Getting Control of Your Classroom Dismissal Time

Dismissal time can be one of the most challenging times of the day for many teachers, whether they are experienced, new, or somewhere in between. Both kids and teachers are tired by the end of the day, and 20-35 children must be packed up with all of their notes, homework, lunch boxes, backpacks, plus 50 other important things to remember! They must be out the door ON TIME to meet busses, parents, and day care providers who are likely in a hurry! Patience can start to run dry as the exhaustion of the day sets in. Neither kids nor teachers are at their best when tired, rushed, and stressed!

Did I just describe your class? If so, there are several simple things that can be done throughout the day to make sure things run more smoothly! Recently, a Kindergarten teacher asked me a question about managing dismissal time on my HeidiSongs Facebook page, and so I posted the question there to help brainstorm ideas. It turned out to be quite an interesting discussion, and one that drew quite a LOT of participants!

Below, I’ll list my ideas first, and then some other great ideas that came up!  You will also see that there was another question that came up later in the conversation, and I posted that here, too, plus the answers.  You can read the whole conversation at this link here.


“I need help with dismissal. I have always struggled with this. It gets so hectic while they pack up. Then I have 3 groups of kids who go 3 different places...and while they are getting their things together, announcements come on and they don't hear anything...I am in my 9th year teaching K and I have always struggled with dismissal. It's my least favorite time of day!”

Rule Number One: PLAN On Packing Up EARLY- and Only ONCE!

One basic rule is to have children go to their backpacks just once a day, especially in those classrooms where children have cubbies rather than desks. It’s a HUGE time saver to send children to put things in their backpacks only ONE TIME PER DAY. In order to do that, you must make sure you only need to call the children’s names to put things away one time. In order to make that happen, I used to file children’s papers in a “Send Home” file box with hanging file folders. That way, no matter how many different things I had to pass out, I only ever had to call the each child one time.

Pass Out Papers One Group at a Time During Centers

I always had each group of kids put papers inside their backpacks after I met with each reading group! (This worked for me because I met with every group, every day.) For example, when they came to my table, at end of my lesson, I passed out all of the papers from my Send Home File Box (just to that group) and had them put them right into their backpacks immediately.

Teach Kids HOW to Put Their Things Away!

I think that often adults assume that children have been taught how to put things away and zip up a backpack.  Sadly, this is not always true!  So it becomes the teacher's job to show children how to do this.  Sometimes I would tell the children, “Bring me your backpack.” First, I would show the entire group how to put the papers in their binders, turning the papers the right way so that they would fit.  Then I would WATCH while they put their papers and things inside the backpacks, reteaching as necessary. Then I watched as they put their backpacks away.

If the backpacks or any other items landed on the floor rather than in the cubbies or on the hooks, then I would call the children over to try again. I considered it all part of my goals in teaching them to be self-sufficient, and teaching this just one group of children at a time was totally do-able. In any case, some groups of children needed extra guidance in getting their all of their things tucked inside their backpacks without leaving items on the floor.
This was my routine for passing out papers every day, except if there was a reason not to. For example, on our library day, the children would need to put away their books when they returned. So in that case, I held off passing out papers until afterwards, and passed out everything as the children put away their library books.

After Lunch- Nothing Fun Happens Until Everything is Packed Up!

When the class came back in after lunch, all lunch boxes and jackets had to be neatly stowed BEFORE anyone got play time. If your class doesn't get any playtime, then withhold whatever it is that they enjoy the most until they are completely packed up! Don't let them begin until they have EVERYTHING packed up and ready to go. THEN they can play or do that special activity. That's the secret! Once that is all settled, you can teach right up until the end of the day and you won't have to worry about running out of time.

Practice and Model the End of the Day Procedures Ahead of Time

I always had my kindergartners practice what dismissal would look like before it was the end of the day.  What I was most concerned about was children leaving without my knowledge, because my classroom had four doors!  I would stand at the back door where the parents were supposed to gather and send them out one at a time to each parent as he or she came to the door.  I taught the children to sit and wait for me to call their names, and NOT to come running to the door as soon as they see their moms, dads, grandparents, sitters, etc.  We modeled it and talked about it in advance, approaching it as I would any other lesson.

I have had problems in the past with kids squeezing past me at the door trying to get out while I'm dismissing one of his classmates.  I have also had problems with parents trying to avoid the crowd, and simply going to a different door, motioning silently to their child while my back was turned, and the child would leave without me knowing it.  So I had to address this problem with parents at our beginning of the year parent meeting.

Another issue was kids sneaking out another door when my back was turned to go play on the playground while they wait for their parents!  This made sense to some of their little five year old brains, since they knew their parents were often fifteen minutes late picking up anyway.  The only problem was that the children were outside, totally unsupervised, and I had no idea where they went!  And the doors were only meant to lock people OUT, not keep children in!  We had to address this problem in a safety lesson about strangers, etc., and also on a case by case basis, getting the family of the child in question involved. Even if the problem of timeliness isn't solvable, the parents can still talk to the child about stranger danger.

