I’m a bit of an odd duck when it comes to my classroom and my routines. I am slightly (very) messy/unorganized…yet I am a stickler for following routines! I love being that free wheeling, go with the flow, everything is a teachable moment teacher, I also love my routines and am very hesitant to move away from them. For the longest time, I always thought you had to be one or the other – either strictly follow routines or be completely willy-nilly. It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that you can be an equal part of both. After a decade plus of teaching I finally feel like I’m at a place where I’ve reached a happy medium – I’m routinely flexible!
If you work with (or have) young children, then you know the importance of routine! I often feel like the first six weeks of the school year is a hot-mess because everyone is still learning the routines, no matter what grade you teach (though the older the students the shorter the hot-mess period). Until those kids know what the routines are, it’s a little* bit of chaos, but once the routines are established life gets so much better!
*not a little bit. A lot of bit. All of the chaos.
“Routines are the backbone of daily classroom life. They facilitate teaching and learning…. Routines don’t just make your life easier, they save valuable classroom time. And what’s most important, efficient routines make it easier for students to learn and achieve more.”
So, what’s the point of this post?? Good question! Originally, I was just going to write about one of my routines, but well, it evolved and I’m going with the flow :). So, I’m going to talk about my routines that I have all year long and how they allow me to be flexible and go with the flow the rest of the year! These are the routines that happen every single day without exception. Well….mostly without exception there are a few times here and there where they get left out (like when we have a field trip or a last minute assembly)- and I can tell you the kids are NOT happy about it!
I’m a firm believer in starting routines right at the beginning of the year. Our Kinder Keepers are probably the first thing I teach my students (I tell their parents about it on our first day meetings and explain that it is very important for the students and their parents). So, what’s a Kinder Keeper? It’s my version of a Home Folder/Friday Folder/Communication book. Originally it started as a two-pocket folder that went home with students at the end of each day and then came back to school the next day. It has a little half notebook for parents to send me notes and that’s it. I call it the BEE book based on another teacher’s blog – she’s sooooo organized! I want to be that organized when I grow up.
Since starting with BEE books, I’ve added a zippered pouch (and renamed them Kinder Keepers) – as my current school does pizza lunch each week and the zipper prevents me from losing everyone’s money! My teaching partner uses clear zippered pouches – which I now realize is brilliant and time saving (I spend a good 10 minutes each day opening each pouch checking for notes). My plan for next year is to do the same.
So, why do I do Kinder Keepers (KK)?
To save my sanity (and hopefully to help my parents out). At the beginning of my career, students papers just went into their backpacks and it was a hot mess. The KK keeps everything in one spot which is easier for parents! No one has to go digging through a 5 year old’s back pack to find the permission slip for next week’s field trip! That being said, I always have a few families I need to remind to check/empty KK regularily. Every morning, as students come in, before they go to their Morning Tubs, they put their KK in the bin.
While they are doing Morning tubs, I can quickly check to make sure I have everyone’s KK and check for notes etc. It’s also a great way to check if everyone is at school. Do I have to remind kids to do it? Yes. They’re 5! But, I’d say 90% of the students know to do it every day. This is a great routine to learn in K too, because when they get to Grade 1 (and older grades) they will have to hand in their agendas every day!
I’ve already done a long post on Morning Tubs, so I won’t go into too much detail but I will talk briefly about the routine of Morning Tubs. The students go to the Morning Tubs once they have put their shoes on and put their KK in the Kinder Keeper bin. Each table has a little IKEA frame with the groups, and students stay in their groups for a couple of weeks, so they generally know what colour sign to look for. Students know to stay at their tubs until I ring the bell (yes I have a little bell (I actually have 2 – one for inside and one for outside)…I started using it last year when I was starting to find I was losing my voice a lot!). My students know when I ring the bell, it’s time to clean up their tubs and put them away. I have spots clearly marked for the tubs and it gives the students a little independence (it’s also a huge time saver for me!).
I’ve been using Sign-In books in Kindergarten for a loooooooooong time (I’m thinking 10+ years). They were originally given to me by an amazing Kinder teacher who had moved into resource. They are a bit of work in the beginning, but once the kids get used to the routine, it’s easy peasy! In previous years, Sign-In books were something the students did first thing in the morning (after they put their KK in the bin). With the introduction of Morning Tubs, they’ve been bumped to the afternoon.
I put the books on to our tables right before the students come back from lunch. On the Epson board I have the day of the month projected for those that need a little help, and I have cups with pencils and erasers on each table. After lunch, my students come in and get right to work! Every day they write the date (just the number) and then do a small writing job and put their books into the appropriate bin. I find these are great for practicing our printing skills. In the beginning, I use yellow highlighter to demonstrate this routine/proper letter and number formation to my students (if you’ve read my previous posts, you know my love of the yellow highlighter!).
