Guide to Using Preschool Behavior Charts Correctly

Guide to Using Preschool Behavior Charts Correctly
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Downside of Preschool Behavior Charts

Behavior charts for preschool are decried by some as being vehicles for the over-used gold star. In these cases, detractors suggest on relying on erasable or printable behavior charts only for an individual student in need of significant behavior modification. They warn away from the use of these visual tools on the basis of their drawing undue attention to the negative behaviors that the preschool teacher should not be reinforcing.

Value of Classroom Behavior Charts

On the flipside of this discussion are those who emphatically embrace the use of visual behavior measuring tools. Students with ADHD in particular benefit from the visual display of target behavior achievement. Something as simple as seeing evidence of improvement in previously difficult to conquer behaviors – such as sitting still – can provide a huge boost to a child’s self-esteem.

Proper Use of Visual Behavior Tracking

The preschool teacher who decides that behavior modification charts shall have a place in the overall makeup of the classroom will do well to observe the five steps of using these tools correctly. These steps are:

  1. Choosing the right style
  2. Determining the rationale of use
  3. Setting achievable goals
  4. Weighing rewards and consequences
  5. Being consistent

Choose the Style That Suits the Students

There are individual charts and those that track classroom-wide conduct. Once in place, the system should remain unchanged throughout the school year to provide consistency for the preschoolers. Remember that it is possible to have both kinds of visual behavior markers in one classroom; of course, this kind of setup demands a high commitment on the part of the teacher and also copious updating that can become quite time consuming.

Determine the Rationale of Use

Will these visual tools be used as rewards charts for positive behavior? Do the charts track negative behaviors and attach consequences to infractions? For instance, the three-card system of green, yellow and red is one of the easiest ways of letting the individual student understand when her actions are taking a turn for the worse. The downside of this system is that – once red is reached – green cannot be recovered. For a preschooler who still lives very much in the here and now, this might be a hard concept to master initially.

Set Achievable Goals

Whether the classroom setting favors daily or weekly behavior charts, the goals must be achievable. If students routinely fail to meet the qualifications for earning stars or smiley faces, consider whether the expectations are too high. This frustrates preschoolers who very much try to please adult authority figures.

Weigh Rewards and Consequences

Depending on the rationale used, the preschool teacher must support overall behaviors with either rewards or consequences. In the case of the three-card system, the consequence for pulling to red is a note home to the parents. If positive behavior is being tracked, a preschooler will be delighted with as little as an extra 10 minutes of playtime on the schoolyard or being first in line when heading on a field trip.

Be Consistent

It is not surprising to have this visual tool initially find a lot of enthusiasm only to suddenly – usually after a week or two – find that it meets with resistance. Preschoolers are notorious for testing boundaries and charts are no exception. Do not second-guess the setup until it has been in place for at least one month.

Where to Find Preschool Behavior Charts

Reusable charts are for sale at classroom and art supply stores. Use erasable markers and use the same chart for an entire school year. Homemade charts are easy to assemble and may meet the individualized needs of the preschool teacher best. In the case of the three-card system, they may take the shape of a traffic light.

Another option is the use of printable behavior charts. A good example comes from the Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy(1), which offers behavior modification charts for home and school. They are excellent for preschoolers as young as four.


(1)Association for Comprehensive NeuroTherapy. “Behavior Modification Charts” (accessed April 9, 2010)