Preschool is a huge adjustment for some of our littlest students. For some, this is the first time leaving their parents. For others, a learning environment can be very different from what they are used to when spending time with a sitter or at daycare. Due to this, they need time to adjust to the classroom and to understand the different behavior expectations. Therefore, reward/behavior systems in my PreK Sped classroom have been essential and life-changing! They allow students to learn routines and expectations in nurturing ways.
Not a One System Fits All Approach
While I am not an expert on behavior systems, I do know that every preschooler enters the classroom with different background knowledge. For special education teachers, it becomes second nature to “make it work” for students and their many needs. Therefore, they need different systems to help them get through their day. Therefore, you will see a lot of DIFFERENT ideas here.
Personally, I have one classroom reward system and then I use other systems for individual students/situations. I like to keep an “extra” bin that I can pull out whenever a student is having a hard moment or could benefit from something I have stored away. I do this because I will find, make, and utilize ANY system that any student in any situation needs to enjoy being in preschool. Ultimately, these classroom management systems have been an incredible support in the past 3 years. They have allowed me to maintain a calm and educational classroom.
Whole-Class: Sticker Chart System
My sticker chart system is something I used every day with every student! It not only works when students are in my classroom but also when they go to Speech, OT, or PT! Be sure to check out my Sticker Chart Video. It will explain my system in addition to how I keep everything organized.
Individual Systems: Token Boards
Token systems can be a great way to reinforce positive behavior. Ultimately, students earn tokens and then can exchange them for a larger reward to celebrate their success. Since every student is different, there is not a certain token board to prep. Therefore, I am always hesitant to prep specific token boards and first/then boards before the year starts. This is due to the fact that behavior management systems come with getting to know your students! Instead, I like to have a few general token boards ready for a behavior occurring in the moment. However, thought needs to be put into the board design in order to best reflect the needs of the student.
When creating token boards, it is important to be flexible. Truly, each board will be individualized for each child. This means some boards may have video game clipart while others have ballerina shoes. Students need to love their board in order to be excited for it! Therefore, this means you need to get to know your students before creating a board. Furthermore, it is vital to understand that the same board will not last the entire year. Any system you create and use may work for a month or two, but systems need to change as students grow. Thus, students, especially our youngest ones, need something new every so often to continue motivating them!
Behavior System 1: Binder
If your student is traveling around, a binder will be an easy way to keep everything together. Each part of the day can even have its own page. Therefore, a student will be excited to turn the page often and see each step. Then, the student can earn tokens all throughout the day, which can be stored in the front of the binder. At the end of the day, a big reward can be earned!
It is important to remember that while this set up works for one student, it will need to be tweaked for other students. Every single student is different, so a different set up will be needed. Additionally, this design may only work for a short amount of time. As students grow, their binder needs to as well!
Behavior System 2: Mini Clipboards
I lOVE putting token boards onto mini clipboards! They are SO sturdy! To attach the token board to the clipboard, I like to use packing tape or hot glue. By doing this, they will be sure to stay on. Now, each token board will be individualized. In this example, the student was working on a quiet mouth and hands in lap. Then, the students would earn a token every time he/she does one of those things. After five tokens, the child would earn an editable treat since this was worked out with the parents.
As a helpful tip, you can always put a tiny circular container in the box at the top of the token board with hot glue or Velcro. By doing this, the snack can be on the token board! Thus, we never have to stop and get the treat or bring extra containers along. Everything we need is on the board!
Behavior System 3: Icons
Visual reminders can be so powerful! I love the token board from Especially Education’s Visuals resource! It is an incredible way to bring in icons that align with what the child likes. Truly, this aspect serves as a great motivational tool! Ultimately, the child will be able to see fun icons and reminders on what the reward will be for positive behavior. If the pieces are in good shape, they can even be stored and used again in the future.
Behavior System 4: Ring
It is easy to get small pieces all over the place in preschool. Thus, I like to keep rewards on a ring. For teachers, this keeps everything in one spot. For students, it creates a fun way to flip through and choose the reward. If the ring works for you, it can also be used to keep tokens together! For instance, if you have students who do not carry the token board with them, a ring can store the tokens. Then, they can receive a token from the ring and put it on the board themselves!
