Preschool classroom rules are necessary for effective classroom management. They lay the groundwork for how the children will care for the classroom and others, promoting harmony and improving developmental outcomes by establishing a positive learning environment.
In this guide, we cover how to create and implement class rules and agreements to build a calm and peaceful preschool community.
What are preschool classroom rules?
Preschool classroom rules are a set of agreements a preschool teacher implements or co-creates with the children to follow. They include general guidelines for being caring, respecting others, and sharing spaces with others.
Typical examples of preschool classroom rules include:
- We use our indoor voice
- We use our walking feet
- We are gentle with our words and hands
- We care for ourselves and each other
- We take care of the classroom and materials
Why preschool classroom rules are necessary
The benefits of preschool classroom rules are immense. Below are some of the reasons why preschool classroom rules are necessary.
Promotes independence and critical thinking
Classroom agreements set the tone for positive and acceptable behaviors—children understand what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. Clear expectations enable children to move about their day with confidence and independence.
A teacher’s primary goal is always to keep the children physically safe and promote emotional safety. Keeping the classroom safe is best done in collaboration with the children. They can take an active role in making a safe choice and keeping others safe as well.
Promotes self-regulation and empathy
Classroom agreements such as “we are gentle with hands and words” and “we care for ourselves and others” can promote collaboration and conflict resolution when paired with strategies for communicating ideas and feelings, negotiating, and problem-solving.
Improves learning outcomes
Children's academic and developmental progress is directly tied to the guidance of children’s behaviors. One reason is that children who feel confident, safe, and emotionally regulated are ready to learn.
What to consider when creating classroom rules
As you create your classroom rules, you will want to ensure that the ones you implement are age-appropriate, relevant, and aligned with your values, the center’s values, and state guidelines.
Children’s cultural backgrounds
Every child is unique and identifies with a particular culture. While classroom rules are necessary to support children’s behavior, teachers should ensure the rules don’t undermine different cultures.
Considering children’s cultures when developing classroom rules ensures that they are culturally relevant and meaningful for the children. You may also take the opportunity to engage families for their ideas and perspective to make sure the rules and agreements are culturally responsive and reflective of the families’ values as well.
State and local area early education laws
Your state and local licensing agency may also provide regulations and best practices when it comes to guiding children's behaviors. Ensure that your classroom rules align with state expectations. For example, if you’re from California, you should familiarize yourself with regulation 101223. This regulation promotes children's rights and protects them from all physical and emotional harm.
The rules you choose should be a reflection of the values you want to instill in the children about how to be in a community with one another. You’ll want to ask yourself what you intend to achieve before brainstorming classroom rules. Overall, your goal is to promote prosocial behavior in the classroom and provide a positive environment that fosters growth.
How to create classroom rules for preschool
The most successful preschool classroom rules are short, simple, enforceable, positive, and inclusive. Below are tips on how to create effective classroom rules for preschool.
Establish your standards, values, and norms
Universally accepted norms shape our standards and values. It’s also the benchmark for what you consider good behavior. It’s necessary to evaluate these norms before creating classroom rules.
Your vision and mission also play a key role. You can draw values from personal convictions and philosophy. What are children capable of? What do they deserve? How should they relate to you and each other?
Brainstorm classroom rules and ideas
After you have considered your values and philosophy, you also want to consider the children's perspective. What agreements are important to them?
Involving the children and their families in brainstorming classroom rules and agreements will increase the children’s buy-in to follow the rules and the family’s buy-in to reinforce them at home.
Developing classroom agreements is a great way for families and teachers to partner together. Whether at school or home, having familiar agreements can support children's behavior and development in both settings.
Keep the rules short, simple, and clear
Effective classroom rules for preschoolers should be short, simple, and clear, considering you’re dealing with children under five.
The list of rules should be limited to five, written succinctly, and paired with images so children may reference or understand them independently.
Ensure the rules are positive
We want to communicate to children “what to do” as opposed to “what not to do.”
Instead of using negative phrasing like “don’t be mean,” “no yelling,” or “don’t run,” use positive phrasing like “be kind,” or “use quiet voices."
Visual supports enable children to take in information and fill in the gaps of comprehension as they master spoken language. When children receive a message in a variety of ways (e.g., audibly and visually) and different contexts (e.g., reviewing them during circle time and reinforcing in the playground) it helps them understand the information and apply it. As a rule of thumb, ensure all classroom rules have corresponding visuals to reinforce the message.
