Learning to Learn

Categories: Academics

Learning to Learn

Real Talk: The start of the school year is HARD. Given the circumstances of last year, with remote learning and COVID, so many of our students are starting over in the classroom. This year I have 6 kindergarteners on my caseload and I’m remembering that teaching kindergarten is exhausting. My students are learning how to learn; meaning they are learning expectations, routines, and rules within our school. Before any academic learning can happen, my students have to learn how to function in a classroom. Let’s dive in and talk about what to do when your students are learning to learn.

Start With Success

When starting with skills in the classroom, I start with skills students are successful with. It could be basic matching, put-in tasks, errorless tasks – whatever it is, as long as the students are successful with it, I start with it. I don’t care if it’s too easy for them, I don’t care if it’s not an IEP goal, I intentionally start slow so students can ease into the learning environment. I want students first feelings in my classroom to be ones of success, not frustration. Sometimes just getting a kiddo to sit with me at a table and in a chair is a win!

These Basic Tracing and Matching Books are GOLD for students who are just starting to trace and match.


Keep Expectations Realistic

Incoming students are learning how to function in a classroom. This includes skills like sitting in a chair at a table, attending to a task that isn’t highly preferred, and sharing toys and materials. We can’t expect that students are going to come in and sit magically for morning meeting, calendar, or social skills and know things like how to raise their hand and take turns. In fact, those are skills that should be explicitly taught. My first goal is always safety – so keeping students from running, eloping or climbing in the classroom is top priority. I then start with short (I’m talking 1-3 minutes!) highly preferred activities that are one on one with an adult for students who struggle with doing tasks that are non-preferred and have difficulty attending. We slowly increase the difficulty of the activity, increase the time working on the activity and slowly add in peers so students are working in a small group.

Smoothly running centers are an unrealistic expectation until students know how to work in a group, share, and attend. If you choose to start centers right away, you’ll want to work on sharing, attending, and social skills. Academics will be on the back burner for a bit, and that’s okay! I personally won’t start centers until winter – my students just aren’t ready yet in the fall!

Build Relationships

Relationships will get you farther than any curriculum ever will! By taking the time to get to know your students you are building a relationship that will be a foundation for teaching academics. It takes time, but before you dive into academics and assessments, build those relationships with your students.

One of my favorite ways to build relationships is to take time to play at recess with my students. I mean, ride a tricycle or get on the playground and go down the slide side by side with your students kind of play. You’d be shocked at the difference it makes.

Stay Consistent

It will all come together! Just give it time and consistency! When we are consistent, our students know what to expect and are able to relax and learn within our environment. When we are inconsistent, we send mixed messages to students and they don’t know how to behave or what we want. I learned this lesson yet again just last week. I tried to skip our daily social skills because I was running behind and we were short handed. My thought was that by avoiding the demands of social skills and the transition, we’d be better off. Boy was I wrong! My students ASKED for social skills time. In fact, behaviors went haywire because I changed the schedule. I should have stayed consistent! It always pays off!

Your students will get there. Give yourself grace and remember that learning to learn takes time! Before you know it you’ll be digging into academics and measuring IEP goals. Until then, embrace the relationship building that comes with the new school year as you teach your students how to learn!

Jen Koenig, B.S, M.Ed., LBS1
Latest posts by Jen Koenig, B.S, M.Ed., LBS1 (see all)


  1. Hi! Curious if you have a multi-grade class? If so, how do you manage the students who are ready to learn, and the ones that aren’t?

    • Hi Anastasia! Yes- my class typically crosses 3 grade levels. Honestly, I believe that every student is ready to learn but you need to figure out the right context for that learning. Some children need different physical or sensory tools to learn, some need materials modified in specific ways, some need extrinsic motivators and that looks different for everyone. If you are struggling with a student, try getting your related service providers to help (e.g. speech, OT, PT, social work) give ideas and problem solve!

  2. Jen, Thank you so much for this explicit, where the rubber hits the road, post. After 2 weeks my internal “I should be doing more with these kids” voice was getting really loud. For my returning 1st graders we are NOT where we were last year but pretty close to it…but for my batch of Kinders we are definitely starting from scratch…I so appreciate the detail of your post. Thank you for helping me start my Monday feeling encouraged!

    • Thanks Patricia! You’ve made my day!!

  3. Thank you so much for your advice. Building routines and relationships are so important as we return from a totally virtual school year to an in-person environment. Social graces that were once mastered may have to be re-learned because of regression that occurred during the pandemic.

    • Yes! Great point! Thanks for reading 🙂


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