Teaching Kindergarten…I’m Through With Time Out And Pulling Cards

Or moving pins, or giving conduct checks, sad faces, stars, whatever you want to call it.

I’m through with it, and I have ten years of reasons to share with all of you cringing teachers right now! I know what you’re thinking. Her class is probably a circus. It’s a zoo. She’s crazy. She must be tired.

And the truth is, after ten years,  yes I am tired.

I’m tired of trying to keep up with “who did what” at the end of the day. I’m tired of feeling frustrated when the one kid keeps losing all of his cards and doesn’t even care that he pulled them all. I’m tired of sending the same girl to timeout every day, only to have her sit there and stew and plan her revenge on me.

I’m tired of sending the same notes home to the same parents, recounting all the wrongs of the day that their child dared to commit.

So this year I decided to stop doing it. Why it took me ten years to come to this decision, I don’t know. I think for the first years of teaching I did it because every teacher I knew, no matter what school they were at, had some type of system for consequence that involved card pulling, moving stars, moving pins, moving clips, changing colors, or getting “checked”. After a few years, I started seeing some holes in my system (like the ones I mentioned above) but I kept the system because I am a creature of habit. I find comfort in the norm, in the routine. And I had my routine down pat so I didn’t want to change it!

However, this year after the kids went home on the first day of school, and I was reclining in a sea of unopened school supplies, notes from parents, and a few stray plastic straw wrappers from juice boxes (those things are like ninjas–they stick to everything and resist brooms at all cost!), I realized that I had forgotten to go over “moving stars” that day, which was my system for consequences. I’ll do it tomorrow, I thought.

The next day, I didn’t go over moving stars. I didn’t bring it up the third or fourth day either. Once or twice, my mouth started to form the words “You need to move your star…” but then I replaced the words with the desired behavior. Instead of “You need to move your star for rolling around on the rug (after I’ve said to sit up HOW MANY times?!?)” I said “You need to look at your friends, notice how they are sitting, and be like them, or you’ll need to practice later.”

And guess what? I haven’t missed moving stars or pulling cards for one day! Not once!

As for time out, I had already been phasing that out anyway. I am a strong believer in the saying Practice Makes Perfect. In my class, instead of sitting in time out, we simply practice the desired behavior. If a student is running in the hall, then the student practices walking in the hall instead of sitting in a corner looking around. What if you can’t be in the hall watching your student practice? Then have him or her practice walking on a line in your room, or when you’re out at recess. I usually “practice” for about 2 minutes at first. That’s usually all the time it takes for most students.

Do you have a student that can’t keep her hands to herself on the rug while you’re reading? Then have her practice sitting with her hands in her lap when everyone else goes to stations for about one minute. Is a student being rude to his friends? Then have him stand beside you and watch his friends who are communicating nicely for a few minutes. Point out which friends are saying nice words. What about the kid who thinks the lunchroom is a party zone? Practice. Get a clean tray and utensils from your lovely lunchroom ladies, take it back to the room with you, and have the child practice sitting on bottom, feet on floor, facing the tray. Coach them while they practice. Tell them they are doing a good job practicing and that this is how they will act at lunch tomorrow.

The reality is that most kindergarteners don’t “misbehave” because they are out to get their teacher. Their actions are because they are five years old. They run in the hall because they’re five and the hall is a wide track to them, beckoning them to sprint through. They don’t stop to think This could hurt someone. They need us to teach them, and sometimes they need to practice so they’ll remember. They stand up and twist around in the lunchroom because it does resemble a wild party zone at times, and they’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never seen anything like that place. Many of them have never eaten from a tray, had to sit there even when they’re finished, and had to do it all in about fifteen minutes. They need us to teach them. They need practice. And they need time to get better at it. They need our patience.

So what is my new system? Well, we have one rule in my class:

Be Nice: Nice Hands, Nice Feet, Nice Words

This takes care of it all. Nice hands keep to themselves and don’t hurt others. Nice hands raise in the air when you have to say something. Nice hands stay off the wall in the hallway. Nice feet only walk in the halls. Nice feet keep to themselves. Nice feet go to help a friend who is hurt. Nice words are kind. Nice words are quiet in the school. Nice words are silent when the teacher says she has an important announcement. We can all be nice.

