My Squirrel Students: Picking a Spot to Play

My squirrel students are the ones who just cannot choose a place to play. They are the students who can go to 40 different places in the classroom within the first 7 minutes of playing in the classroom. It was exhausting my energy saying “Please choose a spot to play in the classroom or I will choose a spot for you.” The squirrel students were also bothering other students who had already established a chosen play place appropriately.

I thought long and hard about what to do for my worst offender, E. E displays immature behaviour on a regular basis in the classroom and needed lots of help picking a place to play. Here is what I developed for him.

I printed off a four square and slid it into a page protector. I placed it at eye level in the classroom so E could see it. I brought E over and told him that this four square was only for him and that it was to plan where he played in the classroom. We read the numbers together as well as the title. Afterwards, I explained to him that we would set my cell phone timer for five minutes. If he stayed at the first area of play for five minutes, he would be able to move on to the second square. After all four squares were complete, he was free to go where he wanted.
We then took a dry erase marker and drew the areas of play. Excuse my awful drawings – I was making it happen quickly. I chose the first square, E chose the second and third, and I chose the 4th.


This worked great the first day. He went to where he needed to go without complaints and felt totally empowered about the situation.


One problem: he couldn’t hear my cell phone timer because of loudness of the classroom. Claaaaaaaasic. I made a joke to my student teacher: “Well what should I do, tape my phone to his sweater?!” And she then smartly suggested a stop watch. The only stop watch I found in the school didn’t count down. Back to the drawing board. I didn’t want to use the online visual timers because we frequently use the smart board for visual directions. It’s tied up most of the time.
I remembered about a timer I use to have that worked great for literacy stations in previous years. I was cheap, loud, and portable. All things we K teachers love. Minus the loud, sometimes.


I laced it through a lanyard with some wire and had E wear it from play spot to play spot. I taught him how to set it, how it stop it, and how to restart it so he could move from area to area independently.



It is now hanging proudly on the board next to his four square, ready to wear for the following day. E was so proud to show his mom how this worked when they came for interviews.


Independence for the win.


The Smack Down: Preventing Bullying

Bullying is the latest buzz word everywhere. 6 years ago when I started teaching kindergarten, the term “bullying” was never something we needed to discuss as a class. As of late, my students have been coming to kindergarten using the term “bullying” WAY too freely. Student A pinches Student B: “He’s bullying me!” Student A whips their scarf around in the hallway and hits Student B by accident: “Hey! Quit being a bully!”
I agree that bullying has become an ongoing and more prominent problem within recent years, and that has made me focus on certain area in my teaching practice. It’s time teachers took steps to change their teaching to be more proactive rather than reactive when it comes to this subject. Teachers should discuss with their students, ESPECIALLY younger aged students, the difference between a bully and someone who is being mean. Here are the following areas I focus on heavily in my classroom to prevent my students from using such a strong term so loosely.

Talk About Comfortable Feelings vs. Uncomfortable Feelings
Whenever we are doing ANYTHING in the classroom, we talk about comfortable feelings and uncomfortable feelings.

I come into the classroom after recess and see many students on the carpet with their hands to themselves: “Thank you everyone. It gives me very comfortable feelings when I see that people are keeping their hands to themselves while waiting for me to come in from supervision. I feel so happy. Happy is a comfortable feeling.”
I see one student share a book with another student: “Wow Student A, Student B probably had very comfortable feelings that you chose to share the book with them. Sharing makes everyone feel happy. Happy is a comfortable feeling.”
I see a student excited to try a new game: “You look excited to play that game. Excited is a comfortable feeling.”
I see a student hit another student: “You hit Student A. Student A felt angry and upset that you hit them. That gave Student A uncomfortable feelings.”
I hear a student say something hurtful to another student: “You said a hurtful word to Student B that hurt their feelings. Now Student B is feeling sad. Sad is an uncomfortable feeling.”

It’s so important for students to be able to sympathize with the feelings of others so they can fully understand the situation at hand. All people have feelings. Students, pets, grown ups, everyone. It’s ok to have those feelings if something happens but it’s not ok to go around giving those uncomfortable feelings due to “not OK” choices.

Talk about “OK choices” and “Not OK choices”

As a teacher of young learners, this is a fundamental building block for consistent vocabulary in my classroom.
OK choices give people comfortable feelings.
Not OK choices give uncomfortable feelings.
Plain. And. Simple.
“You made the OK choice of telling Student B they needed to get their own piece of paper when they scribbled on your art. You also made the OK choice of getting your feelings under control, keeping your hands to yourself, and keeping your words kind. Your OK choice gave me comfortable feelings.”
“You made the not OK choice of pinching Student B when you wanted a turn with the toy. Your not OK choice made Student B feel angry and upset. Your not OK choice gave Student B uncomfortable feelings.”

If students know the black and white of situations, it makes it much easier for them to process. They’re young! Let’s not complicate things! That’s the reason why I don’t like any of the traffic light systems (red light, yellow light, green light) to discuss feelings. Three choices is too much. I also dislike the “how my engine runs” analogy with young learners. Then they think there is ACTUALLY an engine inside them somewhere. Let’s teach them the REAL stuff. The choices they make are either OK or NOT OK. OK choices give people comfortable feelings. Not OK choices give uncomfortable feelings.

Ask “What Can I Do To Make You Feel Better?”
My good friend Amy and I (@happycampergirl) use this all the time to avoid the lame “I’m sorry” words that students think make everything go away. I always make my student say “I’m sorry” but then make them add “What can I do to make you feel better?” Sorry doesn’t always make everything better. Student answers will surprise you. Answers have been: stop doing that to me, don’t do that next time, help me rebuild my castle, give me a hug, and play with me right now. This lets students know “but I said I’m sorry!” is unacceptable.

