Forming bonds with children in the classroom–Good for them, and good for you!
We all know that building relationships with our students and their families is job number one. In the first few weeks of school, there is really nothing more important. We have to let children know that they are safe and cared for at school, and when that is in place, you will find that there are far less behavior issues in your classroom. Everyone benefits from positive relationships, but I’ll be brutally honest with you, I sometimes get caught up in the things I want to accomplish in a day, and I can forget to slow down. I think that is one of the most important things we can do, as teachers and also as parents. We have to take a minute to stop focusing on our own agenda and just be there for the child.
There are so many ways to incorporate positive social interactions into your daily routines! We’ve got just a few ideas for you here!
Get down to child level to greet each child by name. Understand that not all children want hugs, and that’s okay. You may want to consider making a greeting apron or greeting chart to allow children to choose how they’d like to be greeted. Here are some examples of images that you can purchase on Teachers Pay Teachers.
Provide specific praise and stay away from generic terms like “good job”. This can be a tough one. Saying “good job” comes naturally, and it can be a hard habit to break. Instead, try noticing something specific about what the child’s done. “You cleaned up all the blocks. Way to go!”
Model positive relationships with others including teaching assistants, therapists, and school staff. Remember that kids are always watching!
Notice details and comment on them. “You used yellow to make that flower just like the one we saw on the playground!”
Tell children what you want them to do, not what you don’t want them to do. A good place to start with this is to establish school promises instead of school rules. Consistent promises that are used school-wide help children understand the expectations and provide consistency.
Create routines within the day that remind children how special and important they are. I used a “Wish You Well” heart based on Conscious Discipline. When a child was absent, their name was placed in the heart and everyone wished them well. I also had children who would come to me and say, “My grandpa is sick. Can I put his name in the Wish You Well heart?” This is a great opportunity to form connections with children.
You don’t have to have a special pillow to make your heart. Here’s another great idea.
Having a job for every child in your class can help you build a relationship with that child, as well as a sense of community in the classroom. One year, I had a little girl go home and tell her mom she was so excited because she finally got to be “the weasel cleaner.” Her mom asked her repeatedly what she was saying. “Weasel cleaner, Mom! I get to clean the weasel! You know, where all the kids paint!” (She was the easel cleaner, but you probably figured that out by now.)
Home visits are a wonderful way to build relationships with children and their families, but even if you don’t have that opportunity, you can still send home a brief questionnaire to ask families about their child. I like to ask questions specific to the child’s social and emotional needs. Here’s an example of the form I use. It’s very simple! Feel free to download it!
One way to build relationships with students and to help them build relationships with each other is by making a class book. I do this at the beginning of each school year. In it, I include a photo of the child with a list of some of the things that child likes. I include pictures and environmental print to encourage the children to read it themselves. I make sure to include a page for staff members and therapists, and I even try to make pages for people the students may meet around the school like custodians and office personnel. Children will quickly notice how many things they have in common with their friends and teachers! I make a copy for the class and a copy that the children take turns taking home.
My kiddos always really loved having a class mascot. At our school, which was made up entirely of preschool classrooms, we had a mascot for every class. My class was the Froggy Friends room. It always tickled me to hear the kids on the playground talking about another child and identifying them by their mascot. “I know her! She’s a Caring Cardinal!”
We also had a stuffed animal mascot for our room that the children got to take turns bringing home for the weekend. Frogger would go home in a special bag with a binder where families could add pictures and stories about their adventures with Frogger that weekend. I even took Frogger home over spring break, and my students loved getting a peek at my home life. Teacher home life is like seeing a unicorn when you’re in preschool!
Praise positive behavior. In my class, we introduced the idea of the “Super Friend.” Any child caught being a super friend got to wear a special cape and have a note put up on the Super Friend bulletin board about what their kind act was (Shown below at the beginning of the school year before we added notes). I also took a picture of the child in the cape and sent it to their parents. Eventually, we got to the point of children pointing out other kids’ good deeds!
Establish rituals. Just like in a family, it’s important for classrooms to have rituals. I first learned of this concept through Becky Bailey’s I Love You Rituals. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out! There are a ton of ideas for building positive relationships with kids. When my son was in preschool, he had very little functional language, but he quickly picked up on music and rhymes. One of the first things he learned in his preschool class was “See you later alligator.” From there, he went on to astonish me with additional versions of the classic like “Chop chop, lollipop” and “swish, swish jellyfish.” These simple rhymes were a ritual that he and his teacher shared that built the foundation for him to feel safe and loved.
These are just a few ways that I’ve found to build relationships with kids. Every classroom is different, and I’m sure you have your own amazing ideas and rituals. Please comment below so that we can hear about them!