my songs. That helps them get their blood moving and sends oxygen to the brain. It also usually makes them happy, and provides a good review of whatever concept the song was directed at. All of those things are good for maintaining a happy, positive environment, which boosts learning. This in turn makes them feel more successful as learners, and that influences behavior also.


Also, I try to get them to practice the behavior that I want as much as I can, and I do this a lot at the beginning of the year. So, let’s suppose I am reading a story and someone blurts out a comment without raising their hand, which is a no-no. Instead of immediately putting the child in time-out, I say, “Whoops, let’s try that again. I’m going to read this page again, and we’re going to see if everyone can be nice and quiet the whole time.” Then I do it again, and praise the kids if they get it right. Sometimes, I have the whole class clap, too. Rarely, a child will do the same thing twice in a row, but that almost never happens. If it does, I back up again and repeat my spiel.

Back Up and Try it Again

Have Children Model the Behavior You Want

Another thing to do is to choose a child or a couple of children to model the behavior that you want. Example: “Okay, let’s all watch Sophia and John while they listen to this page quietly.” Then read it, and have everyone clap if they get it right (which they will, of course!). If the child persists, it is probably willfulness, so I put that child in time out. If that doesn’t work, I tell him that he will have to practice being quiet at recess time or inside playtime. To make a child just watch while everyone else plays with toys is pretty hard on a kid, and they rarely forget it.

So the next day, if we start over with the same problem, I talk the child through the consequences of the day before, and remind the child of how it felt to watch everyone else play. That usually helps the child learn to think about where their actions are leading them.  If the child is able to think it through and stop heading in that direction, he or she often will.

Keep a List for Documentation

One thing I always do is keep a list of the things the child did to get into time out. I just keep a note pad on a table nearby. I do this because, in the flurry of activity that is Kindergarten, I often forget exactly what the child has done. So if a parent wants to know what happened, I am able to tell them exactly what transpired. I used to not write it down, but I often felt quite foolish when questioned by a parent after school or the next day (which is worse!) So now, if I write just a few quick notes next to a child’s name, that helps me out. If the child does the same thing again, I put a checkmark by his name to remind me how many times we dealt with that issue.

This is not a list that I put up for the children to see and be humiliated by; that is not my purpose. My purpose is just to have some kind of documentation at hand of troubles we had. Also, if I start writing misbehaving children’s names on a board for all to see, then I would also need to begin writing the good kids’ names as well. This starts to get time-consuming, and there seems to be so little time as it is. I do a LOT of, “I like the way so-and-so is sitting nicely,” etc. Kindergartners eat that sort of thing up, and it is very effective.

When All Else Fails…

Last but not least, if all else fails and you can’t seem to get through a lesson, try redirecting a child to a different activity. I do have an aide, and that helps. Sometimes, I would ask her to take that misbehaving child and do some make-up work with him or her, or have that child practice making patterns or sorting, or something else- ANYTHING else! Just get that kid away from the group lesson so that everyone else can have a chance to learn. I have a set of small paper plates that have numbers written on them with a black marker. She can have a child the correct number of counters on each plate, or clip the correct number of clothespins on each plate. (These are great for math lessons, too!)

A friend of mine used to have a bowl with a thin edge that she kept in the back of the room. It had clothes pins in it. The misbehaving child was to go clip all of the clothespins around the edge of the bowl. When he finished with all of the clothespins, he could rejoin the group. The problem was that he actually LIKED the clothespin bowl- but it seemed that the kid was going to misbehave no matter what!  At least it got him off doing something with his hands so that she could teach. It seemed to calm him down in any case, and that was a good thing.

A child like that, I think, is often still in “Preschool Mode,” and just can’t sit through a group lesson. He needs to have his hands on some real objects. A volunteer can help with that sort of thing, too. If you KNOW a child will disrupt a lesson no matter what, just put him aside to begin with and give him the manipulative, if it helps. That way, it is not a punishment, but a method of classroom management. I just tell the child that he or she is not in trouble, I’m just fixing it so that he or she can be good and get to play later. Sometimes, kids hate being away from the group, and will gradually learn to conform their behavior to what you want.

Routines are the Key!

