Children Thrive on Routines: The Power of Rhythms for Individualized Classrooms

One of the advantages of individualized curricula is that children can work at their own pace. But that flexibility can also become a student’s enemy, suggests Marla. She firmly believes that elementary students need the support of an established routine. In this video, she shares her approach to setting expectations, guiding students through their books, and rewarding their success with an in-room recreation area.

I just realized how much children depend on routine and things being the same. You change one thing they’ll let you know. Even though they want something out of the ordinary sometimes. Like the other week, I decided I was going to move the ball boxes. Did not tell anybody, I mean it wasn’t like something us teachers had agreed on or anything, I said, “I’m just going to move ’em and see what happens.” Well, my recess was done, I told my children, “I put the ball boxes here so when you’re done put the balls in here.” Well, our recess was done, Room Three came out, zoom right to the place where they’re used to having the ball boxes. “The ball boxes are not there,” and they don’t look around, they just zoom into Brother Troyer’s room and say, “Where’s the ball boxes?” And it was just, you know, just a small incident but it proved to me how much children thrive on something being constant.

Well to me a routine is super important. Children thrive on it. They know that I’m going to keep the same routine every day, they know what to plan on and then I can also hold them to that. You know, if they knew that they were supposed to have their corrections at this time and they didn’t then there’s a consequence for not having that done. So it makes life easier for me and them both.

So I have class periods every day and I know not every individualized school has that but I have been pretty firm on that ever since I’ve taught. It is, we start out our morning, we have Bible first and then we do math and then after that is language.

I just feel that it’s the teacher’s responsibility to instill that in them ’cause they’re not going to just, most of them, will not naturally come to that. That way we all stay together as a class because it’s chaotic if you let some be here and some there in their work and I get frustrated because it just, it just doesn’t work well. I don’t want to be lecturing this over here to this student and this over here to this student because this one’s fast and this one’s slow. And so, you kind of have to find the spot where, between the slow student, to where they can try to keep up and to pull back the fast student.

When they come I try to give them a few basics and I add along the way ’cause it’s overwhelming to, the first day of school, to say, “This is how it all is,” it’s too much. They can’t remember it.

And I always have it up on the wall so that they can learn to read clocks and so they can see what time, what time the clock, or the hands are supposed to be when it’s a certain class period. And while it gets kind of boring the children do depend on those clocks every year, especially when they’re just learning what my schedule is. I’ve seen it work.

I always require them to make sure that they take care of corrections, from the day before, which I write on front of their Light Units. And then they may not do the new stuff, whatever new material they have, they may not do that before I lecture that to them. They can work on the We Remember, which is simply things they’ve learned previous days, and then they need to be working on that subject in that class period only.

Another reason I think it’s so important is these children are not old enough to be self-disciplined in knowing how to manage time. So it’s my responsibility to manage that for them. And hopefully by the time they become older it has helped them to learn how to manage their time for their classes or for their subjects.

Sometimes students, even with this setting, they have troubles so I make lists, and say, “Don’t think about anything else except for this and don’t think about anything else except for this,” and then they can mark it off and they can see what they got done and feel good about what they’ve accomplished. If they don’t get this subject done within the class period, they will not finish it up the next class period until that subject has been done. So, if they didn’t get done in math we just put math away while we do language arts. If they get done with their language arts early then they come back and finish up math.

Now that has a potential of stacking up if you don’t get anything finished in every period. But my experience has been, almost always, the children learn that that’s what’s going to happen and so they learn to manage their time and get it done.

That’s not saying we don’t have plodders, I always, usually, I have one or two that just, you have to push and push ’em. There again, it’s not that I never make exceptions. Students that struggle, you can tell that it’s not that they’re not trying but they simply struggle in school. You have to make exceptions for them. Say they got done early this time in this subject, I’ll say, “Go ahead and get started with the next thing,” but I might not let the fast student because the fast student needs to be slowed down, otherwise he’d get all his work done in the morning and wouldn’t have anything to do in the afternoon.

I usually tell them, “You just need to do something quiet at your desk,” and the ones that routinely get done early, they can go, I let them go look at a book, like, they can look at any of the books that are back there on the shelf or maybe they have a library book that they read and if I see them doing that I know they’re done with their work for that period.

(When students are done with their work for the day, they can visit the classroom play area.) Yeah, it’s just they’re not allowed, I do not let them play back there until after last recess and then they have to say their Bible memory, they have to say a verse and usually one that we have not worked on in the morning. And then once they’ve said that, then can go back there after last break and they play games—and today they were all reading, which is not, that was kind of abnormal, really—draw on the chalkboard and anything that’s just not too disruptive.

If there’s any children in a classroom that maybe come from a home that is less than ideal, maybe things are anything but routine there, they come to school where’s there’s one place that they can depend on that things are going to be the same every day. And it’s security for them. If a struggling child or… come to school and at least provide some sort of haven of something, a safe place, a routine place, a secure place that they can… they know what to expect next.

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