How Teaching Responsibility in Kindergarten is a Cinch with Desk Pets

teaching-responsibility-with-desk-pets School desk with tiny desk pet on it: Blog Post Title "How-teaching-responsibility-in-kindergarten-is-a-cinch-with-desk-pets"

Teaching responsibility to five-year-olds can sometimes feel like a daunting task. It's hard to explain to a new kindergartener WHY they are in charge of carrying their backpack, getting out their folder, and zipping up their own pants. (Yes. This is a thing.) It's hard for them to start FULL school days, which rip away their naptimes and their tablet time, and makes them share their mom's (er….teacher's) attention with 20+ siblings (er…classmates).

The number of times I am called mom, dad, or Mee-Maw is a wee bit of proof that oftentimes going to kindergarten is a HARD move and a BIG adjustment for a lot of five-year-olds. I am often their first encounter with what may feel like the cold, hard truth. They have to start doing a LOT of things for themselves. Am I there to nurture, guide, help, teach, and be their biggest cheerleader? Heck, yeah.

But…I'm not there to pick up after them and be a waitress. And…I couldn't even if I wanted to.

Disagree? Shadow a kindergarten teacher for an entire day…you'll change your mind. (I hear the choir of kinder teachers singing “AMEN!”) 😉

BUT…once they make that initial shift and start getting the hang of it – if you want to know how further teaching responsibility in the classroom CAN START TO FEEL LIKE A CINCH – read on. If you want to know why teaching responsibility at home is oh, so important, then you need my free PDF download!

motivation-for-learning five-year-old girl sitting at a school desk with a tiger desk pet perched on the desk

What's a desk pet?

A desk pet is not a living, breathing thing. It does not require you to make a pet-sitting plan over weekends or breaks. Nope.

Desk pets are little erasers that are shaped like animals that I get from Amazon. That's IT. I can hear some of you now shifting in your chair and giving me the side-eye…

“Ummm…you're telling me that it's an ERASER. An E-R-A-S-E-R??? Shaped like an animal. NOT an animal. And you call it a PET. And that WORKS?”

Most definitely it does. I've actually never seen anything quite like it.

Now, I'll add that if YOU are excited about it and present it to them in a way that they know it's a privilege to GET to have…that will make a HUGE difference in their buy-in.

To read more about Desk Pets – you might like this!

what-are-desk-pets Pink school desk with a tiny dalmation desk pet sitting on it

What Motivates Kindergarteners?

Motivating kindergarteners is actually quite easy at the beginning. They really love to go to the treasure chest, they love to earn a stuffy pass or a pajama pass, and they get super excited for a little extra recess or free time. In my classroom, they can earn what we call “lion bucks” – which are also schoolwide. They might earn a lion buck for picking up trash, working quietly while I'm testing, helping a friend, etc. On most Fridays, they can use their lion bucks to shop for the things mentioned above.

What I've noticed though, is that this works VERY well during August, September, and even October. By then, they have mostly settled into the routines and know the expectations, and it becomes harder to earn lion bucks. I explain this to them by comparing it to a video game. The farther you get – the harder it becomes!

Motivation for hard work

I believe that kids should have different motivators in place in the classroom. For instance, lion bucks serve as a personal motivator for hard work. If they are following the 3 R's independently, for themselves, growing in areas such as self-management and self-regulation, they are independently rewarded. The guidelines we follow for our school are the 3 R's:

  • RESPECT
  • RESPONSIBILITY
  • Doing the RIGHT THING

In my opinion, they also need to start working well in small groups and with partners. I purposely pair up different personality types into table groups, and foster and encourage teamwork – which can be tough for any age! We have table points they can earn for working well together, and when they get 10 table points they have to decide as a group what their reward will be. They LOVE choosing lunch bunch together, where they can eat their lunch in the room – picnic style while watching a ‘movie'. (called Berenstein Bears on YouTube! 😉 )

Motivation for learning

So, I feel it is important to motivate five-year-olds independently, in small groups, and as a whole class. (This is where the desk pets come in!)

When we consider motivation for learning, we shouldn't only think about the academic side of things. Of course it is important to focus on all of those literacy and math skills, but HOW do you get them focused enough some days? How can you explain to them that it takes those social-emotional skills to be able to make the most out of the academic side of things?

Well…it's hard, and honestly if you try to explain it to them, they will quickly start pulling at a string on their shirt or find lint on the carpet or start kicking their neighbor. They're in kindergarten, and 9.8 out of 10 kindergarteners don't care about that.

Do you know what they DO care about? Pets. Fun. And having their own pet to have fun with.

what-motivates-kindergarteners Desk Pets! Smiling boy with sunglasses on and two thumbs up

Teaching Responsibility

Ok, by now you know I feel that five-year-olds need to have some sort of basic independence in place to start out school on the highest note possible.

The alternative? Tears. Tantrums. Tired parents. Oh my.

