Understanding the Challenges of Whole Group: A Research-Based Approach

Sep 03, 2023

“I have a group of kiddos that absolutely hate carpet time. They also despise read alouds. Does anyone have any ideas on how to get them all to at least come to the carpet for a few minutes.  I’ve tried finger plays, music, and just pointing out pages in the book to no avail. I’ve removed all items from the area, and now they are attacking each other. Please help before I lose my mind. I struggled last year, but my kiddos came to the carpet and sat while I read a book, and did the shared writing.”  - One of FB Group Members

I completely understand your frustration with the challenges surrounding carpet time and read-aloud sessions. Many educators face similar issues. When traditional methods fail to engage students, it's important to delve deeper into understanding what emotional and social factors are at play.

Root Causes Behind the Behavior

Children’s actions are rarely random; they usually serve as a form of communication or a reaction to specific triggers in their environment. Here are some factors that could be causing resistance:

1. Sensory Overwhelm: Carpets are bustling spaces. The sheer volume of sensory input could make it difficult for some children to focus.
2. Desire for Autonomy: Children may resist participating if they feel they have no say or control over what's happening
3. Emotional Needs: Sometimes, the children's refusal to comply is their way of signaling unmet emotional needs like safety, belonging, or significance
4. Social Dynamics: Children may also react to each other, vying for social standing or attention within the group.

Your Classroom as a Research Lab
View your classroom as a research lab where every interaction and response provides valuable insights into your students' emotional and social needs. Observing these interactions closely can help you tailor your teaching style to cater to their needs better.

Building relationships is the cornerstone of any successful classroom, especially when managing challenging behaviors during whole-group time. First-year preschool teachers, this one's for you. 

These tried-and-tested strategies are easy to understand and implement, even if you know nothing about preschool teaching. They are designed to help you focus on the behavior you want to see more of, and they emphasize the importance of creating a structured, nurturing environment through relationship-building during the first six weeks and beyond.

Now that we have some understanding of why your students might be acting the way they do, here are 11 research-backed and teacher-tested strategies aimed at building emotional intelligence and fostering a sense of community.

1. Make it Fun, Make it Short
Why it Works: Short, interactive activities engage children's focus, minimizing disruptive behavior. Fun activities can serve as "brain breaks" that recharge emotional energy.
How to Implement: Use storytelling, puppets, or props for initial 5-minute activities to capture their attention. Gradually extend the time as you sense the children growing more comfortable.
Examples in Action: Start with a 5-minute puppet show that outlines the importance of sharing and modeling desired behaviors for the children.

2. Daily Jobs Chart
Why it Works: Assigning roles like 'class helper' promotes empowerment, responsibility, and community involvement, decreasing incidents of disruptive behavior.
How to Implement: Create a visual jobs chart and rotate roles weekly/daily so everyone gets an opportunity to contribute to the class.
Examples in Action: Rotate roles and acknowledge each 'helper of the day' in front of the class to build their self-esteem. Consider having a job for each child to contribute daily.

3. Positive Reinforcement
Why it Works: Immediate acknowledgment of good behavior boosts a child's emotional well-being and encourages repeated positive actions.
How to Implement: Praise good behavior on the spot and offer choices like picking the next activity or song.
Examples in Action: Catch a child sharing toys and immediately provide them with specific feedback, “I noticed you’re being kind while playing with your friends. Sharing your playdough made your friend smile. High five for being kind!”

4. Visual Cues
Why it Works: Visual reminders promote self-regulation and serve as non-verbal cues for behavior expectations.
How to Implement: Capture candid moments of sharing, cleaning up, kindness, or listening and display these photos prominently.
Examples in Action: Place pictures of students following good hygiene practices near the sink to reinforce the routine. Place a photo of students walking in a line by the door to reference expectations before leaving the room.

5. Know Your Students
Why it Works: Understanding each child's preferences and needs allows you to tailor activities that suit them, promoting emotional safety.
How to Implement: Send an 'All About Me' form home during the first week.
Examples in Action: Use the information to create affinity groups for activities or to offer comfort items to children who may need them. They love dinosaurs? Use it to build connections.

6. Family Photos
Why it Works: Family photos act as emotional anchors, providing comfort and a sense of belonging.
How to Implement: Request family photos for each child's designated space.
Examples in Action: Allow children to share their family photos during circle time, enabling them to talk about their loved ones and feel more connected. Place velcro dots in the cubby for students to grab whenever they miss their family, and place them back when ready.

7. Call Them Leaders
Why it Works: Empowering language encourages responsibility and fosters a proactive approach to learning and community involvement.
How to Implement: Use the term "leaders" in group discussions or activities.
Examples in Action: Before any activity, say, "Leaders, are we ready to _____?" Have continuous conversations about what leaders do, say, act, etc.

8. Classroom Meetings
Why it Works: Regular meetings encourage children to express themselves and learn about their peers, fostering empathy and community.
How to Implement: Allocate time weekly or daily for meetings where kids can share and discuss.
Examples in Action: Use this time, perhaps during the Round Up at the end of the day, to acknowledge any acts of kindness or sharing witnessed in the class.

9. Involve Them in Rule Setting
Why it Works: Children feel a sense of ownership and are likelier to follow rules they've helped create.
How to Implement: Conduct a rule-setting session where children can suggest rules. If you follow the teaching guides, this is covered.
Examples in Action: Create a "Classroom Rules" poster featuring the children's suggestions and hang it up for everyone to see, following the Big Rules, Little Rules.

10. Offering Choices
Why it Works: Choices nurture decision-making skills, empowering children and enhancing their intrinsic motivation.
How to Implement: Offer them choices that you feel comfortable with.
Examples in Action: Find frequent opportunities to allow them to choose between two learning games, two books, 2 small group activities, etc.

11. Personalized Books
Why it Works: Customized reading material fosters not just literacy but also emotional connection and social development.
How to Implement: Use personal pictures and stories to create simple books for each child.
Examples in Action: During storytime, read from a book created specifically for one of the children, highlighting their unique qualities, experiences, and family.

Carpet time doesn't have to be a struggle. By adopting the mindset of a researcher committed to understanding our students' emotional and social needs, the dynamics of carpet time can be transformed from a chaotic experience into a meaningful one. Every student will not sit crisscrossed, and we shouldn't expect them to. Allow yourself the flexibility to provide them with the space to feel comfortable, safe, and excited to learn and whatever that looks like for each individual child.

Would you consider implementing some of these strategies? I'd like to hear about your experiences as we continue this challenging yet rewarding educational journey.