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Creating Routines and Expectations to Enhance Early Learning

May 14, 2024    |   Early Learning Spaces & Routines

Early learning classrooms are busy places – with lots of energy and activity happening throughout the day! This busy environment can be both exciting and overwhelming for young children, as they socialize, move about the classroom, and engage in activities with their peers. We can help children feel comfortable during their time in our care by establishing a few clear rules that will help them understand daily routines and expectations. 

How do Rules and Expectations Support Learning?

As early childhood educators, we know that children learn through exploration, social interaction, and play. Clearly communicated classroom expectations serve as reassuring boundaries within which children are free to explore. Without clear-cut rules, children can become anxious in an early care setting, unsure about where they are allowed to go and what is expected of them.

On her blog, Pre-K Pages, ECE teacher, consultant, and curriculum writer, Vanessa Levin describes the value of classroom expectations: “Setting expectations for behavior is a form of social development that directly affects all learning in the classroom. If your goal is for students to make good choices, whether they’re with you in the classroom or outside the classroom, then establishing expectations should be your top priority from the very first day of school. When you have well established rules and expectations you’ll have students who are confident problem solvers working collaboratively with others.” 

How Do I Set Supportive Expectations in my Classroom? 

Consider Children’s Ages and Developmental Stages

Because young children’s brains and cognitive skills develop rapidly, you’ll want to set rules and expectations that are appropriate for a child’s age. For example, throwing food on the floor during mealtimes is a developmentally appropriate behavior for infants, but is not typical for behavior expected from children in pre-k. Setting expectations that align with a child’s developmental progress sets children up for success, and minimizes frustration and power struggles. 

Include Children in Classroom Rule-setting

When creating classroom rules and expectations, it can be helpful to involve children in the process. During an introductory circle time, talk with children about what expectations you have for the classroom and then ask what rules they would like to add. This helps children to feel respected and included in the process, making it much more likely that they will follow through by adhering to the rules. 

Maintain Consistent Routines

Children are their best selves when there is consistency and predictability throughout their day. Keeping your classroom’s expectations consistent helps children feel secure, as they know where to be and what to expect as they follow daily classroom routines. Deviating from expectations can be confusing for children, making it more difficult for them to stick to the classroom rules. 

Avoid Abstract Language

Because young children are able to understand concrete language before they can grasp abstract words and concepts, it is important to stick to clear, concrete language when setting expectations. Instructions using abstract phrases like “be respectful,” or “quiet down,” don’t clearly describe desired behavior, and can be difficult for young children to understand. Try to stick with words that children know and phrases that ask for specific actions and behaviors, such as “use your walking feet while we’re in the classroom,” or “let’s use our quiet-as-a-mouse inside voices.”  This way children understand what is being asked of them and can easily follow along.

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