When we first start (usually the first week of school) it takes a long time and lots of coaching to do our sign-in books, but by the time we reach mid-end of October it’s a set routine! One thing that has been a big game changer is adding little repositionable tabs to the Sign-In Books. There is far less confusion of where they need to be writing and it helps them be more independent (regular post-it notes will work in a pinch, but after a bit they start falling out). As well, I use tiny binder clips from the dollar store to clip the upcoming pages together. That way no one is writing on the May pages when they should be writing on the November ones! I do make sure to check the sign-in books after the kids have completed them (either I do it or the EA in my room does). We make sure to have students correct mistakes and help them with proper number/letter formation. I also will add in the numbers for the days of the month if someone is away, so that they know where to pick up when they come back.
As I mentioned previously, the books have a writing job each month. In previous years, I had pre-set jobs printed in the books, however my teaching partner recommended leaving the “job” part blank to give us more flexibility. Each year the students are different and by leaving it blank, we could adapt the jobs based on the needs of the class. It’s worked really well!
Some of the jobs we have done in the past are:
- writing their names with only upper case letters (start of the year) and then with an upper case letter first, followed by lower case letters.
- writing their last names (first with upper case only and then upper and lower case)
- their address
- their phone numbers
- their birthday
- their friends names
- the days of the week
- teachers names
- sight words
At this point in the year, our sign-in books take most students 5 minutes (or less). If you would like a copy of the Sign-In book – here it is!
This is the one from last year. It is a word document, so you will need to update the calendar each year and you can edit it to suit your needs! Make sure you double check your dates…I always mess up at least one date a year!
Yoga Stories/Go Noodle
If you haven’t discovered Go Noodle or Cosmic Kids Yoga…omg! Have you been living under a rock?? They are amazing and serious life savers! I’ve been using Go Noodle for the last 6 years and it is perfect for Kindergarten. I use Go Noodle videos as a transition in our learning time (or when I need the kids to refocus). When we are doing calendar, before we move onto our next activity (like poem or Kindergarten work) we move our bodies. They are great little movement breaks which range from 1 minute to 20 minutes. Working with littles, you know they are wiggly and need to move. These videos allow you to have a short movement break and get back to work! Also, the website keeps track of how many activity breaks you’ve done and your class gets a little avatar that grows as you move! Added bonus it’s free!! There is a paid portion of Go Noodle, however, I find for my purposes what is offered in the free section is perfect. In addition to the bouncy, jumping movement breaks, have some great videos for helping kids calm down and be mindful. You can also add your own videos from YouTube to your Go Noodle account! Cosmic Kids Yoga is also awesome! My kids love Jamie! You can watch the guided yoga videos through the website, or find them on YouTube. They range from 5 minutes to 30! I love using these in the afternoon to get the kids settled after lunch. The instructor (Jamie) leads the students through a story using yoga. They are engaged and excited to follow along (and be silly). The best part? She ends each session with the students lying on the floor while she does a little guided meditation (a savasana). It’s an amazing thing to see 22 5-6 year olds lying on the floor quietly being mindful of their breathing!!
Another great thing – you can add your Cosmic Kids Yoga videos to your Go Noodle account!! All you need to do is click the “share” button on the YouTube video and add it to your YouTube channel in Go Noodle!
This is something I think most (if not all) early years teachers use. Having a visual schedule is great for Kindergarten students (especially if you have any anxious kids). I post our “Plan Stan” every day and as a class we go through it. What I love about having the schedule in the same spot and visible at all times is that it gives students the independence to go and check what is coming up! Like I said before, if you have an anxious kiddo, knowing what is coming up next is really helpful. It also double as a great reading activity! Because we read the plan every day, the students know what each card “says” pretty quickly into the year and are able to identify the different cards.
The cards I use, I found for free on TpT! I’ve tweaked them a bit, but they are great! I added magnets to the back and they sit in a little pouch under where my plan goes. My kids love getting out the pointers and reading the Plan Stan during play time! We always go over the plan – this is something that we never, ever, ever skip!! The nice thing about this routine, is that the students know it can change!
I always tell them if I have to move something or take something away from our day (and usually why it needs to change). I think it helps them trust me too, they know I’m not going to just switch things up without telling them. Many of my students come from home situations that can be quite unpredictable. Knowing that there is consistency in our day and that if changes are coming I will tell them, really helps those kiddos.
ps – having it up on the wall keeps me accountable too…because I can be a wee bit forgetful! Remember at the beginning of the post where I said I was unorganized??
