Rudey's Room

The Trick to Understanding Children's Behavior


“If there is anything that we wish to change in the child, we should first examine it and see whether it is not something that could better be changed in ourselves.”

– C.G. Jung


I cannot believe my oldest finishes first grade tomorrow (sniff).

How do we have a rising second grader? How did that happen?

“Time moves slowly and passes quickly” couldn’t ring truer. I want to stop time. Could you just freakin’ stop. Stop. Just stop … Please?

But I gotta tell you, I was concerned when she was entering first grade.

First grade is a tricky year for me. I teach nine levels – kindergarten through eighth-grade French. Developmentally, I’m jumping all day. I go from teaching seventh grade one period to first grade the next. Overall, I have a handle on the developmental switches.

But first grade is the level that when I see them walking down the hallway … marching toward me, streaming my way, it stops me dead in my tracks. Here they come. I have to mentally walk myself through teaching them.

Maybe it’s because it’s marked on my memory. I student taught first grade.

And I cried at least once a week.

The behavior management was so, so hard for me. One boy’s favorite phrase was “Neeeeeeehhhhvaah,” (never), which he shouted out after most requests I gave.

So, in a fixed way, I’ve thought my entire teaching career first grade is hard for me, I struggle with first graders.

My basic knowledge was that the developmental playing field is really uneven in first grade. Some kiddos are leaps and bounds more mature than others; some are so goofy and unfocused. Many can be bossy and testy, yet sensitive to criticism.

With that, I was concerned to be living with a first grader. I didn’t want to be fixed – but is this year is gonna suck?

I decided to be proactive and ask a first grade teacher. In October, I went on a walk with one my friends, who happens to teach first grade, and confessed, “I don’t know how you do it. Teaching first grade is so hard for me.”

She directed me to the Responsive Classroom and to Yardsticks, and I’m forever grateful. This chart contains first graders’ common characteristics, and strategies to manage them. Every child is unique (we all know this!), but there is common ground.

This chart on knowing your first grader (which is available for every grade, by the way) helps to guide me and to know where to set boundaries. For my students. And at home for V.

Having V in first grade, shifted my mind. I witnessed firsthand the way that a first grader thinks day in and day out. Living with a first grader gave me more ability to teach first graders.

The ideas she has are incredible and bountiful – they just keep coming. Let’s try this mommy. Or this … Or this. It’s inspiring and at times, of course, exhausting.

But the chart helps me understand.

This year, my first graders are very social and struggle with controlling their bodies – often rolling on the ground at rug time, tapping their feet, and making lots of random noises.

The chart reminds me to do lots of singing, and dancing, and movement games. It reminds me that they want to share, so I start rug time by answering the burning questions and comments – even if they are not French-related.

I remember the chart when one’s feelings are hurt because another’s arm accidently grazed her shoulder. Or if someone bursts into tears because someone else cut the line. The chart reminds me that they are extra sensitive.

They want to work together, but don’t always know how. This is why the cooperation jar works well.

The chart helps me remember that they are comfortable with a busy level of noise in the classroom. It reminds me to set up centers.

Having these pictures in my classroom has also helped me remember being seven:


Me in First Grade


My dad in first grade

I look at these pictures at the start of class, and it gets me through the rounds of questions.

“Mrs. Madame, how many minutes until the end of the day?,” my persistent question asker wants to know.

“Madame, I need to go to the bathroom,” another one waves his hand the moment that I have everyone’s attention on the rug.

I glance at our pictures when a first grader asks me…”Madame, are we going to watch a movie today?”… when we had watched Muzzy once three weeks ago.

I smile, swoosh him in the classroom with a “Nope, not today.” I remember that he just needs to check in with me for reassurance, to have a one-on-one moment with me.

These pictures are my reminder that I was once a child like the ones in front of me. We all were once that child. We are all someone’s child. Each student is someone’s baby.

What is your hardest age to teach, parent, or be around? Check out the knowing your ______ chart at Responsive Classroom or buy the Yardsticks book, and you’ll have ages 4 – 14 to reference.

Ciao for now.

4 Responses to “The Trick to Understanding Children's Behavior”

  1. brynnharrington

    I think I’ll buy the book. I had 2/2 teachers tell me my kids were disrespectful today and I nearly cried. Basically, they were doing a lot of NEVAHHHHHH! I’m relieved to hear this might be normal, at least for my (sniffle) first-grader-to-be. xoxo

    • Rudey's Room

      Do it! You won’t be disappointed. I think it’s totally, and the end of the year – which makes everyone off! xoxo.


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