Establishing Rules and Routines in your Elementary Classroom

Establishing rules and routines in your elementary classroom may be the most important thing you do all year!

Some people say that ‘Structure’ is my middle name. I must admit that I do love routines and rules with just a touch of over-the-top, color-coordinated organization.

I live for a good bullet-pointed list, alphabetized bookshelf, and color-coded post-its.

Luckily for me, my students have always thrived in this organized and structured environment. In fact, the more structure I provide, the better they perform. That’s probably why substitute teachers tell me that the class ‘ran itself’ while I was gone..and that makes me proud.

But the kind of classroom routines and rules that make life easier for subs weren’t established in a day. These routines took several weeks of focused attention and ongoing review.

Setting a Firm Foundation

At the beginning of the year (for me), the curriculum comes AFTER two weeks of setting the stage. It always makes me nervous when I see a teacher jump right into the curriculum on the first day of school. Although I understand the importance of getting through the curriculum, I also know that if I can set some good foundational rules right away, then students will be more engaged and focused for the rest of the year. Thus allowing us to move more quickly and efficiently through the curriculum.

When you spend time early in the year establishing rules and routines in your elementary classroom, it pays off dividends throughout the year. Students thrive when specific routines are in place, and in my experience, time spent establishing routines is time well spent.

But…it is not enough just to talk about or list out the rules once. You have to repeat, review, practice, then rinse, repeat and review some more. You also have to be on your toes, ready to correct behavior, reintroduce a rule again, and review procedures as needed. Students need ongoing practice of the routines until they finally become a habit.

Students need to know what to expect for each part of the day, so establishing rules and routines in your elementary classroom is not something you rush. It is something you focus on, follow through with, and show your students that you value.

Rules and Routines for Elementary Classes

Sometimes figuring out what rules and routines to establish is hard. As you begin making your list, start by considering a few of the following resources…

One place to look as you begin establishing rules and routines in your elementary classroom is in your school’s handbook. Handbooks provide the school’s guidelines on how specific situations will be handled, and you’ll want your in-class rules and routines to align with any school rules.

Next, talk with your guidance counselor about the students coming into your class. Are there any rules or routines that have specifically worked with these students in the past? Can you integrate them into your plans for the upcoming school year?

Another place to begin is online. Spend some time in elementary-focused Facebook groups. Maybe even create a post asking other teachers to share some of their most effective rules and procedures.

Yet another place to get started is right here! I’ve put together a list with some questions to help you get started. Check it out below!

Questions to consider as you begin establishing rules and routines for your elementary classroom:

  • How will students enter and exit the room?
  • What will students do when they arrive?
  • Where will materials be stored?
  • How will office notes be delivered?
  • How will students turn in homework?
  • How will papers travel to and from school?
  • What will students do when they have free time?
  • What are the procedures for borrowing books from the classroom library?
  • What happens if a student is absent?
  • What special attention-getting signals will be used?

Review the Rules with Wiggle, Didgi, and Pop! 

If you are in the market for a fun activity to use while establishing rules and routines in your elementary class, then I want to formally introduce you to Wiggle, Didgi, and Pop!

Wiggle, Didgi, and Pop’s story lets us see first-hand why rules are so important!

Wiggle likes to dance and move around. Didgi likes to play video games, and Pop is a true lover of bubble gum. When the king’s rules feel unfair for this group of friends, they decide to travel to a kingdom where there are no rules. What they experience there is not what they expected!

I use this story to talk about the importance of rules, while also focusing on the importance of good, fair rules that benefit everyone. Wiggle, Didgi, and Pop’s story, as well as the corresponding questions and discussions, are the perfect introduction to talking about classroom rules. 

Pssst…want to learn more about Wiggle, Didgi, and Pop? Check out this blog post!

A Few Final Thoughts on Developing Classroom Rules

Classroom rules need to be simple, fair, and clear. If there are any consequences associated with rules, they should be posted and easy to refer to as needed.

If possible, give your students the opportunity to come up with classroom rules (with the teacher’s help of course). One way I do this is by giving students categories. For example, my rules are “Respect Yourself,” “Respect Others,” and “Respect Your School.” Using these as guidelines, students can brainstorm and make a list of more specific behaviors that would fall under each category. As a class, we can then discuss the ideas and see if any of these student ideas would serve us well as class-wide rules.

As you begin preparing for back to school, remember to plan a lot of time for establishing rules and routines in your elementary classroom. Take the time to do this part of the year well, and the rest of the year will run much more smoothly.

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