Ryan was a great kid! He had a huge heart. I saw him take care of his little brother and do the nicest things for other children. Ryan was also stubborn. He could really dig in his heels. There were mornings when he just didn’t want to be at Sunday School and he let you know it!
One morning his teacher came to get me because Ryan wouldn’t come into the classroom. His mother had already dropped him off and he had decided that he didn’t want to join the class. When I got there, I took a minute to talk with Ryan and then I offered him a choice. I told him that we cared about him and it was important to us that he was safe. In order for us make sure he was safe, he needed to be in the classroom where we could see him. I told him, “You need to come inside. Would you like to sit with your friends or would you like to sit by yourself on this bench?” He came inside. He still chose to sit by himself, but he was inside the classroom.
Now, Ryan hadn’t been given a choice whether to come to Sunday School or not. There are a lot of things in kids’ lives that they don’t have control over. Ryan was trying to exert some control by refusing to come into the classroom. By offering him a choice, I was giving Ryan some control and he didn’t feel to need dig in his heels quite as much.
Here are 4 tips for offering choices in the classroom:
1. Make sure the choices are acceptable.
Another way of saying this would be make sure that you can live with either choice. When you offer a child or your entire class a choice, make sure that both options are acceptable. For example, “Which of these 2 activities would you like to do (or do first)?” Plan two activities that are fun and engaging and highlight the central theme of your class. That way the kids stay focused and learn no matter which activity they choose. Another example would be, “Would you like to continue playing or come join the story circle?” This is an example where one of the choices isn’t acceptable. We want all children to join in for story time, so don’t offer them a choice that lets them choose to sit out.
2. Make sure the choices are legitimate.
Kids will quickly pick up on it if you are not offering them real choices. When you offer choices you are letting the kids practice making decisions and accepting responsibility. So offer real choices. “Would you rather work alone or with a partner?” “What should we do first: have snack or play a game?”
3. Make sure the choices are significant.
It’s important that the choices you give kids are legitimate, but also that they are significant. Give them opportunities to make important decisions. If you are planning a class party, for example, let the kids help decide the theme of the party by offering significant choices.
4. Finally, make sure the kids know the rules.
It’s important that kids understand the rules of making choices. Tell them that you will offer a choice, but it they refuse to choose, you will choose for them. For example, when I teach Sunday School, one of our rules is that the class does activities together. That means that during story time, every sits in the story circle. If a child is misbehaving you could say, “It’s not a choice not to join us. So, would you rather sit here in the story circle or sit there in the story circle.” If they refuse to choose, then you choose one of those spots for them.
Give over some of the control in your classroom to your students by offering acceptable, legitimate, significant choices. They will have an opportunity to practice decision-making and taking responsibility for their actions and you will be practicing solid classroom management.