How to Apply Kohlberg to Classroom Management for Kindergarten

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How to Apply Kohlberg to Classroom Management for Kindergarten
Stage 1: Young children often fail to understand the moral implications of behaviour. (Darrin Klimek/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Kindergarten classroom management has become increasingly challenging as class sizes increase and budgets for aides disappear. Focus on moral development is often seen as facilitative because of its potential to help students internalise the rules. Lawrence Kohlberg, a psychology professor at Harvard University, writes that moral development is a cognitive task dependent on the child's ability to shift perspective.Teachers can use Kohlberg's theory to enhance classroom functioning by helping kindergartners understand how their behaviour affects others. However, Kohlberg stresses that 5- and 6-year-old children typically struggle with the ability to understand morality as it relates to others. Therefore, effective classroom management at the kindergarten level emphasises the impact of a child's behaviour on him personally, while introducing the next-level concept of a moral impact on others.

Skill level:


  1. 1

    Remember that the goal is to take children from an egocentric understanding of rules and moral behaviour to a social one. Kohlberg states that the most effective programs teaching moral behaviour are the ones that help children move from the stage they are in to the next stage. Kindergarten children generally function between stage one and stage two within level one, meaning they are just beginning to understand the moral impact of their behaviour on others.

  2. 2

    Conduct a class meeting to determine rules and consequences. Kindergarten-age children need to understand why they are being asked to follow rules and the consequences for both positive and negative behaviour.

  3. 3

    Discuss behavioural expectations and the impact of behaviour on other students frequently in class. Kohlberg suggests that growth in moral development reflects cognitive maturity resulting from gradual changes in the way people think. Therefore, behavioural discussions become teachable moments in the classroom and repetition helps students internalise and use new perspectives.

  4. 4

    Emphasise comparisons between the feelings of different students to facilitate the ability to change perspectives. This key cognitive task enables students to move from following rules because they will get either rewarded or punished to internalising the social function of rules.

  5. 5

    Focus on teaching the ability to keep and maintain friendships. Kohlberg's theory suggests that moral development moves from an egocentric focus on how rules affect oneself to one that includes friends and family, and finally to one that includes understanding of the impact of behaviour on the community and society. Letting children work with friends, contingent on their ability to complete classwork without being disruptive, emphasises the message that their behaviour affects others in addition to themselves.

  6. 6

    Share moral dilemma stories with the class. Discuss outcomes as a group to emphasise perspective and reinforce the development of ethical thinking. Stories that are personally relevant to students are more interesting and easier to internalise than stories that feature a different age group or different types of problems. For example, a moral dilemma lesson focusing on lying in a kindergarten class should feature lying about breaking something, rather than lying about attending an unchaperoned party.

  7. 7

    Keep consequences clear and consistent. Six-year-old children are still highly concrete in their thinking. Clear and consistent rules facilitate classroom management by enabling students to understand the personal consequences of behaviour. This understanding maximises compliance within this age group.

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