Kids Need Continuity and Routine

This last week I have been working to bring the first graders back to their safe-feeling routines while working in the new classroom. They’re unfocused in their new surroundings. There are perhaps few concepts in teaching more difficult than how school children kids need continuity and routine.

The students simply can’t really get their intellectual legs under them and learn until they understand the routines of the school day.

The Fire Drill Phenom

To see how much this is true, just look at the eyes of the teachers when someone reminds them “Fire drill at 1:30.” They know that the amount the kids can learn once the fire drill has been run will drop. Never mind the difficulty of dealing with the students, drastically effected by the alarm going off. “Well, that’s it for learning anything for the rest of the day then,” you often hear in the staff room. When it’s announced there will be a fire drill.

The New Room Becomes Just “the Room”

My first graders are now, after two weeks, getting used to our new room. They now know where they sit, they know where the board is. Everyone is enjoying the new water balloon incentive program. And yes, they appear to be learning again. A week ago, they appeared not to be learning. That resulted in me having an existential teacher crisis in the midst of instruction. But that was last week. In teaching things are always changing.

Watching this all unfold has reminded me how in an effective classroom it is so important that students know routines. The quiet signal, the way to sit, the way to get a pencil (my friend Kim wrote an entire podcast on that one) and the expectations for moving (or not moving) around the room. Teacher coaching sessions lead off with the question, “Well, what do you *want* them to do?” “Have you explained and modeled that or them?” How do you remind them when they forget to do it?)

We want them to control and structure their own behavior, but they can’t, actually, do this … they’re children.

This is perhaps contrary to our most basic desires for how we want our classroom to run. What we would like is to have a group of freewheeling children voluntarily doing whatever we want. We value their freedom deeply, and yet we still want control. The young teacher doesn’t always feel a moral right to control the movements and practices of her class. When it becomes necessary to do so, the common response is to say “What is wrong with these children? They can’t control themselves?”

We blame the students when they cannot spontaneously create their own classroom community. What would that look like? They stay out of eachother’s way and do their work without being told to just *listen* for a minute.

A Personal Aside: Routines Go All the Way to Church

But the fact is, children need to be taught routines so that they can achieve these things. Last week, I had to reflect on the reality that all children depend on knowing the routines. This occurred when I took my grandchildren to church. Their routine was to take papers and color on the floor under the pew and to crawl up and down the seat. My response was a very clear “not on my watch.”

The result of our disagreement about routines? Things got worse. The grandchildren did not ever come close to the expectations I had for them. They seemed to have no idea that in church kids are expected to sit there. They were disturbing the peace of octogenarians all around them. Many of the octogenarians seem to be kindly about my grandchild struggle. But I worried nevertheless: what if they had no children or forgot what it was like to bring a three year old into God’s House?

My Vision or the Parents’ Vision?

The question of whether there is utility in taking young children to church will not be treated here. My point is, that expectations for routines are critical in children’s lives. And in adult’s lives. But children and adults have different capacities for behaviors such as sitting still, and listening. And so do different adults.

My vision of going to church with my grandchildren was unobtainable. We spent most of the service in the vestibule. It will take a while, if I keep bringing them, before my expectations of church behavior become the routine. In the meantime it’s going to be tough sledding.

Now adults *are* in charge and kids (somewhat) have to dance to our tune. But teachers (and parents) should understand that the children, while adaptable to our routines, don’t get them in the first five minutes. You have to teach kids the routines over time, and you have to be consistent. And unfortunately, other people, their parents or other kids, are teaching them routines as well.

Who Taught This Kid to Yell “Bruh?”

I have one first grader who yells out “Bruh!” at me perhaps twenty times a day. You cannot just tell them once to stop, you have to teach your own routines to counteract theirs. “We are silent during instruction and I will respond to your question when you raise your hand.” Also: “No, I will not answer any questions introduced by yelling out “Bruh!”

Because, at home, they have learned their own routines. The teacher comment, “This is the way we do things at school,” is generally effective. Or, as one teacher told a first grade student who was whining uncontrollably last week, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand, I only speak first grader.”

We assume our expectations are normative. We are the “adult in the room.” But stop for a second: what if the kids were in charge?

Just imagine if the kids were in charge of our day. Telling us, “Come on, I don’t want you to walk to the cafeteria, run, we’re wasting time.” Or announcing”Everyone will now play in the water from the hose and make dirt into mud pies.”

This is a kid idea, after all, of the right way to behave.

Back to My Church Analogy …

As for taking my three year old grandson to church, the routines he has learned at home include a game where he and his dad yell out “poopy butt.” You can imagine the results of taking this kid to church. However, after the first week together, I got him to understand that he could not do this and he promised no more yelling out such phrases at church. So I brought him back, and he commenced making fart sounds. Over and over and over.

I brought him back to his mother, who has been unwell and unable to take him these last two weeks, and said “teaching him to act correctly in church is going to be a long process.” And I think it will. But once we get the church routine of “you do not yell out, any phrase, rude or polite,” we will be on our way. And in class, routines remain preeminent when in pursuit of good instruction.

I would bet your own students have their own inappropriate exclamations they make during instruction. Long deep breath. Yes, they do. I guarantee it.

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