The Secret







No, not Oprah’s Secret, or the Ancient Chinese Secret (for those of you old enough to know what that is), it’s The Secret of how to get young children to listen to you.  I used to frequent an early childhood chatboard and this was the #1 question people would ask.  During the 10 years I spent on that site I  typed thousands of responses to this topic.   Now that I have a blog I can share “The Secret” with all of my lucky readers- namely you! 

Teachers are always complaining about their classes:

“My class is BAD, they never listen to me, they don’t even know how to clean-up!”

The real Secret is that it’s not about the kids at all, it’s about the TEACHER.  The teacher sets the expectations and establishes the rules, routines, and procedures.  If the kids don’t learn these things then it’s a teacher problem, not a kid problem.   There are no bad classes, there may be difficult or challenging students along the way, that’s only natural, but there is no such thing as a “bad class”.   Things can only change when the teacher accepts responsibility for the student’s behavior and examines his or her teaching practice in an effort to make changes- then and only then will things improve. 

The Secret really isn’t a Secret at all, in fact, many of you probably do some or all of these things already.   Here is a list of the components that make up The Secret of how to get young children to listen to you:

  • Props
  • Music & Movement
  • Positive Phrases
  • Clear Rules, Routines, and Procedures
  • Consistency
  • Clear and Logical Consequences


Props:  Easy Button, pointers, plastic microphones, pom-pom’s, “magic” glasses…  The use of props will raise the level of student engagement while decreasing the amount of time spent on redirection.   It’s absolutely amazing how motivating props can be for young children!

Music & Movement:  Incorporating music and movement into your daily routine will increase student engagement dramatically.  I notice that some teachers “chunk” music and movement into a designated part of the day, but it’s much more effective when it’s embedded throughtout the entire day.   For example, start your day with a good morning song that includes movement, during your calendar time sing a days of the week song that has movement, sing a weather song when you talk about the weather and so on…

Positive Phrases:  For example, ” I see _____ has that ready to learn look!”  Using specific and positive phrases consistently will redirect behavior in a positive way without signaling out the negative behaviors.   Using  just one positive phrase will get you much more bang for your buck than negative phrases like “Johnny, sit down!  Stop touching your friends!”  With the negative phrase you are only addressing Johnny and possibly losing the other students when your attention is directed away from them, with a positive phrase the other students will respond in kind seeking out positive recognition.



Clear rules, routines, and procedures:  Having a rules chart with pictures and a daily schedule with pictures will help tremendously.   Of course, just having these things on your wall won’t help at all, you must USE them effectively.  For example, display the rules chart in your large group area and refer to each rule by pointing to it before you begin your lesson.  The same thing goes for the schedule, it’s not wall art, it should be referenced at each transition and a marker of some type should indicate which activity is currently taking place in the classroom.  Involving students in both of these processes is also very effective, have students come up and point to each rule on the rule chart, have a designated student helper move the marker on the schedule.

Consistency: It’s extremely important to be consistent when working with young children.  If you are inconsistent they will sense it and take advantage of you. 

Here is an example of consistency:

On Monday the teacher uses the rules chart and reviews the rules with the class before her lesson.  For every transition she uses the picture schedule.  She embeds songs into her lessons throughout the day.  Monday was a good day, everything went smoothly, there were very few behavior problems. 

An example of inconsistency would be:

On Tuesday the teacher is rushed so she skips the rules chart and picture schedule.  She doesn’t do any music or movement with the class due to the lack of time.  Tuesday was a rough day, the students were misbehaving and not listening, the teacher spent a lot of time redirecting misbehavior which contributed to her feeling of being rushed or behind schedule. 

Clear and logical consequences:  This one is pretty self-explanatory.  If Johnny is throwing blocks in the block center a logical consequence would look like this:

Johnny, I noticed you are throwing blocks at your friends, do you think that’s a good choice?  What might happen if you throw blocks at your friends?  School is supposed to be a safe place, do you think throwing blocks is safe?  No, neither do I.  You can choose to stop throwing and continue to play nicely with the blocks.  If you continue to throw the blocks then you will be choosing to sit out and just watch.   What is your choice?

 As you can see, it’s not rocket science, it’s just good ole common sense.  

p.s. Here’s one more “little secret”- she who has the cutest classroom does not always win!


3 Responses

  1. You are so right. There are no bad classes. I hear that all the time too. I have never had a “bad class” in all my 20+ years. What I see are teachers trying to be friends with the students. Wrong. You can be nice but they have there own friends. Set your rules the first week. Have the class help set the rules. I sub now and I hear or see notes from the teacher that I have a bad class. Well, I never have problems in the classroom that I sub with. Short story: I can to sub one day the office, para, other teachers in the room are telling me oh you will have a real problem with ___ and the class really doesn’t behave. Well to make the story short, by the afternoon everyone was saying oh therers the teacher who had the class under control. I didn’t do anything different than I would have done in my own classroom. I made sure that I made eye contact, praised and remined the students how to act . As you said you are the teacher!

  2. We had a day like your sample of an inconsistent day last week. Early in the day there was a fire drill which totally got us off our schedule. My lead teacher (I’m her assistant biting at the bit to take over when she leaves this summer!) kept talking about how “bad” the students were that day. But their whole schedule had been thrown off and then she didn’t have anything challenging or engaging planned for them to do. Of course they were out of control, they were BORED! Thank you for these great reminders of how to keep them engaged and in control. 🙂

  3. What a great post. I know that my inconsistent days are the worst and as unhappy as I might initially be that the kids are not “listening” when I review the day, I see that I led the way.

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