Like so many behaviors we hope children will do, taking care of classroom materials needs to be taught. Here are some tips:
- Be organized. Have a specific place to put things away – markers, books, papers, blocks, etc. Label the area, adding pictures to make it really clear for young children. The more organized you are, the more organized the children will be. This is the critical first step in teaching children to care for classroom materials.
- Introduce Materials. Don’t let children use materials until you’ve introduced the procedures to use them appropriately. The Responsive Classroom calls this Guided Discovery. Be sure to model how you want children to care for the materials, whether it is how to make sure the tops of the markers click when you put them on correctly, or how to turn the pages of the class books so they don’t rip. There is almost nothing too simple to model – in fact, teachers typically don’t get specific enough. Next have the children practice what you’ve modeled. Then give them opportunities to try using the materials independently.
- Offer Reminders. Children will need many reminders to learn the proper care of materials. Be supportive by repeating the modeling as needed, or just reiterating things to remember, for example, “As you work on your drawings, remember to put the caps back on the markers and push until they click.” or “When you are reading silently, remember how we learned to turn the pages in the books gently.”
- Give Positive Feedback. It is critically important that you acknowledge when children do take care of their things. “Bryan, I noticed you remembered how to turn the pages carefully when you were reading.” This way they will begin to pay attention to their own success and know when they are on track. Do this every day!
- Use Logical Consequences. If you’ve followed these steps, and children repeatedly fail to follow your guidelines, it is important to set boundaries by using logical consequences. If a child does not put the caps back on the markers, then she can’t use them. If a child doesn’t turn the pages of the books gently, he won't be allowed to use them independently. When using logical consequences, your tone of voice must be calm, and the child should always get another chance to use more appropriate behavior soon. If many children are not following the guidelines, then you should go back and have another group lesson on caring for the materials.
Remember that children will make mistakes and will need time to learn to control their impulses and take control of their bodies. With plenty of modeling, practice, and positive feedback, you should be able to develop a learning environment in which children care for the materials and use them properly. Please share with us other suggestions you have for what has worked in your classroom!