At-home learning tips from a teacher: classroom contracts

Before my time as a children’s guide at Anythink Libraries, I spent 7 years as a classroom teacher. I taught ages 2 through second grade, although most of my time was spent teaching pre-kindergarten. I received my master’s degree in Early Childhood General and Special Education, so I'm excited to share some tips for at-home learning from my teaching experience. 

One activity that I always found helpful in my classroom was preparing a classroom contract. At the start of the year, the children would help me brainstorm a list of rules or agreements in order to create a safe and engaging classroom environment. This can be done at any point during the year if certain topics need to be revisited.

Knowing that some parents may choose homeschooling for the first time this year or will have children at home participating in remote learning, I thought it may be helpful to share this exercise. If you have one child at home, the contract might focus more on taking care of their learning space and what to do if they need help with their schoolwork. Families with multiple children can include rules about turn-taking, social norms, and personal space. Explain to your child that a contract is an agreement amongst people and that they can be used for many purposes, such as buying and selling a house.

Getting started

Why should we have rules at all? Sometimes rules help us with safety, and the picture book Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann helps demonstrate this. Having rules can also help us agree on how to treat one another, how to deal with our feelings and what to do if we make a mistake. I love the picture book The Recess Queen by Alexis O'Neill in which Mean Jean the Recess Queen would "push, smoosh and lollapaloosh" other children on the playground if they got in her way. Ask your children, “Do we want to act like Mean Jean? How should we treat one another? What should we do if we disagree?”

Add some humor

It can be helpful to incorporate humor, too. Asking in a dramatic voice, “Should we leave our materials on the floor? Should we leave the caps off of the markers, leave glue sticks open? No? Why should we even clean up at all? What would happen if we don’t?” Helping children understand the reasoning behind rules will make them much more likely to internalize and to follow them. 

Kids can make the rules, too

Have children brainstorm their own rules, as well. You will be surprised at what they come up with! I usually prepare a list of questions before making a contract to make sure certain topics are included. Should we have jobs (do chores)? What kind of environment do we want to create for learning? How should we treat our materials? How do we want to treat each other?

Signing on the dotted line

Finally, have everyone sign the contract – parents and caregivers, too! Display it in a location where it can be a reminder of what has been agreed upon. Below is a link to recommended resources to use for this activity.

What else would you like to hear more about from the classroom? How did this activity work for you? I look forward to your comments!

For additional ideas, check out this blog post by Madison Michell, titled "10 Back-to-School Read-Alouds to Teach Classroom Rules and Expectations."