Recently, I met with a parent who had visited several child care sites looking for a program to enroll her child. “I saw interested programs, attractive settings, and spoke with teachers who possessed the proper certifications, but there was so much noise from both the teachers and children. Everyone was screaming!” she said. “Are there programs where a quiet atmosphere prevails and children like mine can engage in a learning environment? How do some programs maintain order while others appear to have chaos? What makes the difference?”
Keeping the Peace
Clare Cherry author of Please Don’t Sit on the Kids and Listen to the Quiet asks, “What do you do when a child is disruptive and uncooperative? Discipline the child? Traditionally, disciplining children has meant shouting at them, humiliating them, intimidating them – punishing them. Does it work? If it did, would disciplinary problems be at the top of the list of teachers’ worries and woes?” In her book, Cherry takes a hard look at the traditional idea that discipline equals punishment. Instead, she encourages teachers to offer what she calls a “nondiscipline discipline.” She encourages teachers to:
Another educator who believes in peaceful classrooms is Virginia Stackens-Crump, principal of the Parkview Montessori Magnet School in Jackson, TN. Stackens-Crump believes teachers and staff must model appropriate behavior because children copy what they observe. Many of the students at Parkview Montessori come from public housing projects, single parent homes, and households with low-income and/or unemployment. Learning what is expected is not often taught to these children at home. Therefore, some of these young children come to preschool programs not knowing how to take turns, how to share materials and supplies, or how to play and work in a group setting.
Visitors to the school are amazed at how children and teachers speak with respect to one another. Children speak in low voices and walk instead of running in the halls. Common courtesies, such as “Thank you” and “Please” are part of each day’s routine. Stackens-Crump believes adults must take the initiative in creating a calm atmosphere in the classroom. “Virtues, including humility and patience are most needed by the caregiver,” says Ms. Stackens-Crump. “Teachers need an inner peace, which permeates the classroom as well as the children under their care. When teachers have this inner peace, children have a basic interest and delight in exploring educational material.”
Parkview Montessori gives children guidelines and procedures, along with high expectations. The adult must consistently set a good example of desirable behavior for the children, following the same ground rules of the class, and exhibiting a sense of calm, grace, and courtesy. In order to teach respect, a teacher must be respectful to students.
Calm classrooms need to have fair and individualized discipline. Children want and need boundaries. They feel safe in knowing you’re there. “If a river has no boundaries, it flows over the land and never flows into the delta or an undesignated area,” says Stackens-Crump. “Children, who are undisciplined are like a river with no perimeter.”
Suggestions for Implementing Calmness
Use inside and outside voices. When speaking to children, say, “When we are inside our voices sound like this (use soft voice, but speak distinctly). When we are outdoors, we can use our outside voices (use a louder voice).”
Position yourself near the child to whom you are speaking. Stoop to the child’s level or sit nearby, otherwise young children see only legs and knees of tall adults.
Play quiet music to calm a restless classroom. Choose selections from nature such as waves lapping on the beach, a gentle wind blowing, or birds singing. It’s amazing how music can reduce tension in both teachers and children.
Alternate types of activities throughout the day by including those that develop both fine motor and large motor muscles.
Redirect loud noise. You can replace loud and disruptive behavior with a quiet game or activity.
Plan for different modes of learning, including auditory, visual, and kinesthetic. Teachers often teach in the mode in which they learn best. Providing for different styles of learning keeps children on task and reduces stress in the classroom.
Realize that outdoor play should be part of each day’s program. Go outside even when it’s cold or rainy. Bundle the children up in coats and caps and rain gear for quick a walk around the program’s property. A few moments outside can significantly reduce tension.
Give awards or tokens for appropriate behavior. Reward children with free center time, leader of the day, group leader, and classroom helper tokens.
Talk calmly with children. Try to find out the problem and talk about ways of solving the situation. Children mature as they learn approaches to handling behavior and responsibility.
Teachers who design a peaceful classroom where learning takes place show alternative ways to deal with yelling and screaming. Yes, it requires time and patience. But the rewards benefit your students for a lifetime.
Rating Scale for Staff
Read the following statements. On a scale from 1 - 10 (with 10 being the highest score), how do you rate?
_____ Transitions, or moving from one activity to another, creates behavior problems in my class.
_____ I ask parents to inform me of problems a child may be experiencing at home that may affect behavior in our program.
_____ I realize that children learn in a variety of modes and I plan for individual needs.
_____ I try to control the physical environment so as to minimize stress and promote trust and cooperation.
_____ I understand the value of humor in easing a tense situation.
_____ I give hugs or pats on the back frequently.
_____ Sometimes the best solution is to deliberately ignore a provocation.
_____ My classroom is one that offers choices for activities.
_____ I understand the value of praise and compliments in working with children.
_____ I try to model constructive methods of handling anger and resolving conflicts.
Resource List for Teachers and Parents
The following books will be helpful in dealing with discipline problem for young children.
Cherry, C. (1983). Please don’t sit on the kids: Alternatives to punitive discipline. Belmont, CA: Pitman Learning, Inc.
Drew, N. (2000). Peaceful parents, peaceful kids: Practical ways to create a calm and happy home. Kensington Trade Paperbacks.
Levine, J.A. (1993). Getting men involved: Strategies for early childhood programs. New York, NY: Families and Work Institute.
Pantley, E. (2000). Angry kid, calm parent. Kirkland, WA: Better Beginning, Inc.
Carolyn R. Tomlin is a former Early Childhood Professor at Union University. She contributes to numerous education publications.