« Parent Teacher Conferences | Main | Learning to Write »

March 26, 2009

A Time for Time Out?

I have been having a debate with myself recently. I have been thinking about the role and importance of time out in my classroom management. I have been asking myself some tough questions. Do I ask too much of my students by expecting them to keep their hands to themselves at four years old? Am I too harsh when a student has refused to participate in a classroom activity after repeated attempts to reengage and redirect their behavior? Are my circle times too long? What if we do alternating locomotive and non-locomotive activities?  Am I using materials and activities that will engage them? Am I making it easier or harder for them to be successful?

I have always subscribed to the following quote from Dr. Haim Ginott.

“I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.”

It is this quote that has provided the most consistent moral compass to my decisions in the classroom. It has helped me to feel the full weight of the responsibility for my 19 four-year-old students. I have always felt that many of my students want to know that there are boundaries and consequences. They want to know that I will hold them accountable for their learning and how they treat each other. I think they know that, because I care for them, I must say "no" sometimes.

At the same time, I wonder if my actions may set up situations where some of my students will definitely fail.

It has always been my opinion that the child who hits wants to know that I won't let them hit and the child that refuses wants to know that I won't let them not participate. My answer to these students is that they should have a time out.

What is your answer? Below is a poll in which you can answer this question but please leave a comment and let me know about what you are thinking. When, if, why, and how is time out appropriate in your home or early childhood setting?


In what sorts of activities do you require them to participate? In general, only the older classes at our nursery school require kids to sit with the class for circle time. All other activities, including snack, are optional for the children. They learn to choose activities that are not disruptive when they choose not to participate with the group.

As a general rule, at our school we don't do time out. We will sit with a child to separate him or her from a situation, but they don't spend time alone. The children get to decide when they're ready to return to regular playing or participating. There have been times of physical altercation where we ask one or more children to sit in certain places while we deal with actual injury, but it's usually just for a minute or two and only if there aren't enough adults who can break free in that moment to deal with each child individually and then as advocates in the conversations that follow.

At home I do use time outs. My children decide when they're ready to come back to the public parts of the house. It's more of a cooling off thing than a punishment thing. Once they're cooled off we deal with whatever it is and then move on. I have a hot head at home and I want him to learn when he's too hot. He's starting to put himself in time out when he needs to calm down, so I don't really need to do it much anymore.


We do use time outs in our Pre-K program. I completely agree with your opinion on the students' need for boundaries and consequences.
I think if either teacher were to sit to the side with a student instead of them being in "time out" it would be more disruptive to our class.

We always discuss quietly why they are in "time out" with them and make sure they understand. We also propose better choices of how they could have behaved in the situation.

I've never worked in a Pre-K program that has everything as "optional." I've read a lot about them and would love to see some statistical data on their learning progression versus those of us who have both structured and unstructured parts of our school day.

I don't use time out because I'm not convinced it teaches the "lesson" that the child needs to learn. Instead, I try to use redirection or if the situation requires, I will try to use the experience as a teachable moment. I agree that children need boundaries and structure, but I haven't seen time out as an effective way to reinforce either. Time out always seems like a punishment to me and I don't find punishment to be effective in the long term.

I don't teach small children, but, as a college teacher, I definitely see the outcome of children not having consistent, firm consequences for their actions. From my point of view, it makes little difference what the consequences are as long as they are a) consistent, b) negative enough to make the child rethink his/her previous behavior and c) not physically or emotionally harmful to the child. I guess c) is what you're asking about - is a time out emotionally harmful - and I would have to say no. And as for whether you should expect a four-year-old to be capable of following your rules, I would say, you shouldn't EXPECT him to follow them; it's part of your job to TEACH him to follow them through appropriate reinforcement.

I am really happy to hear a variety of opinions. Maybe it would help if I asked more questions so that we can hash out some of this thinking.
I think Siobhan made something click for me. Teaching and expecting ARE two different things. So when you have taught a skill, and the child has shown mastery of that skill, but then chooses to not use that skill, whether it is cognitive or behavioral, where does the responsibility lie?

The comments to this entry are closed.


Inside Pre-K


Current Author

Send me e-mail
I teach pre-k at a Head Start in Virginia. more...

Past Authors

Sophia "Good Morning Children"

Recent Comments

Pre-K Now News

Visit Pre-K Now
Pre-K Now is a public education and advocacy organization that advances high-quality, voluntary pre-kindergarten for all three and four year olds. Visit Pre-K Now >

Kids Quotes

Post a Kids Quote>>



Lead From The Start

Early Stories

Pre-K Vermont

The Early Ed Watch Blog

Urban Preschool


Enchanted Learning

National Association for the Education of Young Children

Pre-K Now

Reading Is Fundamental


Teach for America

Teaching Our Youngest

The Perpetual Preschool

About Pre-K Now National Events Calendar 
© 2005-2008 Pre-K Now