The Importance of Structure for Young Children: 7 Tips from Mrs. Brown

Structure for young children? Shouldn’t we just let kids be kids? For Hillsdale Academy kindergarten teacher Mrs. Carie Brown, a structured environment actually allows children to become better friends, better children, and better people. Consistent schedules and rules help children learn to respect others, maintain self-control, and truly focus. And these skills don’t matter only in adulthood—they allow kids not only to be, but also to enjoy being kids.

So how can teachers incorporate structure that liberates, rather than stifles, their students? Mrs. Brown offers these suggestions:

Praise good behavior: Enforcing rules doesn’t mean constant correction. Brown knows that in kindergarten, “especially at the beginning, we’re still learning.” Instead of reprimanding her students, she will encourage good behavior by saying “I would love to call on you, but you have to raise your hand first,” or “I love how Charlotte is raising her hand. She knows that’s all she has to do and I will call on her.”

Help them understand why the rules exist: Rather than enforcing seemingly arbitrary directions, use classroom examples to show how the rules help everyone enjoy school. Brown explains, “I will say, ‘I can’t hear what you are saying if so-and-so is talking at the same time.’ I think they get that.” Suddenly, the students raise their hands not because it’s the rule, but because they want to hear their classmate’s ideas.

Be consistent: “Sometimes it’s easier to let little things go, but especially at the beginning, you have to be really consistent,” Brown advises. “And if you are, the dividends pay off remarkably in the months ahead. By the end of the year, everything is running smoothly.”

Maintain a calm classroom through routines: When students get up to tell the teacher every time they break a pencil or need a tissue, the environment becomes loud and distracting, especially for students who naturally struggle to focus. Make a plan for these situations ahead of time. “All those routines need to be taught,” Brown says. Music can help easily distracted children as well. “Sometimes I’ll play good classical music while they’re working. It prevents talking and creates a calm environment so they can work without distraction.”

Stick to the schedule: Brown says: “Following a schedule is so important to young children. They know what’s coming next; they know what’s expected of them. It helps them to relax because they’re not always anxious wondering what’s going to come next.” Following a schedule also cultivates diligence: “They know that if they persevere through this math paper, we’re going to go to recess. I think they appreciate knowing the boundaries even at a young age.”

Get parents on your team: “We have families on board, which makes a big difference,” Brown says. “They are great teammates to help you when a child is struggling to follow directions.” When parents and teachers work together and maintain consistent expectations, students are equipped to meet them.

Free time is important, too: At home and at school, not every minute of the day should be scheduled. “There’s a time and place for structure, but there should also be time when students can explore and do what they would like to do,” Brown explains. “You want to give them freedom, but also be able to make the transition back to structured learning.”

For Carie Brown, school should shape a child’s character just as much as it shapes a child’s mind: “I want my students to leave my classroom knowing what it means to be honest, to use kind words, to respect authority, and to be a good friend.” Consistent structure creates an ordered environment in which students can grow in these virtues, Brown emphasizes: “At the end of the day, we just want them to be good people.”