I think that half the battle in K is getting the kids into a routine, so that they can easily follow your instructions even if they are NOT listening at all (which for some of them, might be true 90% of the time anyway!) When I introduce to the kids a procedure, such as how to clean up toys when the bell rings, or how to rotate from one group to another, I ALWAYS pick some children that follow directions well to demonstrate the behavior that I want. I take them through the whole rotation, from one table to another, ringing the bell in between “groups,” so the kids can see what is going to happen.

Watching other children model the correct behavior really helps the English language learners. They often cannot follow what you say, but a cooperative, motivated child will watch carefully and do what the other kids demonstrate. And that’s most of the kids right there! They do almost always wish to please their teacher- or at least they want the teacher’s attention!

Sometimes, I choose a child that often misbehaves to demonstrate the correct behavior! They are usually quite shocked that I picked them, but then rise to the occasion and show us all exactly what to do! After that, I TOTALLY know that this child understands exactly what is expected!  If he or she does not comply later, I just put him or her in time out, giving NO attention to that child at all. What Kindergartners want most of all is your attention. Be careful not to give it when the child is misbehaving, or you will wind up reinforcing that behavior that you were trying to avoid!

I try to hold off on any kind of “whole class earns a point” type of system, such as the traditional “Marble Jar” game until closer to the end of the year, when the kids have become very comfortable and perhaps start to see how far I might let my boundaries stretch. Systems like the marble jar, in which the teacher is constantly trying to catch them being good, tend to be time consuming and hard for me to remember to do. Yes, I routinely I do a lot of reinforcing, but mostly just verbally. When I get out the jars, I usually do it during the last month of school, and make it a competition between groups to see which group can earn the most cubes. That way, they are more motivated to behave when working alone at a particular center if there is no volunteer. I put a marble, token, or cube in front of each child on the table at the beginning of the group time. If I have to ask a child to settle down, then he or she must bring me their cube. At the end of that rotation, each child that still has a cube gets to put it in his group’s jar. I count or weigh the cubes when the rotation is over to see which group is the winner. The kids like to see the cubes weighed with a balance scale. 🙂

Simple Behavior Contract for Pre-K or Kindergarten. Free Download!
Simple Behavior Contract for Pre-K or Kindergarten. Free Download!

When I put a child on a contract, basically it is just a paper that I write down their issues of the day on, so that the parents can see how they did during each time slot of the day. I only do this when I absolutely HAVE to- no choice, since the child doesn’t respond to anything else. In that case, I have a happy face stamp that I put on there if the child had no problems during that time slot. The child that I started it for was ADHD and ODD (Oppositional defiance Disorder) and responded to nothing at all! I also made a little book for her to read and color in when she was having a hard time. (Click here to read more about this.) She would read it with my aide and then illustrate a page or two, drawing pictures of herself following the rules. For this kid, it worked like a charm. I hear a lot about the fact that people have never heard of this technique, so it’s a good one to keep in your back pocket in case you need it. Parents love it because it is a more positive approach. I have only had to use it twice in my teaching career of 24 years, though! So you can imagine just HOW DIFFICULT those two kids really were!

Check out my Classroom Management DVD and CD for songs to help with routine and behavior!!

Classroom Management


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Heidi Butkus

About Heidi Butkus

Heidi Butkus has been teaching in California public schools since 1985. She has somehow managed to stay in Kindergarten all of those years, with the exception of five years in first grade, and also taught a parent participation preschool for a short while! Combining a strong knowledge of brain research with practical experience, Heidi has created a wealth of fun and engaging teaching techniques that work well with diverse populations. She has presented at conferences nationwide, and is the owner and founder of Heidi has also created fourteen original CD's and DVD's for teaching beginning reading and math skills, three musical plays designed especially for young performers, and has written some picture books and many other teaching resources. Heidi's multimedia workshops are filled with fun and motivational educational activities that have been classroom tested and revised for effectiveness with all types of learners.
  1. My son is in kindergarten and not behaving for the teacher. Can you tell me more about the contract book you have made only a couple times. I would like to suggest that to teacher