Behavior System 5: Bringing a Familiar Face into the Classroom
One of the biggest struggles preschoolers may have involves missing home. My BFF Jessie from Special Resources By Jessie created a system to help calm homesick feelings. Specially, it allowed a child to know his/her mom was not far away. All preschool teachers have experienced a child crying at the start of the year and wanting to see his/her mom or dad. Therefore, I took the amazing system by Jessie and added a picture of the child’s mom at the bottom of the schedule. By doing this, the child could see how many more things had to be done before seeing Mom. The schedule pieces could even be taken on and off, which worked as a countdown to going home. This system didn’t have to be used long as the child adjusted to being at school, but it was SO powerful!
Behavior System 6: Schedule
Some students greatly benefit from knowing what will happen and when. Thus, a hands-on schedule is great for students who are a little older. Personally, I used it for a student who had trouble staying on task. Therefore, this schedule helped him/her track what he had to do. However, this is not just a typical visual schedule. It is moveable! This meant that the student was motivated to get work done in a given amount of time because he/she got to actually move the schedule piece. The schedule was Velcro’ed to the desk, so it was easy to move the schedule pieces around. You might also like this daily schedule blog post.
Behavior System 7: Unpacking Help
As students enter the classroom, there is often so much going on. Between everyone coming in, morning work, and checking in with the teacher, there is a lot to handle! Thankfully, this chart by Jessie was so helpful! It helped the child stay on task and provide motivation to unpack in a timely manner. After putting all of the stars next to the pictures, the child earned a sticker for his class sticker chart. Honestly, sometimes strong classroom management is as simple as giving a sticker!
Behavior System 8: Checklists
Teachers often love to keep track of to-do lists in a checklist format. However, they can be just as helpful for students! Jessie and I used a lot of these checklists for our students that were able to understand them. The student would keep this checklist in front of them during group time to remind them of the expectations. Then, if they got all smiley faces during group time, they earned a reward! Additionally, we also had one student utilize a chart like this for everything throughout the day, not just group time.
When the student earned all of the smiley faces for a part of the day, he/she checked it off on a bigger chart. Then, he earned a reward if he/she had all of the checks at the end of the day. Furthermore, my teaching assistants and myself also sent thome these green, yellow or red slips so that the parents would know what kind of day the student had. Truly, it was such an easy way for us to communicate with parents and not have to send a daily email.
Behavior Systems 9: Photo Cases
I LOVE putting token boards and first/then boards on photo cases. It is sturdy, as the clipboard. I love how I was able to store extra board pieces, snacks for rewards, and a timer inside.
Hence, I did not have to remember and carry so many things! I made this one on PowerPoint with shapes and text boxes. For this specific student, the behaviorist and I typed up an explanation of how/when to reward this student and exactly how to work with him/her.
When I first made this board for this student, I thought I was going to need ALL of these pictures, but once we started using it day to day, we realized we did not need all of them. I still kept them though, because I never know when I might need them in the future, with this student or another.
Behavior System 10: Doing What Works on the Fly
Sometimes you just have to do things on the fly with behavior systems. One of my students was having such a hard morning, so when the class went to P.E., I quickly whipped this up. I ran around the room taking pictures of a bunch of things, printed them and mounted the whole thing on a piece of paper that said “first, then”. Needless to say, I only used it for one day, because then I made a nicer one, BUT IT WORKED!! It helped my student get through his day. Thus, rushing around to put this together was absolutely worth it! As special education teachers, it is our job to help our students get through their day and be successful. So, if that means tons of lamination, Velcro and different systems, then that is what we shall do.☺
I hope this was helpful for most of you reading this about behavior systems. If you made it all the way to the end, thanks for sticking with me! If you are about to start your first year, or you are in the middle of it, YOU GOT THIS!
I talk all about this and show you all of my materials in my “reward/behavior systems” story highlight on Instagram. Also, I talked about reward/behavior systems in my Facebook lives this summer in my Facebook Group!
If you have any questions, please message me on Instagram.