Nonverbal Cues for Preschool Classroom Management

Preschool teachers can use cues to turn behaviors around and ease transition times.
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Unless you're comfortable with the kids ruling the roost, every preschool teacher needs an arsenal of strategies to reign in unruly behaviors. Nonverbal cues provide an alternative to raising your voice or getting stuck in an unreasonable reasoning cycle with a 4-year-old. Whether you choose to use ready-made visuals, hand signals or musical notes, voiceless cues can help turn chaos into calm.

1 Putting on the Posters

According to Michaelene M. Ostrosky and Hedda Meadan in the National Association for the Education of Young Children's journal, preschool teachers should regularly display images of children engaging in expected acts and behaviors. Instead of constantly telling the children what to do, show them with a poster that you can point to. For example, if you want your students to stand in an orderly line instead of pushing and shoving when it’s time to wash their hands, post an oversized photo of kids waiting for their turns.

2 Making Music

You don't need to sing-song a tune to change your preschoolers' behavior through wordy lyrics. Music on its own -- either a melodic tune or a simple note or two -- can stop the class in action and help little ones switch to something new. For example, the Promise Neighborhoods Research Consortium notes that teachers can use something as simple as a harmonica to provide cues for transition times. Teach the children that blowing a few notes signals a time for them to stop what they are doing immediately. You can substitute another instrument such as a drum, triangle or recorder instead of a harmonica.

3 Stop Signs

When you're driving down the road and see that vivid red octagon, it's likely that you quickly come to a stop. Although your preschool students are still more than a decade away from driving, they probably know what a stop sign means. Cut your own sign out of a piece of red poster board and paint the letters "STOP" on the front. Tape a wide craft stick to the back of the sign to use as a handle. When it’s transition time or you want to put a halt to unruly behaviors, hold up the stop sign to provide a visual cue that the children will know. You can also tape a stop sign up on doors or other spaces that the children aren't allowed near, directing them away from a potentially unsafe situation.

4 Hand Signals

Your preschool students don't have to master sign language to understand a few hand signal classroom cues. At the beginning of the school year, teach the class a cue that you will use to signal quiet or transition time. You can choose your own cues such as holding up three fingers in the air, making a clapping motion, or putting your hands over your ears. Or try a few basic American Sign Language signs. If the children don't respond right away to your hand signal, you may need to add another cue to make an impact such as turning off the lights in the room.

Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.