    • Hi, Chris,
      Sorry that it took me so long to get back to you. Busy week!
      You can read more about the contract and little book that I made for the children here. There is a free downloadable copy of both the contract and the little book right there in the post. I hope that this helps you!
      In my opinion, the most important thing you can do to help your child behave in school is check in with the teacher every single day and find out how the child’s behavior was. If the teacher says that the child had problems, then back the teacher up 100%. Have some kind of consequence at home when the child does not behave. It could be a slightly earlier bedtime or an apology note handwritten by the child, telling the teacher what he did wrong and that he will not do it again. On the other hand, if the child has a very good day, then pour on the praise and spend some extra time with your child! Play a favorite game, have a favorite dessert, or read an extra book at bedtime. Just do something that communicates to the child that it is important to you that he respects the teacher and follows the rules.
      The worst thing you can do is let your child hear you bad-mouthing or disrespecting the teacher as you discuss the situation with your spouse. I believe that children pick up on conversations like this and begin to also lose respect for the teacher. NEVER tell the child that it is okay with you that he disobey certain rules! Your child will surely tell the teacher at some point, and you’ll have to deal with it. It also communicates to the child that the teacher is NOT in charge, and it really undermines the teacher’s efforts at maintaining classroom control.

      I hope that this is helpful…

  2. Thank you for this post. I just finished a two day sub teaching job for a very challenging kindergarten class. I am in great need for classroom management tips. I am specifically looking for ideas to get them to be quiet enough that other teachers don’t have to come in and scold them for being too loud. I tried the idea of using a baby doll and saying, “The baby is sleeping, do not wake the baby.” It worked for the morning. They knew if I had to go pick up the baby doll that they were being too noisy and would calm down. But afternoon was a different story. I just felt terrible that I could not maintain control. I don’t think I ever want to sub for this class again! Any advise would be appreciated.

    • Hi, Lisa!
      I’m sorry that it took me so long to get back to you. I was at a conference all weekend.
      Oh, it is SO difficult to be a sub! And it is such an important job! Where would we be without someone to step in and teach when teachers cannot be there? I’m sorry that you had such a difficult experience.
      Try to remember that being a sub is very different than being “the” teacher. Kids behave very differently when they are with the one that is in charge of them every single day! They are very aware of it when a new teacher comes in and is unfamiliar with the routine and does not know their parents, etc. And the thing is that this is not your fault! Another reason that the class probably got out of control in the afternoon was that the day became too long for them. Remember, they are only five years old, and it’s a long day. Also, you really don’t know what their normal behavior habits are. If they are like this for the regular teacher, then you are just fighting a losing battle!
      I’m with you- don’t sub for that particular class again. But DO sub for other classes again! Not every single one of them is going to be like this. You maintained control all morning, and that’s good.
      Read through this post, and this one, and see if there are any pearls of wisdom in there that may help you. And then I would also search online for classroom management tips for substitute teachers. It’s been MANY years since I subbed, so I don’t have much specific advice for you in this situation.
      Good luck!

  3. I am so thankful for you songs as I use them during transitions to keep students to the routines like you said. I love all your wonderful ideas for behavior management, but wanted to add one.
    The past seven years of teaching kindergarten, I have utilized a
    Stoplight Behavior Chart. Green stood for good, yellow was received
    after 3 warnings stood for uh-oh, and red was after an additional
    warning and a note went home. The biggest problem I had with this
    behavior chart was that neither I nor the students could always remember
    exactly what they did to receive a note home. At the end of this year, I
    thought to myself what the point of a behavior chart is if the students
    and I could not remember the negative behavior they did.
    So this year I found a solution! I created a Popsicle Stick Classroom
    Management System! Each popsicle stick stands for an expected behavior.
    This allows students to get direct reinforcement for a particular
    behavior skill. Find out more at or here

  4. Dear Heidi,

    I know that this is an older post but wondered if you can please help me.

    I’m in Australia and my daughter is 5yrs and 2months old and halfway through Kindergarten. She’s a great kid who is mostly well behaved, energetic and eager to learn, though her teacher talks to me almost every week if not multiple times a week with something, from her not being able to read properly yet know how to count back from 20 and to count up to 20 starting from any number and that she should know her sight words, to how she simply isn’t listening, that she’s always in fairy land, she is not paying attention, she doesn’t focus or engage and says she talks to the person next to her instead. I’ve asked if she could just move her away from that freind, but she comes back at me with ‘it doesn’t matter who she is sitting with, she just listen at all…’ And my daughter’s teacher then asks me if she is like this at home? I’ve said that she doesn’t have this problem at home because she doesn’t, she normally does listen and when there are the times that she isn’t, that she may be playing up that i talk to her in a firmer tone. My daughter doesn’t listen to me or my husband from time to time for sure but that’s not in any way to the extent that my husband or i think it’s a ‘problem’.

