Reception pupils can present a dilemma. You want to get them used to doing what the teacher says but they're only just adjusting to the classroom, so you don't want to come down too heavily.
Rebecca Barby, a reception teacher in Newcastle upon Tyne, says she prefers to concentrate on positive behaviour. This includes coming into the classroom silently, listening carefully, saying something nice or playing quietly with a friend.
Alongside lots of praise, she uses the tried-and-trusted marble jar. Every time a child does their best, works well or shows social skills, or the class behaves well, they put a marble in the jar. When the jar is full, the children choose from treats such as stickers, an extra-long playtime and bookmarks.
"Classroom ethos is the most important aspect," she says. "A class where the children are motivated and want to please tends to be the most successful. I make a big fuss of the good behaviour and deal quietly, discreetly and individually with negative behaviour."
Kate Aspin, a former primary deputy head and now senior lecturer in education at Huddersfield University, agrees. "At this age, school needs to be a positive experience," she says. "Encouragement, praise and gentle redirection are the key." Rewards need to be frequent. Tell them how well they have behaved and that it makes you happy when they have a good day. Fortunately, younger children are often eager to please.
Small children also need to be trained in the school routine. Repetitive cues can help, particularly those you can practise, such as saying, "This is how we get ready for lunchtime," and getting the class to mime washing their hands, or songs and rhymes associated with tidying up or sitting at a desk.
But sometimes you will have to deal with poor behaviour and impose sanctions. Options include moving children, ignoring them and using time out. Proximity praise - commending the children around the naughty one - can work as a compromise measure. Ms Aspin suggests whispering, singing or sign language for rowdy classes. An instrument such as a tambourine can encourage them to be quiet, as can hands in the air. Repetition is crucial.
"Time spent on behaviour at the start of a year is never wasted, as it enables you to teach much more effectively," she says. "`Repeat, repeat, repeat' is the byword with young children. Good behaviour is not a case of one application lasting a lifetime, but of little and often with lots and lots of praise and rewards for those who do it."
Outlining golden rules is a good way to start the year, Ms Barby suggests. She also advocates circle time to deal with issues as and when they arise, to help the class think about consequences. "A cuddly toy or puppet, drama or role-play can be helpful," she says. "Talk about feelings and encourage the children to act out how they might feel in certain situations without naming names and blaming particular children."
She uses a behaviour chart for disruptive individuals. She focuses on one aspect at a time, such as interrupting the teacher or hurting others, drawing a smiley face for each period the behaviour is good and leaving it blank if it isn't, discussing with the child how they are going to get a smiley face next time. Be discreet so as not to draw too much attention to them, she adds.
She says reception children respond to identifying the physical symptoms of anger, and can learn to calm themselves down. It is also vital to get to know the children and find out how to motivate them.
"There will always be off-days," Ms Barby says. "The key is to give them a chance to redeem themselves. Try to ensure that each new day allows them a fresh opportunity to show how good they can be."
It can be hard to be positive all the time. However, particularly with reception children, if they are well motivated and have enough attention, the classroom ethos tends to be more positive and their behaviour should respond accordingly.
WHAT TO DO .
- Make sure you use plenty of rewards and praise for good behaviour.
- Set out your classroom rules and keep repeating them, particularly at the start of the year.
- Observe the children closely to find out the best ways of motivating them.
- Don't draw too much attention to poor behaviour: discuss problems with any miscreants discreetly.
Next week chair swinging.