If a student forgets to have nice hands, nice feet, or nice words, they practice for a few minutes. 

It works.

If a student has to practice several things at school, I write a quick note to mom and dad telling them that their child is starting to make progress in their practice areas and I suggest ways they could practice at home. I don’t have to keep up with who did what, how many times they moved their star, or how many cards they pulled. Children don’t have to look over at the cards and see their dirty, much handled cards in the midst of the pristine, never touched cards of other children who’ve not had to pull cards. Children who practice start to actually see that they are improving and they believe that they are capable of being nice at school.

It works.

In my ten years of teaching, there have been some occasions when I had to take children to the principal’s office. I try to wait as long as I can to do this. I’ve always felt like the moment I take a child to the principal, the child now realizes that I can’t “handle” them myself, and I’m giving some of my authority away. However, there are some instances when the learning and safety of others is in jeopardy, and I feel like I need to remove the child from the situation. These times have been few and far between.

Since I’ve gotten rid of time out and card pulling, I have enjoyed my days at school so much more. And I don’t know if it’s just in my mind, but I really think that my five year old friends are truly enjoying themselves, even if they have to practice!:) After all, isn’t kindergarten about learning to come to school?

I’d love to know what you think! What do you think about practicing vs. time out? Feel free to talk about your classroom management plans in the comments section, as long as you remember to Be Nice!;)

*Note: I wrote this three years ago! I’ve been ” practicing” instead of pulling cards and issuing time out for three years.

It works.

I wouldn’t go back for anything! πŸ˜‰ 

Some teachers have told me after a few months that they get discouraged because kids are still having to practice, and haven’t they practiced enough?

My response: Some of your kindergarten friends will need practice until the last day of school. Learning to be at school is a HUGE part of kindergarten. There are some students who will need to practice new behaviors for a long time.

I practiced playing the piano for ten years, and honestly, I still need practice. I always will.

Athletes practice all the time to get better and better at their craft. Years. 

So why do we think kids should have perfection in behavior after a week? 

Practice takes time. And effort from the student and the teacher! The only change that I’d make to the above article from three years ago is that instead of saying Practice Makes Perfect, I now say Practice Makes Progress. And it’s such an honor to be a part of a child’s progress in learning and in life. 


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45 Responses to Teaching Kindergarten…I’m Through With Time Out And Pulling Cards

  1. Becky A says:

    I love to sub in your classroom! I think the idea of practice is a wonderful way of teaching. Keep up the great work you do!

  2. Jamie Hampton says:

    Love this Paige, practice, praise and encourage.

  3. Melissa Muncher (your mother!) says:

    I love this. I think we forget how young these children are. A lot of them have never been to daycare, preschool, etc….they only know how it is to be in their homes. They have to be told the expectations and given the chance practice them. Great article this week.

  4. Vicki says:

    Practice is a good idea!

  5. Joanna says:

    I think that is a great alternative Paige! It probably makes the kids feel less threatened and helps them to practice and learna the skills that you and future teachers expect of them.

  6. Hope says:

    I have a friend who taught 1st grade for many years. She always used a whisper voice to speak to the children. If they got loud she got softer. Of course they had to be very quiet to hear her. They were always the quietest, most orderly class in the hall or anywhere you saw them. Your class is very fortunate to have such a wise teacher. Hopefully many parents will adopt the same style to use at home.

    • Paige Givens says:

      Thanks Hope. It just makes for a happier climate and happier hearts!:) Thanks for reading!:)

    • Rosemary Davis says:

      I taught primary grades for about 30 years and always used a whisper voice when the class got loud and I wanted to get their attention. Works like a charm. They’re curious about what you said and get quiet in order to hear. Using a pleasant tinkling bell works well too. All pleasant approaches. So much better than trying to scream over the noiseπŸ˜‡ Paige, did you grow up in San Marino, Ca?