Talk About Facial Features
Point them out. Illustrate them. Look closely at pictures. Use peer models. Use teacher models. Do everything you can to point out different facial features associated with different emotions. And don’t forget to insert them into conversations you have with students. I had students who SERIOUSLY didn’t know that tears streaming down someone’s face means they are sad. To me, huge red flag, people.
“When you told Student B that you would play with them at recess, I bet that gave them comfortable feelings. When you said those kind words, Student B had a big smile on their face, their eyes were wide open, and their eyebrows were arched. Have fun!”
“Student B grabbed your block right out of your hand. That made you feel angry and upset. Angry is an uncomfortable feeling. You made the not OK choice of hitting Student B on the arm. When you hit Student B, did you look at their face? The corners of their mouth were turned down, they were frowning, they had tears in their eyes, and their eyebrows were scrunchy. Their face says they are having uncomfortable feelings. Those uncomfortable feelings happened because of your not OK choice.”

Talk About the Difference
We talk about the difference between a bully and someone who is being mean.
A bully is someone who bothers you every single day, seeks you out to bother you, is malicious, and knows they are being mean.
Someone who is being mean is a person who you have had ONE problem or a FEW problems with.
When I explain this to parents, I like to use the grocery store analogy. If you shop at Safeway and you have had 3 customer service issues while getting your groceries, of course you will complain about Safeway. Safeway is the only place you have gone for groceries. Safeway is someone who is being mean. They have given you a few problems, but they didn’t seek you out to give you these problems. The same goes with young kids. Of course they are going to complain about the same kids over and over: they play with each other and gravitate towards each other. They’re also all learning at the same time but at different rates.

These strategies have been very successful for me in my classroom. Being in a preventative mindset has been much more effective for me as a teacher rather than freaking out when one big blow out happens at recess. Consistent vocabulary has been fundamental for communication between me and my students and it also comes in handy when solving situations on the playground with my previous students.

Please know that the intention of this post it to outline what I have been doing in my classroom. I’m not saying bullying doesn’t happen. I’m not saying these strategies will solve everyone’s problems. I’m not saying bullying is happening less frequently. I’m just saying we try together, using strategies we know will work, to improve student communication, to improve students’ awareness of their feelings, and to know the difference between a real bully and age appropriate problems.


Anxiety in Kindergarten: Strategies That Work

My little B had anxiety. Mega anxiety towards recess and to leaving her family at the door at the beginning of the school day.
Mom was SO good. She did not bend down onto one knee and proclaim her everlasting love for her one and only daughter and say thing like “I’ll miss you too” and “You’re making mommy sad sweetheart!” She was a trooper. She held her hand as tears streamed down her daughter’s cheeks, gave her a swift kiss and said “I love you! I’ll see you at the end of the school day” and promptly left. Sometimes she would even leave her with another parent from our class who was also waiting to come inside.

Strategies I used in the classroom to curb the tears

1. Pair the student with a friend for recess
It was very comforting for B to know that a friend was waiting with her while she walked down the hallway, put her shoes on, and ran out to the park. 3 minutes before recess, I would pick 2 loving and excited peers and tell them “B is feeling a little sad today. Sad is an uncomfortable feeling. Do you guys think you could help B have comfortable feelings and wait for her to go out to recess together?” And of course, these loving 5 year olds had no problem with that.

2. Talk about what is giving the student uncomfortable feelings and ACKNOWLEDGE them
B and I talked about everything under the sun when it came to figuring out what was giving her uncomfortable feelings at recess and at drop off time. The reasons were endless but I addressed each one by letting her know it was OK to have those uncomfortable feelings. Lots of students think it’s not ok to feel mad, upset, angry, or frustrated. By telling B it was OK to have those feelings, we understood each other much better in our student-teacher relationship.

3. Insert the family link
I did some research on the Interwebz about separation anxiety. B’s mom DID say that her appetite was being affected by her anxiety, but nothing else lined up as far as actual separation anxiety goes. She did not refuse to go to school, she didn’t threaten her mom with consequences, she didn’t even put up a fight. Some of the research I read even says separation anxiety can’t even be completely confirmed until the age of 7. I feel this makes some sense since you need time and environment changes to be able to distinguish between separation anxiety and having uncomfortable feelings from change.
After much research, I came up with a plan. B loves books. B misses her family during the day. Together, B and I decorated a piece of purple construction paper (her colour choice of course!) with a photo of her family she brought from home. We drew four boxes at the top, one for each day she is at school. The deal was if she put on a brave face every single day she came to school and every time she went out for recess, she could draw a happy face on a sticky note and put it in the box. At the end of the week, 4 happy faces means Ss gets to take a book from the classroom home for the weekend.
Her eyes lit up at this proposal.


In our classroom, we don’t do stickers or candy or treasure boxes or prize bags or certificates. We do hugs and 5 fives from me and real rewards that promote healthy relationships.
Here is B happily choosing a book at the end of her 2nd successful week.


It’s also important to note that if B cried, that didn’t mean she didn’t get a happy face that day. That would be going against the technique of acknowledging the fact it’s ok to have uncomfortable feelings. She had to put on a BRAVE FACE during recess and drop off time. We talked about how a brave face means a smile in our face, and brave eyes that are the driest as possible for that day. I never once said she could not cry.

If you have a student in your class with a situation similar to B, I encourage you to try these strategies. B’s mom deserves a lot of credit too. She read The Kissing Hand and every other book printed on God’s earth to help B through this. She drew hearts in her arm for B to look at the during the day to let her know she loves her. They did the same thing each day during drop off and didnt let the situation linger.

I love winner parents.