Many early childhood educators endlessly repeat themselves by verbally trying to get students to follow their directions with everyday actions like standing up or sitting down, lining up, getting supplies, etc. Having to say the same words over and over again can wear teachers out and actually get in the way of effective classroom management and hinder learning for kids. The answer for getting one hundred percent of students to comply without sacrificing the voice and patience of teachers might sound impossible, but a solution does exist and surprisingly enough it does not require the utterance of a single word. It’s called The Sound Symbol Solution.
Pick a certain melody like “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and train students that when they hear it to stand up quietly. A tune like this can be played on piano or if this is not available simply have the song ready to play on CD. It does not matter which song is picked because any piece of music selected is as arbitrary as any other. For example, I picked Barney the Dinosaur’s well known “The Clean Up Song” as the signal to my pre-k class that everyone should pick up toys and put everything away. Instead of running around telling kids repeatedly to clean up I only had to play a couple of notes on the piano and all students complied in an instant.
The great thing about The Sound Symbol Solution is that teachers can be creative and select whatever sound or action they choose. A certain clap, the ringing of a particular bell, tooting a horn, sounding a kazoo are all examples of sounds that can been used as the backbone of a new kind of classroom management.
I know The Sound Symbol Solution works because I did it with four and five year olds in my bilingual pre-k class for several years. Here it what my idea looked like in May at the end of a typical school year with a class of twenty-two kids.
Sit down- I played Barney the Dinosaur’s “I Love You” on piano
Stand up – I played an arpeggio in any key on piano
Line up- I clapped three times
Form a circle as a group – I played Hap Palmer’s “Scamper”
Go to color lines – I played Beethoven’s “Fur Elise”
Get your books – I played Lenny Kravitz’s “Fly Away” on guitar
Put your books up – I hummed “Oh My Darling Clementine”
The dismissal song I used to tell children to pack up was The Eagles’ “Hotel California
Get your supplies – I played Ricky Martin’s “La Copa de la Vida”
It’s very important to say that if I played something different in order to try and trick children they actually knew to do nothing because it wasn’t a valid command. The Sound Symbol Solution develops critical listening skills necessary for academic success a in an incredibly meaningful and fun way. This has a very important application for reading as well.
The difficulties some pupils experience when attempting to read is mastering the abstract idea of the sound-symbol relationship. It is hard for some kids to wrap their minds around the concept that a written letter like “Bb” actually stands for a sound. The child gets lost when a teacher tries to explain that when a few of these sounds are put together they form a word. The whole mystery that one thing really means another is the exact thinking that confounds and frustrates some literacy challenged young people. The Sound Symbol Solution is excellent at helping children master this sometimes foreign concept.
The Sound Symbol Solution can be the beginning of excellent classroom management and literacy development in the early childhood classroom.