Priorities for the Youngest Students

What should kindergarten and first grade teachers prioritize in order for their students to have a positive early school experience that equips and prepares them for the rest of their school years?

1. Security. First of all, students should feel that they are in a safe environment where they feel cared for and protected. Five or six is still a fairly young and tender age, especially since most of our students are used to being at home with their parents for almost all of their preschool years. It’s best if they can visit the school while it is in session. This is best done with a parent holding their hand if necessary, leading and guiding them, encouraging them and reassuring them that this is a safe and enjoyable place to be. They should be welcomed by the teacher and other students, who should smile and be friendly.

The environment makes a huge difference as well. It should be warm, interesting, and inviting, opposed to cold and sterile. We usually have age-appropriate books and a few puzzles out on tables. Art adorns the walls, and our current art projects are usually in progress laying nearby. There should be an extra desk for any visiting student to try out, and a carpeted, comfy reading area. Ours has a teepee on a soft rug, crocheted fruits and vegetables, books, and brain games in it. Students are encouraged to explore these areas at some point in their visit.

We have had students enjoy their visits the most when they were included and got to participate in whatever classes were going on when they arrived. We have extra papers or supplies nearby, and students are invited to join in the current classes, but they are never put on the spot and asked to answer a question unless they want to.

One of the greatest fears younger students have at school are the older students. It helps if they are introduced to these older students while they are seated, not standing up and looking tall and scary to the younger ones. I ask my older students to smile and say hello. We strive for more of a family atmosphere, and being kind to the youngest students goes a long way toward this goal.

All of these should help students to feel welcome, safe, secure, and cared for at school. If students are worried or don’t feel safe, they are going to have a hard time relaxing or learning.

2. Calmness. The early years of school set a precedent and mold a student’s state of mind and how they approach school. School should usually be quiet, calm, and orderly. Nothing should be rushed. Everything should be purposeful and calm. The teacher should set the pace for this by leading her students well and setting a calm example. Softness and gentleness should be the norm, and she should lead out with authority and calmness. This does include lunchtimes and breaks. There should be times of laughter and rest—a mental break—but not a time of chaos and disorder. After lunch, it is more effective if students have a bit of free time, but not so much that they get into a rollicking game of softball. If you’ve got a history class after that, they are probably going to have trouble paying attention. I have found that it works better if students have just enough time to relax a bit. Then their minds will be refreshed and ready to get back to work. P.E. class is a little bit later in our day, with classes like music and art which don’t take as much focused energy following it.  

3. Order. Working side-by-side with calmness is order. There should be a set schedule for the day that is usually pretty closely followed so that students, especially the younger ones, will know what to expect. There is also safety and comfort in following a daily “rhythm.”  

The teacher should also make sure that the students are all listening when directions are given, and that students understand exactly what it is they are to do. Practicing doing things correctly ahead of time (raising hands to speak, etc.) is very helpful for all students, but especially the youngest ones.

4. Handwriting! From the very beginning, having good handwriting should be stressed. Students should learn the correct way to hold their pencils, using the thumb and first two fingers in a “lobster pinch.” The triangular rubber pencil grips are extremely helpful in this endeavor, and we make sure that all students start out with them and have access to them as long as they desire.

Students should also learn how to correctly make the strokes the right way. Teachers should repeatedly model this in large, bold strokes on the board, and then have students practice this with them in the air, finally repeating the process on paper. The larger lined paper should be used. I prefer the kind that only has one dotted line down the middle and a red line for the baseline. Students should also clearly understand which letters go “down to the basement:” g, j, p, q, and y. Students will often try to keep the letters above the line if they are not taught properly.  

They should also learn to press down fairly hard with their pencils and make bold downstrokes—not faint upstrokes—when writing. This will result in purposeful and precise strokes, and not wispy light ones.

5. Focused work ethic. Having an overall classroom culture of focusing on work when it is time to work, but then having order and calm when it is time for the less-focused activities is a wonderful balance. Students will feel safe in these parameters, know what is expected of them, and will perform accordingly.

6. Consequences. While obviously these should not be stringent, there should be set classroom procedures that allow a teacher to maintain both his classroom culture and calm demeanor. That’s where consequences come in. This often entails a warning, followed by a time out in a space away from the rest of the class but still visible to the teacher, and finally, a written slip or communication with a parent. Students thrive when they are operating within set parameters with known consequences if they make the choice to function outside of these guidelines.

Pass it on:

Related Items

Leave a Reply


Leave Feedback