During a preschool conference, my son's teacher told my husband and me how eagerly our 4-year-old cleaned up. "Are we talking about the same child?" I half-joked. Then we observed him in his classroom -- indeed, he listened to his teacher and sang along with his classmates as they put their work away.
One night when toy planes, trains, and automobiles threatened my every step, I conducted an experiment based on those observations. I rang a crystal bell that decorates our fireplace mantel. "Stop, look, and listen," I said, repeating what I'd heard his teacher say in class. "It's time to pick up your toys and come to circle." Oliver squealed with delight at those familiar words and began picking up. For the first time in weeks, I could walk without fear of stubbing my toe.
Educators are masters at getting dozens of children to pick up toys, share with others, remain quiet, and take turns. Their secret? They harness the power of routine, anticipate behavior, use positive messages, and make drudgery seem like fun. Rarely do these tricks work perfectly the first time -- teachers spend weeks working them out and then reinforce them during the school year, so don't give up if a tactic fails the first time out of the gate. Read on to steal their strategies for common preschooler pitfalls.