Why Responsibility is important

Responsibilty gives kids confidence. It gives kids freedom. It builds trust among peers and with teachers who WANT to give more responsibility to kids…because THAT gives them MORE confidence! See that? It's a circle and a cycle and it's the truth. Let me give you an example…

There is a seemingly tiny little job each morning in my class. I have an attendance folder that must get filled out and taken down to the office. The first weeks of school I will either pass off to an adult headed that way or send with a 1st grader…but you can see it in my kids' eyes. They WANT TO TAKE THAT FOLDER.

The first morning I choose someone to take it down to the office, I say something like, “Ok – I'm going to pick someone who I saw walk in today and hang up their backpack, take out their folder, get started on their morning work, and who's still doing the right thing right now!” Immediately you will see 20 five-year-olds sit up straighter and focus in on their morning work like they are a valedictorian taking the SATs.

FOR AN ATTENDANCE FOLDER!!!

My point is, teaching responsibility for all of those steps it takes to get started each morning can pay off for them in the form of being trusted to do something as special as walk to the office for me. And when they get to do that – they gain confidence. And confidence in kids will over time allow them to be confident in making mistakes – and making mistakes is how we can learn.

For more on how celebrating mistakes can help you grow your classroom community – read this!

Responsibility for students

OK, OK!! We get it, Kaci! BUT HOW DO DESK PETS PLAY INTO ALL OF THIS TALK ABOUT RESPONSIBILITY?

Well…I'll tell ya.

I will tell my kids at the start of the year that they are going to have so much fun in kindergarten. They will get to have pajama parties and 30 second dance parties, they will get to have dress up days and parades….

AND DESK PETS.

Mic Drop. Silence. Jaws dropping.

I repeat. DESK PETS.

Applause erupts. Squeals and laughter…and are those tears of joy I see?

I say, “BUT…desk pets don't arrive until you are ready for them. And I'll know you are ready for them when you are working hard by yourself, with your table teams, and with the class as a whole. I will know that you can handle them when you have shown me that you are ready to be RESPONSIBLE enough to take care of them.”

Talk about model kindergarteners right after THAT statement! We then talk about what the desk pets look like, what their homes will look like, where they will stay, if they get to choose their names and pets, etc. I tell them that they are not real pets – and I have yet to have anyone even flinch at that.

I have siblings that will start to tell the class that they remember when their brother or sister first got their desk pets and how excited they were. 1st and 2nd graders stop by in the mornings and ask, “Have you told them about the pets yet?”

Five-year-old thinking, Can Desk Pets work for kindergarten?

Fun In Kindergarten

For all this talk about why responsibility is important, how to provide motivation to kindergarteners for hard work and for learning, and how teaching responsibility is key…KINDERGARTEN SHOULD BE FUN.

Five-Year-Olds need to have fun.

There is a lot of talk and thoughts out there on what kindergarten should or shouldn't be, and I'm going to be honest here and tell you I'm not going to get into that debate. What I am going to tell you is that it is my strong belief that five-year-olds need to have fun.

Guess what else? SO DO FIFTY-YEAR OLDS.

I believe that everything is better in life if you let in a little silly, a little nutty, a little whimsy, and a little wonder. And I only wish I'd started using desk pets in my first kindergarten classroom.

Teaching responsibility can be down-right fun. The growth I see in my kids when they realize the little tweaks they can make to get to experience this thing they really want…it's impressive.

responsibility-for-students Orange school desk sitting against a black background, with a frog desk pet perched on desk

Teaching Responsibility with desk pets is FUN.

To earn their desk pets, they must be responsible themselves, they must act responsibly in small groups, and they must work together to be responsible and respectful to each other. This happens over Q1, Q2, and really starts to solidify in Q3. In the past, our desk pets arrive at the start of Q4. They then spend their lion bucks on things FOR their desk pets.

For more info on how this works – you might find this helpful!

This current classroom, however, is ALL ABOUT working for their pets. We recently earned an all-class reward of a PJ party, and the next morning during morning meeting, they brought it to me. They decided they were ready to start filling up our Cool Beans jar – with the end goal to be their desk pets.

I explained that it wasn't going to be easy – and that to get a cool bean they needed to show me responsibility in all areas of our day. They looked oh-so-grownup and started agreeing and even volunteering ideas that would show me they were ready. I won't lie, I was impressed.

WIn-Win

I'm open to watching them grow and show me that they are ready. I wasn't sure if it was going to work for kindergarten the first time I brought them into my classroom. And, quite frankly if I hadn't done the prep-work and mindset shift with them – it would have flopped. There are guidelines and parameters that I set up once they get their pets too – and they work HARD to keep them.

Win for them: they absolutely have fun, get creative, and adore their pets.

Win for me: I get to watch them grow and become 1st graders right before my eyes – showing me that teaching responsibility is something to work at, set goals for, and enjoy along the way.

motivation-for-hard-work Desk pets sitting on an orange school desk against a pink back ground. An alligator desk pet says, "awesome!"

So, what do you think? Are you thinking about using them in your classroom? Do you have any questions about how they work? Let me know in the comments!

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