    There have been other mother’s in our class being told the same thing, with one mother told by the teacher that she believes she should have her daughter evaluated to check for any behavioral issues.

    I want my daughter to do well and if she ever needed help with anything further i will do all i can to provide that to her, i’d hate to miss something, but i can’t help that there may be issues from the Teacher’s end with this, i just don’t know she’s helping my daughter enough.

    I just wondered with all your experience if you could help me understand this better at all or have any advice for me…

    Kind Regards,

    • Hi, Glenda,
      That sounds like a very difficult situation for all involved, and I’m sorry to hear about it! The first thing that I would suggest is to see if you can go in and observe the class. See if you can spot any of the behaviors the teacher has been telling you about. It’s usually best to watch if your child doesn’t know she is being observed so that you can really see her natural behaviors in the classroom, but that might not be possible. Remember that a classroom environment is much more distracting than a home environment is due to the presence of many other children in the room and lots of things going on. I have heard many a parent tell me, “My child isn’t like that at home,” and I’m usually not surprised at all, because there would never be 20 children in the room at home. The classroom is inherently different than home, so naturally children respond and behave differently. So it’s important to find out if the teacher’s perceptions of your child’s behavior have merit in your eyes. If you can get in the classroom to observe, I highly recommend that you do so, and do it several times. Try it first thing in the morning, before recess, after lunch, and any other time of day that the teacher might recommend. Ask her when your child does better and when she typically has trouble, and try to come in and see her at all of those times. Another strategy is to ask a parent of another child to do the same for his or her child, and ask that parent to observe your child as well.

      As far as whether or not the teacher is helping, I couldn’t say! I haven’t met the teacher or your child, etc. But you could certainly ask the parents of the students that were in her class last year. Did this happen to anyone last year? What was done about it? Does anyone know how many students she felt were in need of special help, etc.? It may be that this year’s group of children is just a bit more difficult than usual, just due to the personalities of all involved. And it may be that there are things going on in the teacher’s life that are causing extra stress, and she is not able to be as patient as she would like.

      If being approached after school bothers you, ask her if she could fill out a daily or weekly report on your child’s behavior or academic progress. This might be easier to accept, especially if you only have to hear about it once a week. I would also ask her specifically what you can do to help. When she tells you that your child is struggling with certain subjects, I would assure her of your cooperation by describing what you are doing at home to help. Ask her if she would like you to fill out a log so that she will know what you are doing to help at home. If you are doing this, it is certainly reasonable to ask what she is doing at school to help your child learn.

      The other thing I think I would do is just sit down and have a talk with my child. “Your teacher says that you are daydreaming in class and talking with others rather than paying attention. What is going on?” Tell your child that you expect her to follow the rules and do her best every day, and that you will be checking with the teacher to make sure she is doing that. Let her know that she will not learn what she is supposed to be learning unless she pays attention, and it is up to her to look at the teacher when she is talking and focus with her eyes and her ears both. Tell her that even if she is seated next to someone that she enjoys talking to, it is her responsibility to keep her own mouth quiet and pay attention, no matter what.

      This is a hard thing to learn for little ones, for sure. It takes self-regulation skills, and that means taking responsibility for one’s self. There are ways to practice self-regulation skills at home. You may want to do a Google search on that. The sad truth of the classroom these days is that often times, there are just too many “talkers” to move kids around so that they are isolated from other talkers. The teachers try to help the kids by moving them away from the other talkative kids, but in the end, they will have to learn to make that decision for themselves.

      I think that the most important thing is to follow up in some way on what the teacher is telling you, even if you disagree or if you feel it may be an issue with the teacher herself. In my experience, teachers don’t enjoy telling parents that there is a problem with their child! I certainly don’t enjoy it! If there is a problem, do whatever it takes to help solve it on your end as much as you possibly can. Meet with the principal and teacher together to discuss your concerns. Bring your daughter into the conversation!

      Good luck! You may want to see if your daughter responds to any of our sight word videos on YouTube or on Vimeo. It might just help her learn and solve one of those problems! Feel free to email or respond with any other questions.

  5. Woow..its Really greate.

    Pre school/Kindergarten management softwares are now avilable to speed up Kindergarten management plans and funcations.

    Try SmartKG online nursery management system software to manage day-to-day activities of a kindergarten.

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