Class Rules

In my combined first and second grade, my goal was to allow children to participate in a peaceful, productive, and comfortable atmosphere while learning well. We developed as few rules as possible but enough for cohesiveness and fairness for all. Some were a class’s decision, and some were mine. Most of the time the rules were taken for granted and obeyed. When a problem did occur with any child or group, there were spontaneous responses with problem solving and discussions about right vs. wrong, hopefully increasing their moral awareness. Stories and literature writing assignments often included a moral at the end.

One kindergarten class from years ago, were capable of making all their own rules. The class would decide and vote and then try out a new rule with changes made when necessary. What a joy that was. Those children could get out finger paint, use it, and clean up afterwards without any input from me. Also, the children enforced the rules among themselves. And I never had a class afterwards that could initiate and follow through with that much responsibility. I began to wonder why??? Well, first of all in that school, four kindergarten classes were divided according to age, and those children were the oldest group. In addition, many of those children came from very large families and had jobs to do at home. In my future classes, children did problem solve and make decisions about rules but could never initiate all. There was always a combination of their rules and mine.

Read more about children’s personal development and social interaction in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Independence and Responsibility in First and Second Grade

Throughout each year children, in my combined first and second grade, were told our class was like one big family within our school community with respect, thoughtfulness, and support for one another. Sometimes they had choices with freedom to be unique when it didn’t interfere with the rights of others. Children should have rights and independence as long as it’s with an equal amount of responsibility. They must coexist. A teacher once told about believing that developing independence in young children was a mistake. He told about a child who thought he could do anything at all causing great problems in the class. He said he was totally independent resulting in such negative results. Well, that child did not have an equal amount of responsibility. The same thing is true with freedom. Great freedom in a class without responsibility creates chaos – but such harmony when blended.

Read more about programs, including a section on Personal Development and Social Interaction, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Programs for Six-, Seven-, and Eight-Year-Olds

What programs in my combined first and second grades provide the natural learning of childhood? Exploration, discovery, and experimentation are part of self-initiated learning stemming from children’s great strives to understand and absorb their world. Learning centers supply an enriched environment that keeps their minds active and allows them to strengthen and expand their concepts, the necessary equipment for good progress in the academic areas. So, a daily Choice Time in the math, science, art, writing, and book centers was very important. A happy productive time.

Then what about the instructional programs, those that would allow them to grow and still keep their love of learning that they arrived with? It was hoped that each program would be appealing by allowing children to identify with others, enhance and broaden their thinking, and enable them to understand and accept purposes for learning. Programs addressed a wide range of intellectual levels and abilities without limits for achievement. Programs that would, along with the learning centers, reinforce and extend their concepts.

So my challenge and hope was to never, or try never, to turn them off. Then I know their learning and growth could really accelerate.

Read more about these programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Yes, Combine First and Second Grades

There’s no way to overestimate the value of a combined first and second grade class. There’s excellent modeling for first graders by second graders. Besides the higher level of achievement that was constantly displayed, the second graders passed on not only their knowledge but their good rapport and attitudes about learning. For second graders, there were constant opportunities to teach which could accelerate and reinforce their own learning. Whenever learning is taught, it is apt to become permanent. Of course, modeling and teaching were not limited just to the older students, for much could also permeate between and among both the first and second graders. For the first four or five years, I wondered why each class attained a higher level of achievement than the previous one. I concluded it was because of modeling and teaching. (After about five years, the achievement level seemed to stabilize. I believe most likely because there was a ceiling for cognitive development at this age. I don’t mean they didn’t continue to improve. They did. I mean the achievement level wasn’t higher than previous classes except for a few exceptional children.)

I taught the combined class for about 15 years before retiring and it was my favorite.  There was no way I ever wanted to return to a single grade class. An asset for the success may be that parents had to request the program or be willing to have their child in the combined graded class for two years. As a result, there was generally a common philosophy between home and school regarding the raising and teaching of children, and the parents were very supportive.

