Ep #80: What to Do When Your Students Wander Around the Classroom and Dump Toys

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If you’ve ever wondered why your students wander around the classroom and just… dump their toys on the floor, then you’re not alone!

Let’s face it, we’ve all had children in our classrooms wandering aimlessly from center to center pulling tubs of toys off the shelves without ever playing with them.

The truth is, this is a fairly typical scenario in the early childhood classroom.

The question then is: Why oh why do toddlers (and preschoolers) do that? 

And most importantly, how can you teach them not to do it?

To answer this question, I’ve invited the brilliant Dr. Carolyn Bobb-Green.

If you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while (thank you for that), then you know this isn’t the first time I’ve had Carolyn over.

And this won’t be the last either!

Listen in as she and I try to answer the age old question: Why do toddlers do what they do?

Are you ready?

Let’s dive in!

Why Do Your Students Wander Around the Classroom and Dump Toys?

[Image quote: “Teachers have categorized dumping as a misbehavior. But it's not misbehaving, it is actually accomplishing a milestone. We just have to put it in the right category and show [students] how to appropriately use it.” - Dr. Carolyn Bobb-Green]

To answer this question, you have to first break it down into two parts, because there are two different behaviors at play here:

  1. Why do students wander around?
  2. Why do students dump toys?

Let’s address each one on its own.

Why Do Children Wander Around the Classroom?

Whenever a child walks into the classroom, there are so many great things in a row that they find themselves overwhelmed and not knowing what to do. 

And this is partly because of us, early childhood educators. A lot of times, we forget to take the time to show children how to play and how to interact in the environment that they’re in. 

We always need to remember that to our students, the classroom is a foreign environment. It’s not their house or their bedroom or their favorite park. It’s not somewhere they’re used to yet. 

So it only makes sense that your students would just wander around the classroom, looking (and feeling) a bit lost. They’re simply trying to figure things out and learn how to interact in this new place.

So, what can we do to help them?

Well, think about those children in your classroom. They don’t know where to go or what to do or how to play, which is why we have to help them a bit and give them direction. 

Once you do that and your students know how they can interact in the classroom, that’s when the dumping starts happening.

Why Do Children Dump Toys Around the Classroom?

[Image quote: “We see [children wandering around and dumping toys] as the end of the world, but it's normal!” - Vanessa Levin]

As many of you know, the life of a toddler or a young child is all about… milestones! And this is no different. Believe it or not, dumping and pouring is a milestone; it is part of your students’ development.

Children that age have a need that has to be fulfilled in some way, and dumping can be how they do that. 

Understanding that’s why children are dumping is the first step towards finding a solution that works for us and for our students. That is the only way you’ll be able to have some sort of control over this type of situation.

You need to understand, there is no toddler out there just sitting and thinking “I can’t wait to make my teacher angry.” By dumping and pouring toys in the classroom, a child is not misbehaving, they’re simply hitting a developmental milestone.

Little kids learn all about the world by exploring it, and this behavior is just one of the many ways they use to do so. 

So, whenever you see a child wandering around and dumping toys, keep in mind that you can’t rush them through this stage. Instead, what you can do is guide them through that stage and help them fulfill their need in the environment around them. 

How do you do that exactly? Well, that’s something Carolyn and I discuss in more depth in the episode above, so, I invite you to go and listen to it to learn everything you need to know about how to guide your students through this milestone. 

I promise, you’ll enjoy the conversation just as much as I did!

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