I understand that to some it may seem odd to use the terms fun and discipline in the same sentence, but I am a believer that the more fun children are having the less discipline they will require. Being able to combine fun and discipline is really a matter of preventing discipline problems from ever starting.
Now let’s be realistic; there is no way you can work with children, especially young children, and not have a discipline situation arise every now and then. However, with the proper use of fun and something I like to call preventive maintenance, you can certainly limit the amount of time spent on discipline. There are many positive discipline strategies that can be used in a classroom setting, and they all begin with the behavior of the teacher!
The first key is environment. A teacher must set the environment in both tone and appearance. The best way to begin this process is to remember that it’s easier to get easier. If you start off strong and gain the students’ respect from the very start, you can get easier on them as you go along, because you will already have set an acceptable environment. At the same time, you have to make sure you set an environment that establishes warm, secure relationships. Building relationships that make the child feel secure in the classroom environment will form a bond between the child and the teacher that will cause the child to want to please his teacher. Another major aspect that will help deter discipline problems is making sure that you are fair and consistent. The first time you show preference, you will be labeled as unfair and you will lose the respect of your students. Always be consistent in how you handle classroom discipline.
The next key in making your classroom more fun and less discipline is setting the appropriate rules and limits. Be selective when setting rules. Making rules clear, understandable, and reasonable will help children develop self-control; and self-control is our goal! When making rules, be as positive as possible. Say, “Use your walking feet; use your inside voice; be nice.”
The next key is redirection. Redirection is the simple process of diverting and distracting. Redirection works when the teacher immediately does something to distract a child from an unwanted behavior and then immediately gets the child involved in a new and appropriate activity. Redirection is all about being attentive to what goes on in your classroom and foreseeing a problem before it happens. When dealing with a disruptive child during class time, use the disruptive child to your advantage. If you have a child who likes to be the center of attention, make sure the child is near you so he will think he has everyone’s attention. Children love to be helpers. Use that to your advantage: bring the child to you to help you and bring the attention of the other children to you. Deal with disruptions with as little interruption as possible.
The final key to developing a classroom that is filled with fun and not discipline is the teacher’s guidance of the students. We should be working to train the children in basic rules of life such as responsibility, respect, self-control, and problem solving. Nonverbal signs are a great way to gain control of a class or a student without rushing to discipline. For example, if the children know that when you clap your hands a certain way it’s a signal they are getting too loud, they will know it’s time to quiet down a bit. Nonverbal signs will give the students the opportunity to correct a matter on their own. This will help to form self-control and responsibility in the students. Finally, if you want a room that is filled with fun and not discipline, you need to recognize and encourage a child’s efforts. Reward good behavior, every time! Rewards don’t always have to be big, and they don’t even have to be tangible. Let your students know that you notice the good as well as the not so good.
Use preventive maintenance as a way to keep your classroom under control and ready for anything. Don’t forget the keys. Take note of your environment. Make sure you are setting fair limits. Be aware and ready to use redirection when it is needed. Use guidance to train before you discipline. Remember, it all begins with the teacher. The way you run your classroom will determine who runs your classroom.
Copyright Journal for Christian Educators, Fall 2013 edition. Reprinted with permission of the American Association of Christian Schools.