Learn about programs in a combined first and second grade class in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Resolving Conflicts

In my combined first and second grade, it was made clear right from the beginning that conflicts must be solved. If not, the anger would bubble and boil inside and not go away. So, refusing to get involved and take sides, the two children were sent to sit beside each other and solve their problem. It worked more often than not. But occasionally, they would turn away from each other with scowls, solving nothing. Then they were told to walk to the gym and back. It was the farthest away from our room, and I never knew what happened, but the two would return to the room in smiles and often with arms around each other, best friends again.

Sometimes with the child’s permission, if she was having a cold prickly day, she would stand beside me in front of the class while I said, “Anna is having a very difficult day, a cold prickly one. Have you ever felt like that? And if so, can you offer her some suggestions to help her feel warm fuzzies again?” I did wonder at times if this would backfire, and I suppose it might but it never did. Children can be so thoughtful and understanding of others. Hands were raised and helpful suggestions made. I’m sure the class realized I was asking for their help, not their criticism. After that, Anna and others felt so relieved.

I often said the class was sweet for a year and a half. Then there was a change with second graders, girls becoming cliquey and the boys aggressive. Much of this happened at recess. For instance, the girls would form clubs, and it would soon become apparent that the purpose was to exclude others. So we would have a big discussion, and hopefully they would come to a good decision after each would realize how it felt to be excluded. If they didn’t reach a good decision, I would make the rule: no one in our class was to be excluded. All must feel wanted and welcome. This solved the problem. In one class, however, this led to a humorous (to me) development. After our lengthy discussion and acceptance of our new rule, for three days everyone returned from recess content. Then on the fourth day, girls came in completely agitated. When asked, “Well, what happened today?” They said, “Abigail would not join our club!!!” So, of course, another discussion followed focusing upon each person being allowed to make their own decisions. That doesn’t hurt. It’s being excluded that is so painful. The boys’ aggressiveness was also addressed with class discussions, hopefully leading to resolutions. Class discussions to resolve conflicts were very common during the second semester after recess

So, healthy growth and development must include a feeling of worth and success within oneself, an atmosphere that values character development equally with academic success.

Learn more about programs, including personal development and social interaction, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

A Young Child’s Self-Concept

Before a child can understand and accept others, she must have a good self-concept. Some have said that before a child could achieve in school, she needed to have or develop that good self-concept, but I disagree. In my combined first and second grade, I believed that a good self-concept and good achievement in school must go hand in hand. How can a child feel secure if she feels she’s doing poorly in school? So, initially and throughout the year while trying to provide a curriculum of success, close attention was given to the healthy personal development of each child. And once a child feels self-assured and successful, she is able to transfer her harmony to others.

Learn more about programs, including personal development and social interaction, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Yes, Teach About Christmas and Hanukah

In my combined first and second grade, in December we did  not avoid learning about each other’s religion and whatever other winter holiday a classmate celebrated in their home. This always included Hanukah and sometimes Divali from India. Likenesses of various religions, such as using candles for light and exchanging gifts, plus the differences were explored. Every child made a craft appropriate for each holiday along with presentations and books read both about our holidays and other mid-winter holidays around the world. It was a glitter Christmas tree ornament or molded clay candle holder for Christmas, and a dreidel for Hanukah  (a dreidel pattern with directions are in Appendix W) followed by learning and playing the game of Dreidel.

Special crafts were brought in by mothers of any other religions. Children and parents participated in presentations about their religion. The purpose of learning about various religions was not to celebrate any in school but to understand others’ rights and beliefs, so hopefully in the future the children would be kind and accepting of many others. Parents were very helpful and supportive of this approach, but occasionally a Jewish parent would point out that Hanukah was not a major Jewish holiday. My answer was that no one could avoid Christmas in the community, and my explanation about using Christmas, Hanukah, and other winter holidays as an example for understanding and accepting others resolved the issue.

