System- Classroom Rules

Every year with young students I select books to set the stage for building our community. Before we begin discussing classroom rules, I like to read a book such as Our House by Michael Rosen or Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev. These are great to get kids thinking about the golden rule- treating others the way they would like to be treated. Empathy, and taking another perspective are quite difficult for young people but books like those help open that conversation.

Then, we engage in discussion about what rules we think would be good for our classroom. I write down every idea that the kids throw out! (I have done this in whole-group when the group was less than 12 kids, but I prefer to have this conversation in small groups while the rest of the class plays. It is a great practice to build a small-group routine.) Then at another (whole-group) meeting, I present how the rules they came up with can go into groups…

Don't kick, hit, Don’t be mean

Becomes… Be kind or Be a good friend

Don’t throw toys, Don’t color on the walls

Becomes… Take care of our school

Ultimately, the kids feel like they build the community rules, but in reality, our rules are the same positively worded necessary rules every year:

Be safe. Be kind. Be a good friend.

Take care of our school. Listen. Try your best. 

Then, when kids are throwing toys across the playground, we can simply reference a rule- “Do you think that is being safe?” Or “Let’s all Take care of our school.”

It is important to note, especially in the beginning, each time we reference the rules we have to be open to the kids answering or asking questions about it. Maybe they do think climbing up the slide is safe (most of the time I do too) but they did not notice a friend was already sliding down. Now we can make a plan to stay safe. “Before I go up or down the slide, I have to look and remember only one friend at a time!” These conversations can happen right then, but we also take them back to our reflection meeting later so everyone can learn from each child’s questions and experiences. 

Simple Yet Effective

While it may seem too vague or simplistic, this approach to rules has proven to be effective for years in our experience. It is somehow simultaneously open-ended and specific enough to keep everybody feeling safe and well-loved so they can explore learning. Overall, I have found that drawing too many hard lines in regard to rules tends to result in less creative and curious students, and either more anxiety or more pushback... both perpetuate a cycle of limitation on behaviors, learning, and our relationship. Ultimately, if children are constantly walking on eggshells to obey all the “rules” they will not feel safe to stretch their minds, explore new things, or engage in messy learning experiences.


This product from Pocket of Preschool has some nice pieces to illustrate the rules:

Class Rules and Circle Time Rules- Pocket of Preschool

Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev

Our House by Michael Rosen

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