Classroom Management: Managing Movement in the Primary Classroom (K-2)

Post Promise: If you teach Primary and are having trouble with too much student traffic and/or movement during inappropriate times during the day- this post is for you. I will tell you how I combat unnecessary traffic in my Kindergarten classroom using class discussion, rules, routines and student hand signals. I’ll even give you a FREE Class Signal display to get you started with these strategies as soon as today.

Hey there, Teacher friend! I’m so honored to have you here today as I share some simple, yet effective tools to help you reduce student traffic in your classroom- which will ultimately add a little extra sanity to your day. Just a few weeks ago, I was consulting with a new First Grade teacher who mentioned that her classroom seemed chaotic with too much unorderly movement. With a little conversation, I quickly uncovered that she was lacking a few management tactics that could make her life much, much easier. I’m sharing them here in hopes that they can help you as well.

Prefer a VIDEO BLOG? Check it out right here.

Movement is a TOP Management Priority

You know what drives me crazy? Too much unstructured movement in my classroom. Eeeek!! My room is small (considering how many bodies are in there) so when I think about 22 little-people prancing around whenever and however they please, it’s enough make my head spin. Managing student movement is among my TOP PRIORITIES throughout the school year, and it should be yours too. No one can be winning at classroom management without tackling this issue within the workflow of their classroom.

Shift your Mindset about Movement.

 I think of movement differently than most teachers and this mindset has aided me in both major-areas of my career: classroom management and instruction.  For years, I’ve thought of movement as a learning tool and not a student liberty. I provide opportunities for student movement, but don’t allow them every opportunity to move. It sounds harsh (you mean they don’t have freedom to move?) but my time with my students is sincerely valuable- so I reduce unnecessary movements as much as possible.

 Think of this example: Little Tammy spots a dried up gummy bear in the corner of the room in the middle of my Alphabet Alliance lesson. As a good steward, she decides she’ll pick it up and take it to the trash can. Well, three other students notice her movement and are curious-beyond-control about what she found. They all follow her to the corner to see it too. Can you see how that freedom stole from her leaning and could reap havoc during my lesson? So, case closed- movement is a tool- not a choice.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Movement is a magical engagement strategy, so don’t misunderstand me here. Wiggling and waggling is essential to little people and their growth, learning and development. Although we don’t provide students freedom to move whenever they please, we should provide many opportunities for movement. I am actually a great advocate for kinesthetic learning and use it all-day, every day to engage my students. You can see some of this in action here in my LETTER FLUENCY Routine or even here in my CLASS RULE Routine. I will be hosting a FREE webinar very soon to share all of my kinesthetic learning tricks with you, so be sure to sign-up for my reminder emails right HERE if that sounds like something you’d like to see.

Managing Unnecessary Movement

Now, I will give you some actionable steps you can take to help combat the problem of unnecessary movement (or traffic) in the classroom. Remember, if it isn’t aiding you in managing or teaching your class, that movement is unnecessary.

Class Discussion. One of the places I often fall short is simply getting my students involved with my management decisions. Fortunately, this  doesn’t always mean allowing them to make decisions- it can be as simple as ensuring they have a clear understanding of the decisions I make regarding our classroom. So, to help them understand my choices about managing their movement, I lead a clear and thoughtful discussion about this topic. (This usually happens when I am introducing our class rules.)  

During this time, we discuss why they shouldn’t be out of their seats unless they have permission and I ask them to visualize a classroom where everyone could get up whenever they wanted. I bring up important safety issues during this discussion, so students understand my WHY behind managing their movement. Honestly, too much movement and chaos isn’t safe. Someone could get hurt easily without structure here.

Reinforce the Rule/Expectation. I review my rules (with kinesthetic movements) every single day- and rule #3 is “Raise your hand to speak or to move.) This daily reinforcement aides me in reducing unwanted movement around the classroom. (If you don’t have a Routine like this, you need one and you can get all of my rules FREE right HERE. ) My rules acts as a  landing spot for any instance when students are NOT demonstrating expected behavior. So, whenever a child is out of their seat or off the carpet without permission- I use my motions to signal that rule as a reminder. That student is then expected to go sit back down and follow the correct procedure to get their desired outcome.

  A lack of constant reinforcement is where many teachers go wrong. It sounds like a waste of time to remind them and then re-intact the scene correctly,  but as Tony Robbins says, “Repetition is the mother of skill.” If we want to have skilled listeners and well-managed learners- we have to be repetitive in our expectations. Don’t skip this part!

Routines! Routines! Routines! This is the secret ingredient for completely transforming your classroom. It takes time, but setting routines into place that can combat unauthorized movement will give you the greatest result. With consistent and practiced routines, your students won’t bother getting up when they aren’t supposed to. Routines will automate your classroom. I’ve sung the praises of routines so many times- even created an extensive post on how to create your own– and this is no exception.

Think of your biggest problem with movement and reverse engineer a routine to solve the problem. For example, if trips to the pencil sharpener are a big issue- decide that you won’t allow those trips anymore and create a method to keep students with sharpened pencil constantly. I personally give each child two pencils (one for backup) which is stored in an open bin on top of their tables. If they somehow manage to break them both in the course of the day (which never happens), I have a set of pre-sharpened ones that I lend out if they show their “Pencil Signal” (see below.) So, that lovely pencil sharpener sound is never an issue during my school day and neither is the student traffic that could accompany it.

I Student Hand Signals.

 Yes, yes, yes! I’ve used them for years and sometimes forget their value until a classroom observer (principal, district supervisor, etc.) notices how well they reduce disturbances during my instructional time. This is yet another routine that I teach my students, practice with them and reinforce every day.

How they work. Picture this: While working diligently to complete a task, one of your students gets a groundbreaking idea/need they MUST SHARE with you. (I love how urgent everything is in Kindergarten. EMOJI HERE.)  Their first response to this idea or need is to shout my name to tell me. But after a couple weeks of reinforcing the proper procedure, they finally learn to look at the signal display and hold up the signal the best suits their need. This is the only way I will give them the attention they need, after all.  I then respond in a way that will bring the least amount of disruption to other students (this depends on the signal). I handle each situation differently with my overall goal in mind: keep my class as calm and productive as possible. I call that a HAND SIGNAL win! 😀

My Classroom Signals.  Although there are many versions for free online, I could not find the 5 signals I needed so I created my own set. These are in the FREE download included below. You can even add your own name to personalize them for your classroom!

When introducing signals to students, I use these references to help them remember which signal they use. Some are silly, but this helps them remember even more!

  • Restroom signal: crossed fingers. (Sometimes we cross our legs when we really need to go!)
  • Tissue: Finger up, like you’re going to pick your nose if you don’t get a tissue!
  • Pencil: Fist closed, like you are clamping your pencil inside.
  • Question: You have a question not pertaining to any of the other signals. Simply put your hand up, fingers open.
  • Emergency: Make an “E” with your fingers. Only use this signal when you need to speak with the teacher immediately. You or someone else is hurt or crying.  Wave it around if I don’t see it at first.

Get your FREE Hand Signal Display RIGHT HERE!

A final reminder about Movement

Provide opportunities for students to move but don’t’ give them every opportunity to do it. Movement is a tool, not a student freedom. If you follow this mindset and put the ideas into place that I have provided, you will have a much calmer, stiller environment and you’ll find a little more peace in your school day.

Teacher Friend, please CHECK-IN!

What would you add to help others better-manage the movement in their classrooms? I’d love to hear from you. Chime in in the comments or join the great discussions happening here in our PRIMARY TEACHER FRIENDS Facebook group!

See you soon, Teacher friend!

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