Learn more about the programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Reading Comprehension for Young Readers

Reading specialists believe that reading for comprehension is the most important goal of reading and naturally I do too – but not at first. In my combined first and second grade, there was no stress upon comprehension while the beginners were learning how to read, not even in their own reading book. A child’s first book was a basal reader of interest to the child – one that she would want to understand. At first, each beginner was with an adult or child partner. Then later on, when they were capable enough, children read only stories or articles of interest and skipped others. These beginners were learning how to read – with or without phonics – relying upon their strengths.

If children were using basal readers and concentrating on breaking-the-code in their own way, how would they acquire good comprehension? Well, simultaneously while they were learning how to read, during the afternoons when stories were read to the class various types of comprehension were explored – about characterization, the style of the author, the setting, moods and feelings, the plot, the theme, etc. Also, they were writing constantly with a big emphasis upon stories. They each were thinking about introducing their characters and developing the plot with a good conclusion. I believe that’s where much of their comprehension developed, during discussions of stories read to them and through their own  writing, perhaps before they could understand all that they’d read themselves. Some understood what they’d read while they were very busy decoding, but others did not.

One time at a conference, the presenter put up a paragraph and covered up the top half of the words which we were to decode. My friend and I were so absorbed trying to decipher the words and soon thrilled that we were able to. Then the presenter put up another paragraph and covered up the bottom half of the words. This was really difficult. I don’t remember now if we were just able to do some of it or if we accomplished the whole thing with much struggle, but it suddenly occurred to me when it was over that I had no idea what I had just read. What it was about.

That’s exactly what I think happens when these beginners had their own book, and they wanted to read so much that they strived, willingly and enthusiastically, to decode. And as their decoding became easier, they proceeded from pure decoding to the inclusion of good comprehension – indicated by the high comprehension scores in standardized tests. Perhaps when children are accomplished readers and have poor comprehension, it’s because they are forced to read material they weren’t interested in.

Read more about beginning reading and the various reading programs in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Animals and Natural Science in First and Second Grade

In my combined first and second grade classes, children’s self-initiated learning took place during Choice Time. These concrete experiences served as a background for gaining new insights and understandings.

It isn’t important which things are offered but vital that science is a big part of young children’s lives. The resulted learning is immense. Science can promote curiosity, discovery, investigation, and experimentation resulting in extending children’s vocabulary, language, and concepts about their world. It offers opportunities to develop rational and critical thinking, and the skills of problem solving, comparing and contrasting, classification, and observation. There are also opportunities for significant reading and writing.


a terrarium                                                           birds’ nests

feathers                                                                   plants, seeds, and bulbs

collections: shells, stones and rocks,                toads and turtles

fossils, bark, fall seeds, fungi, acorns,

microscopes chestnuts,

everything blue, etc.                                     lizards

land crabs                                                                  slugs

pumpkins                                                                   monarch caterpillars and butterflies

cycle of mealworms                                                         and others, plus chrysalises and

fish and snails                                                           cocoons

slugs mice

pollywogs                                                                   spiders

live and dried insects                                             snakes

ants                                                                             molds

crayfish                                                                     parakeet

praying mantis                                                       science books

magnifying glasses

The collections and materials above found their way in our science center during each year. An exciting exhibit in the early fall was monarch caterpillars and chrysalises. Children were busy watching closely the sequence of the life span until finally – the butterfly

There was always a forest terrarium to house whatever might be brought to school. In the fall we had many creatures that grew in the area. Most we would keep for about a month and then let them go in a proper place. In the spring, we would have local creatures again. Other animals and reptiles found their way into our terrarium from parents or purchases from the pet store. We sometimes had a toad that lived in the terrarium all winter and seemed to become quite tame. There was a never-ending interest watching the toad whipping out its extended tongue to eat a mealworm. And then raising mealworms to feed the toad continued our study of life cycles. (Mealworms can be raised in a box of oatmeal containing cut-up potatoes.)

We accepted anything that we could properly care for and the children could hold and catch. There wasn’t often an aquarium because interest was high during the talks and preparation but waned after the fish were introduced. It happened with anything that could not be held.