Lead by example
Observational learning is one of the many ways children take in information. According to a Michigan State University study, children learn by watching and listening to others. So, if you yell or use an inappropriate tone in class, they’ll think it’s okay to do it as well.
This is why you must model the rules and lead by example. Use a soft tone and lower your voice when addressing them; your proposed classroom rules will make more sense to them.
Make it fun and memorable
Once you have created your classroom rules, the next step is supporting the children in remembering them so they can apply them.
Finding playful ways to review the rules and agreements is key. You can use rhymes, chants, stories, and guessing games to memorize the rules.
Define the consequences for breaking rules
Defining the consequences of breaking classroom rules is critical when enforcing them. This is why it’s advisable to define clear consequences alongside the classroom rules so the children know what to expect next.
Importantly, the consequences should be positive. So, you’ll want to avoid threats by setting the right expectations. It’s best to connect consequences to specific behavior—this is also called natural consequences. For example, if a child takes out all the blocks, they need to clean them up before moving on to the next activity.
Acknowledge the children
When children are acknowledged for their positive actions and behaviors, we are helping them build intrinsic motivation. Ultimately, we want children to be internally motivated to follow the rules and understand the benefits to the community.
To create internal motivation, it’s important for the children to be involved in the process of creating the rules, assessing how well the class is in following the rules, and participating in problem-solving when the class is having challenges with the rules or needs a new rule.
Print and post rules on classroom walls
Consider printing and posting the rules on the classroom walls for easy reference. This way, the children can see them every day. You can also easily refer to specific rules when the children need reminders.
How to enforce classroom rules
One of the best ways to enforce classroom rules is to explain why they're necessary and what happens when one breaks them. Your explanation should lean more towards the objectives, values, and positive outcomes you're trying to achieve rather than the rules themselves. It's important for your class to understand what to expect and what the classroom will look like when everyone follows the rules. Otherwise, children may be inclined to resist or not internalize the meaning behind the rule if your proposed classroom rules are only about warnings and threats.
It also helps to encourage children to ask questions or seek clarification. It’s an excellent way to ensure they buy into the idea of classroom rules. If possible, ask them to suggest how you can make the rules better and more inclusive.
Another key component is exercising patience. All children are different and may require some time to get adjusted to the classroom’s expectations. Consider that some children may not have the same expectations at school as they have at home. Children’s success with following rules and expectations may be heavily influenced by their experience with having rules and boundaries at home.
When the classroom rules and expectations don’t seem to be working, go back to the drawing board and take the following steps to problem-solve:
- Spend time observing the children and consider what rules need to be modified or added to bridge the gap in desired behaviors
- Enlist the help of the children. Ask questions, get their perspectives, and possible solutions (and consequences) for ways to improve the rules
- Partner with families of individual children having challenges with classroom expectations
Use positive reinforcement
Positive reinforcement rewards children for exhibiting positive behaviors to motivate them to continue the behaviors. When children receive positive reinforcement in the classroom it is likely to boost their confidence and increase their engagement.
You can use positive reinforcement strategies in the classroom to encourage children to follow classroom rules. For instance, when a child picks up their toys before transitioning to a new activity, you can reward them with verbal praise by telling them they’ve done a good job.
You can also reinforce children’s positive behavior by offering them a prize or reward for following classroom rules. For example, you can use sticker charts in the classroom and give your children a gold star sticker when they follow classroom rules, such as speaking politely or sharing materials. These charts can serve as a visual reminder of how much progress a child has made and motivate them to keep going.
Another strategy you can use is allowing children to participate in their favorite activity as a consequence of following classroom rules. For example, if your class succeeds in keeping their hands to themselves during circle time, you can reward them with extra time playing outdoors.
Positive reinforcement can be a great strategy to enforce classroom rules as it communicates to children that you are focused on the positive rather than the negative, creating a safe and productive learning environment.
Classroom rules facilitate smooth classroom operations, promote harmony, help set expectations correctly, and improve learning outcomes. Be sure to make the rules short, clear, and positive. Most importantly, exercise patience when enforcing classroom rules since all children are unique and learn at their own pace.