Letters From Camp: Keeping Order Amid Chaos

Classroom Management TechniquesSo, as promised in my post last week, I’ve got some reflections that bubbled up after a week of teaching summer camp. Up first…classroom management.


I knew before I even walked into camp that the first things I had to get back, as dusty and creaky as they might have been, were my classroom management techniques. These are the strategies for keeping kids focused, on task and having fun.

When you are doing a one-off program, ESPECIALLY if the parents are staying with the kids, you can often get away with the bare minimum in terms of discipline strategies. But, if it is longer then one hour, and certainly if you are on your own, you need some tips and tricks fast.

1. The first thing to do is think about your personal pet peeves and boundaries. Do you struggle with chaos? Prefer one voice speaking at a time? Not that you can solve all of them, but knowing what might set you off can help you prepare. Also, what are the expectations at the place you are teaching?

2. Set the ground rules! For older kids (3+) I like having them help me write the rules. It lets us refer back without judgement and they feel more invested in sticking to them. Keep it short and to the point. In fact, if you can keep it to 5 rules or under that would be best!

3. Transitions, any time you are moving from one place or activity to another, is when kids are most likely to lose it. There are whole websites dedicated to transition strategies and it is worth reading up on some of them. Two things you definitely want to plan for are

  • Ways to get attention in a busy classroom. My co-teacher introduced us saying “Ago” and the children responding “Ame” and I have also used “1-2-3, eyes on me” with a response of “1-2 eyes on you!”
  • Songs to fill gap times. It is good to have a whole arsenal of songs to keep kids busy when you are waiting to use the bathroom, a few people are finishing up tasks etc. During camp they LOVED for me to sing any songs that included their names. For a few other ideas you can see this post.

4. Side-stepping a crisis is much better then having to calm everyone down. You can plan for this by looking at your day and figuring out where the “problem areas” might be (hungry kids, a lot of waiting for next activities, transitions).  One thing that is often overlooked is taking time to be thoughtful about how you are grouping kids (whether they walking somewhere or working in small groups). Dynamics can really make or break the day.

5. Build in down time! Every day at lunch we would read two chapters in a book. The kids could sketch, lay down…whatever they wanted. This downtime was critical for ALL of us. The days are busy and full of activity and having a little breather will keep everyone going through the end of the day.

Interesting tip: My co-teacher introduced a “silent signal” of putting your hand on your head if you couldn’t see the book. This saved us a LOT of “I didn’t see it!!!!” when we were reading!

6. Mutual respect in the classroom is key. That looks different for different people. One of my biggest things is that I try to never lie to my students. If I don’t know something, I admit it. If I say something will happen, it either happens or I am up front with them why it couldn’t. It may sound strange and specific, but kids are quick to nice that kind of thing. Whatever form it takes for you, if you show them respect it WILL go a long way to getting some back.

Up next week….working with another teacher.

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3 Responses to Letters From Camp: Keeping Order Amid Chaos

  1. Sarah, will you share a link or the lyrics for the songs with children’s names and the Three Bears chant-story?

  2. Absolutely! The 3 Bears song can be found at Julie Austin’s website (http://julieaustin.com/jazzy-three-bears). The silly name song I used would go “Oh, I wish I had a little (insert color) box to put my (insert name) in. I’d take them out and go “knock knock knock” (noise) and then I’d put them back in!” The kids found it HILARIOUS even though it doesn’t make much sense. The cupcake song is another favorite “I had (insert number) of cupcakes upon my kitchen shelf. Along came (insert name) and took one for her/himself. I said don’t touch it! Don’t touch it! That one’s just for me. With a middle full of jelly, I want it in my belly! Dum-diddle-dum-diddle-dee” Enjoy!

  3. Pingback: A Lesson on Simple Machines…Simply Worked! | Cabinet of Curiosities LLC

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