Play Time Sign-Up
In all honesty, I’m not sure when I started having the kids sign up for where they are going to play each day, but it is something I have done for most of my career. Why do I do it? Accountability!
I find having students “sign-up” for play centres makes them a little more mindful of where they are playing. The can’t just wander from centre to centre causing chaos. It also helps with clean up! I can see who has played where (and obviously – who didn’t clean up their messes!) and make them accountable for not following the routines. Each student has a magnet with their name on it and they are expected to move it when they change play centres. Does it always happen? No. By the end of the year, I’m not a huge stickler for making sure kids move their magnets, but for the first few months I am on them about it! I keep an eye on the “play board” and call out kids who have moved centres and left a mess (I nicely remind them…they are still little at the beginning of the year – later in the year I’m a little more to the point about it!). Honestly, by the end of the year I don’t need to watch the board, because the students will remind each other to go and clean up their messes! (Kindergarten kids looooooove telling other people what to do!)
Having the magnets/sign-up is also helpful for centres that only fit a few kids. For example, we had a colour mixing science bin a few months ago. It was a really messy centre (aka super fun and popular) but wasn’t big enough for more than 4 kids. The sign for that centre had the number 4 and the kids knew that if there were 4 magnets there already, they had to go somewhere else.
Another great thing about the play time magnets, is you can use them quick little learning moments! I often hand out the magnets one at a time. At the beginning of the year I will spell a child’s name instead of just saying it, this is a great way to sneak in some name recognition! Or lately we’ve been working on alliteration – and so I say our “silly names” when I hand out the magnets! For example instead of just saying Ryleigh or Kevin, I say Ryleigh rides rainbows or Kevin karate kicks with kangaroos. The kids love it!!
I’ve also used the magnets (before I had an interactive white board) to answer a daily question!
One more thing I’d like to add is how I use audio cues in our routines. What do I mean? Well, as I mentioned earlier I use a bell to indicate it is time to clean up Morning Tubs. I sometimes also use that bell to tell the kids it’s time to put their books or puzzles away. It saves me having to raise my voice over a crew of happily busy kids! I also use a bell (a different one) when we go outside to play! We have over 60 Kindergarten students at our school, and we go out for our own version of recess at the end of the day. My previous partner was able to do that insanely loud whistle people do with their fingers and it worked great to call the kids in. But sadly, I can’t do that! For a while I used a whistle, but I hated it! Enter the bell! It was given to me by one of my favourite subs and it’s perfect! It’s small yet loud! We started using it the very first time we played outside and now the kids all know what to do when they hear that bell! I jokingly call them my little Pavlovian Puppies! As they all start running once they hear it!
Another audio cue I use is for clean up after play. We’ve all heard the Barney clean up song, and I’m sure we’ve all probably used it. I did in the very beginning, but I quickly realized that
- it’s not long enough for the kids to clean up everything
- it is SO ANNOYING!!!
Therefore, I stopped using it and use a song that is not a clean up song at all! The song I play is called “Learning Letter Sounds” by Jack Hartman. It’s about 3 minutes long, and way less annoying than the Barney song! I always play it when it’s time to clean up after play, to the point that I don’t have to say anything, I just play the song and they start cleaning (obviously not everyone! That would be amazing!). I really like this song, because it is a great way to sneak in some letter sound learning!! I also have cards with the letter sound words at our meeting area, and when we have time, we sing the song and go through the cards!
Well, I think that’s it for my every day routines! There are other things I do consistently throughout the school year, like Journal, Writer’s Workshop, Letter Books, Letter Hunts, and Number Books, but they are not everyday things. The routines I’ve talked about in this post are must do’s. Not only for the kids sake, but for my own sanity!
Anyone who knows me, and has been in my classroom, knows I am not the most organized person. My desk is in a constant state of “hot mess”, yet in spite of this I am very dedicated to my routines! The daily routines allow me to be a little more willy-nilly go with the flow the rest of the day. By having these things that are constant and consistent, I can dive deep into those amazing teachable moments and know that my kids can handle it.
I love that my students know the expectations when they come in the door of my classroom; they know where their things belong and what they need to do before we start our day. They are able to cope if I am away and there is a substitute or have to step into the hallway to deal with something. They are confident in their ability to get things done. Do I have to remind some kids to do their jobs everyday? Yes! Of course I do! But it’s only a select few kids, and often the ones that forget see others following the routine and do it before I can ask them!
Thanks for reading! I know none of this is anything new, but they are things that important in how I run my classroom. I hope you found something helpful! If you have any questions, as always, please leave a comment!
p.s. This is my desk on a regular basis…and sadly the mess has migrated to the floor in the corner beside my desk, and under it, and maybe behind it too…