  7. Myra says:

    I stopped using behavior charts in my classroom about two years ago and love it! I found it so much work to remember to pull cards and be consistent. I found children noticed who was always getting a star removed and they would say those children were being bad. I do not like to refer to behavior as being bad because children as this age thinks that means they are bad. I like to say we didn’t make a good choice and then talk (demonstrate) a better choice. I see other teachers uses behavior charts and each day the same child is sitting in time out. I often wonder if they are in time out for the same behavior and if the teacher ever asks herself what can I do differently. You make some really great points and I agree totally with you!!

  8. Kathleen says:

    Paige, I think that is a wonderful way to manage your classroom. I believe that showing children(or teenagers) what they should do or approach a situation is so much more valuable then constantly telling them that they are doing something wrong. You set up a great system -it shows your love of the children and what you do.

  9. This is a wonderful idea!

  10. Pingback: Teaching Kindergarten: Literacy Work Stations | My Story, My Song

  11. joyroses13 says:

    I think this is a wonderful idea!! Glad you shared it and it needs to be shared more! Great job!

  12. joyroses13 says:

    You are very welcome!

  13. OneCreativeSoul says:

    This was a great article! I wish more teachers thought like you. My son has Autism and I think he benefits more from seeing the desired behavior. His school has a system similar to yours and it doesn’t work for him as well. Anyway, kudos to you! Teaching is hard work and sometimes you have to figure out what works best for you and your classroom.

  14. I read this with such awe. First of all, that you teach those rambunctious little ones with such tranquility. I will be in my 30th year teaching this year. I teach middle school now, but when I taught first grade I could certainly have used your advice. I rarely now have a behavior problem in my classroom. I treat my students with respect and they do likewise. Love this post.

  15. gilgallant says:

    Reblogged this on All Day Kindergarten and commented:
    Love that this author came to the realization that incentives/disincentives don’t work! It’s all about the environment we create and behaviors we expect, practice and reinforce.

  16. gilgallant says:

    So happy you came to this realization. Sounds a lot like Responsive Classroom, have you looked into it?

  17. Jennifer says:

    Very sweet and true!

  18. MmS4ZjQeV8HDfV+WaecGSZ/6kKgmcPeTxaLTj4+SmVg= says:

    Paige, wow! Share this with the world of educators! Amazing…it sounds so much like grace! What a gift you are and…I love your music. Keep on changing little lives, cause in the end, you are changing the world!

  19. Laura May says:

    Love all of your posts Paige! I have used Classroom Charts for years and I am tired as well. Last year, I didn’t use charts, but still used time-outs with more postives. I intend to use your practicing system rather than time-out his year and am excited to see the transformation. I think the positive way is the only way with little ones.

  20. Kathy Richards says:

    Hi Paige,
    I’ve just read several of your posts after a teacher friend of mine posted one of your links on Facebook. I was amazed by how similar we are! It was like I was reading about me and my experiences of being a kindergarten teacher. This will be my 32nd year teaching pre-k and or kinder. I have a crayon bucket for lost/broken crayons and have the same thoughts you shared about that. I have used “do over” and practice “doing it the way it should have been done” (I change the verbs to make it more fitting: “safe” way, “nice” way, “big kid” way, etc. for many years. I loved your meet the teacher post and the one where you hear crazy stuff come out of your mouth. It was so surreal seeing my ideas and experiences down in prrint. Our teaching philosophies seem identical! I’ve always wanted to write a book or do some sort of blog, but I wasn’t sure where to start or if I’d be successful at it. Thanks for the inspiration, Kathy Richards

  21. Lynette says:

    We encourage what we give attention to….Such great ideas. Another piece that is a game changer in our school. Simply put 3:1 – Positive : Corrective feedback. See the good, praise the good, notice the good. Will you have to correct behaviors? YES – but the positives should always outweigh the correctives 3:1

  22. Jana byrd says:

    It really does work! Before I began working with AMSTI, I finally realized the same things you mention. My 1 rule was Respect; Respect yourself, Respect others, and Respect materials. It covers everything. I like, “Be Nice” just as well. You are such a gem, Paige Givens. Please keep on sharing with us! Hugs!

  23. Amy Myers says:

    Love this! Going into my 29th yr of teaching kindergarten & I may try this!! ❀️

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