Corralling Kindergarten

Kindergarten can be a lot of fun, but it’s easy to lose control. The 4 C’s below are the concepts that help me keep my cool while corralling Kindergarten.

1. Containment through circle games and controlled space

It’s all about containment. Unruly students are like a virus that spreads. That sounds a little harsh, but I’ve seen lessons implode because teachers didn’t have control over classroom space, or boundaries were broken by one and then copycats joined in. It only takes a second for the lesson to side-track, so it’s best to be prepared. On the first day of kindergarten, I meet the class outside my door. The classroom teacher helps me to get the whole class holding hands. They follow me in as I sing a greeting song, usually “Hello There,” and the teacher helps me get them in a circle, still holding hands. Then he/she introduces me, assures the class they’ll be back, and closes the door and leaves. Yes, I’ve talked to them about this in advance to make it a smooth transition. Making lots of eye contact, I give the briefest of directions and begin singing “Ring Around the Rosie” and moving in a circle. At least a few students usually know it and sing along. By starting with something familiar and in a circle, you’ll be able to get everyone involved while keeping them together.

2. Complementary Activities and Musical Transitions

Use a puppet for a game and use it to lead to another game or story. Next I tell a story about a parrot echoing me and invite the students to echo me like little parrots, but only when the parrot puppet is flying next to me! The echoing leads to “Teddy Bear.” There are tons of ways to teach it, but I ask the students to sing “Teddy bear, teddy bear” each time, and the parrot flies next to me as a cue. It’s a great way to teach new songs, because students know exactly when to sing.

3. Carpet to delineate a new space

Naturally, I pull out a teddy bear during the song. Teddy loves to hear children singing his song! Sometimes I use the bear to initiate a name game, but I always use him for story time. (Teddy would like to hear his favorite story. Let’s read it together…) Before class, I place carpets in the area I’d like them to sit for story time. This is the first time we’re breaking from the circle, so it’s important to be clear about your expectations, travel paths, amount of time to get there, and where they should sit.

4. Comfortable activities and familiar songs 

One of the trickiest things about starting the year with Kindergarten is their lack of experience. They’re like a clean slate! They don’t know what is right or wrong about your room unless you show them. Your classroom may be their first musical experience. They may have never tried singing children’s songs, playing instruments, or moving to music. What a wonderful opportunity, and a huge responsibility for us. I’ve had success starting with “Ring Around the Rosie.” Some students are also familiar with “Shake My Sillies Out” and “Yankee Doodle.” Personally, I use an instrumental version of “Yankee Doodle” as a listening and beat exploration activity near the end of class.

Remember that Kindergarten attention spans are short. I try to alternate standing, sitting, listening, moving, singing, and speaking. My first lesson of the year has nine different activities, and that doesn’t include lining up and leaving. There’s so much to say and do with Kindergarten. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope it gets you thinking about your own successful lessons!

Which songs and games do you use at the beginning of the year?


What’s in the cards?

Choosing individual students can be challenging because some students are eager to participate, some are shy, others reluctant, but all need opportunities to participate in class and we have to assess them. Many years ago a colleague shared an idea of using a set of cards for class games, and a few years before that I saw a teacher use class cards to determine which students had a turn with the class set of books. So, the card idea wasn’t mine, but I’ve revised the way I use the cards, and the cards themselves, several times during my teaching career. Please feel free to use this card template or revise them in any way that meets your needs.

How I use them: Under each category there are two columns of boxes. The smaller one on the left is for the date and the one on the right for a note or scribble. If students write a note or rhythm on the board, I’ll mark it under the correct column. The game column is especially important to my students, though. If someone has had a turn at the jump rope game, for example, I scribble the date and write “jump” in the right column. Those students don’t get a turn again until everyone has had a turn to jump on one week or another. In the game Chicken on the Fencepost/Dance Josey, I write “DJ” when they get at turn as a farmer and no one repeats until every student has had a chance. The list goes on and on, but the students feel that it’s fair. The same goes for the Instrument section. If three students are called on to play a bass xylophone bordun to accompany a song, the students know I’ll call on someone else the next time. Naturally, there are plenty of lessons that everyone will play an instrument in, but in the case of only a few players, I mark their cards and spread the wealth.

How do you handle calling on students for class activities?

Music Cards

Choir Notes

My 4th and 5th grade Advanced Choir performed on Thursday night and Friday afternoon and did a wonderful job! They started a new tradition last year of signing the board after a performance, sometimes leaving little notes for me. How could I be upset to find such heartfelt messages from my dedicated choir? My heart swells with pride (despite the spelling errors!) as I recall their commitment and musical growth. When I’m under a great deal of stress, sometimes I wonder why I put so much time and effort into extra activities, but it’s moments like this that remind me.

Notes left by my choir members