There were also collections, such as shells, fall seeds, and birds’ nests and feathers. While some sorted and classified shells, others tried to guess what properties were involved. A big display of fall seeds emphasized life cycles and how they travel through wind, animals and people. We read a book about various birds’ nests to help in identification. Observing the various birds’ feathers, children tried to determine what parts of the bird the feathers had originated from and what purpose each had.

With the help of books in the afternoons, children learned more about the exhibits in the science center. For instance, books could be about the differences between various nests, a toad and a frog, a butterfly and a moth, a turtle and a tortoise; the differences between instinct and learned behavior.

For insect study, there was a chart showing the five parts – the head, the thorax, the abdomen, two sets of wings and six legs. Then we looked and searched for small things to see if they were insects or not. What a classification feat that was!

Raising mice each January, we became involved in a study about genes and heredity. It was most exciting each time we had a new litter – which was very often. We transferred the knowledge about the mouse genetics to other animals and people.

During the spring, a variety of seeds were planted from those found in fruits and vegetables, such as apple and melon seeds and the eyes of potatoes plus an assortment of bulbs and flower seeds.

Concepts gained during science activities not only kept their minds active but provided an extra basis for abstract thought that would be a benefit throughout all academic areas. And there’s no limit to young children’s vast enthusiasm for learning.

Read more about Choice Time and the science program in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

Opportunities for Overcoming Egocentrism in Young Children

Losing egocentrism is such an important process to overcome – to be able to see and understand other viewpoints, both socially and intellectually. For children to realize that the whole world doesn’t see things exactly the way they do – that there are many different views and aspects to situations. It is important for young children to have many opportunities for overcoming egocentrism.

During social conflicts there are opportunities to point out the other side of a situation, trying to help a child realize there are other opinions and attitudes. If an egocentric child disagrees with another child, she cannot understand that there’s a different idea from her own. She fully believes that everyone understands things and sees things exactly the way she does.

Piaget believed that one reason children lose their egocentrism is because of disagreements with their friends. A child begins to realize there are other viewpoints and after enough exposure with concrete experiences, children begin to think abstractly. If a child has enough experiences of other viewpoints, the usual time to overcome egocentricity is about age seven. (By the way – how many adults do you know who have no idea that there are other viewpoints? Shocking, isn’t it? We must help children to overcome all this so they won’t still be egocentric as adults. Those adults cause too many problems in our lives.)

Overcoming egocentrism is important for successful achievement throughout a child’s school experience. Success in math requires a good mental image of numbers of objects in many different configurations including the various shapes, sizes, and dimensions of these objects. Building with blocks or Cuisenaire rods and manipulating numerous objects in the math center provide good experiences for overcoming egocentricity – seeing all sides of and configurations of their creations. The same observations can be made with art projects when a child is constructing with paper or boxes, or working with clay, or making mobiles. A child is looking at all sides and angles – offering the ability to see all aspects. When an egocentric child looks at one side of a structure, she is unable to imagine the shape of the other sides. So, constructions help children overcome their concentration of static situations. These experiences in turn, will allow a child to attain solid abstract math concepts.

In order for children to recognize other viewpoints and gain facility in reading and writing critically, they need experiences with appropriate questions, opportunities for debate, and brainstorming sessions. After enough exposure, hopefully they would be on the way to overcoming egocentricity – to acknowledge and understand others’ viewpoints. And when children write about their life experiences from their own perspective, it doesn’t provide opportunities to relinquish egocentrism. When writing a story, however, a child must think about his appeal to an audience and identify with his characters in the story.  Seeking other viewpoints. And without overcoming their egocentricity, children will indeed be handicapped in depth of reading comprehension along with all other academic areas and in personal relationships. But losing egocentrism isn’t something to be demanded. After much exposure to others’ thoughts and beliefs, children achieve it at different ages and stages, but they need repeated opportunities in order to overcome it.

Read more about appropriate activities in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on

   Teaching Young Children © Peggy Broadbent 2011 - All Rights Reserved