Turn Packing Up into a GAME!

Here's a game that me and my students used to play with the "Get" spelling song on Sing and Spell Vol. 5!  The song repeats itself three times, and with each repetition, I would send one group of children to "go and get their stuff."  The song is written to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," (you may know this version of "Rabbit Ain't Got no Tail at All") and here are the lyrics:

"Get" is written G-E-T,
G-E-T, G-E-T!
"Get" is written G-E-T,
Go and get your stuff!
Same song, second verse.
A little bit louder and a little bit worse!

The song then repeats itself two more times, with the ending tag changing to "third verse," etc.  Watch below and see how much fun it is!

Here are some more questions that came up from the discussion on my Facebook page:

I like that idea...but we do stations/centers earlier in the day. I am going to think on it... My kids keep their folders in their desks and put work away as we complete it. One issue is that I mark everyone's folder with their color for the day (I use a color chart for behavior.)  When I'm done teaching at the end of the day, they get the folder out and open so I can walk by and mark it. Then, they pack up and that's when it gets wild!  They are all so wound up by the end of the day too...I've tried playing music until announcements come on but they just get louder and talk over it. I have 3 different sets of backpack hooks as well so there is not one area full of kids. Most of them start playing and talking as soon as they get their backpack.

After backpacks, they stack chairs and sit on 2 diff rugs. Bus and daycare kids sit on one rug and car riders/walkers sit on another. It is so hard to keep them quiet at that time. I can deal with a little noise, even, but they seem to go berserk the second I mark their folder and it stays loud. Sometimes we don't even hear announcements!! : /

M.M:  I also struggle with this in my k/1 combo. When I'm packing up my kinders my 1st graders go bananas!!

ML:  I feel like I wrote this! Can't wait to hear the ideas.

My Answer:

I had the same problem with some of my kids that knew that once the behavior contract was marked for the day, all bets were OFF! It was terrible! I started telling them that I was going to go BACK and CROSS OUT the "perfect day" marks for those that were being naughty after their contracts were marked and change them. I had to do it for a few of them. And one little guy was so strong willed that he couldn't have his card marked until he was ready to actually WALK OUT THE DOOR!

At times, I would have to tell him that I was going to email or call his mom and tell her what had happened after I marked his contract. And that’s what I did. (He was picked up by a daycare service that picked up 10 other kids in a bus, so I couldn’t very well pass along messages like that to the driver.)

Once I had a whole class full of kids that was much more difficult than others at the end of the day. After a while, I knew I HAD to do SOMETHING! So I started giving rewards the following day to the ones that had been good during dismissal the previous day.  Example:  If Ashley is good at dismissal on Tuesday, she gets five minutes extra playtime on Wednesday. So THOSE kids would get five minutes of extra playtime the following day. Sometimes, I got out “special” toys that they would get to choose from first at playtime, etc. (Those kids were the ones that were good AFTER I marked their contracts at dismissal.) The ones that were naughty had to sit and just watch. During that time, I talked to them about WHY they were sitting there, and asked them to reason through what would happen if they did this each day? Well, then each day they would be watching the other children get extra playtime while we talked about why they were sitting there!
My class that year really responded to this. They just needed to know that there was a consequence in place, and some kind of boundary. They knew before that they “had me” at dismissal because it was too late for me to do anything about it.

More Great Suggestions from "The Experts!"

(These are the other comments that came in from the teachers that participated in the discussion on my HeidiSongs Facebook page.  This is really a GREAT group of teachers, that always seem to have excellent advice!)

BHR:  I know the feeling....always carried a pen with me to the car rider/bus area.

LWJ:  I've changed many after they have been filled in and it didn't happen too many times after.

JH:  We have announcements in the morning AND afternoon : / I really don't expect them to listen but sometimes the principal mentions something that I need to hear - comments directed toward faculty. My kids are getting packed up and sitting in the right spots now - they're just super LOUD and they start playing in their spots while waiting for the day care and bus helpers. I like the idea of stickers - I used to give them those when they leave after school, for watching for their parent/car, but I think I need to use that incentive before we even leave the room. Also, maybe we should actually practice dismissal procedures during centers one day and then I can hold that over their heads - that when dismissal gets too noisy, we will have to practice it at centers so that we get better at it.

PZ:  Seems to me that dismissal is not a great time for announcements at least in Kinder. How about you not expect them to listen and fill them in on the news in the morning. Sometimes you have to simply MAKE IT WORK regardless what the rest of the school is doing. I play a Scholastic video or HeidiSongs DVD for the last 5 minutes or so. They are engaged, happy as clams, and CALM--therefore SO ARE YOU. I've done this for YEARS and dismissal got wonderful when I started doing it. Believe me, I know those HeidiSongs by heart! I'd also have them get ready sooner, one table at a time. Put those backpacks/totes on the carpet, along the wall, somewhere all lined up and ready to GO!

JCM:  This is also what I do during our pack up time. It helps that I start while 10 of my 22 are at Title I. So half the class packs up and the other half does it when they come back from Title I.

WGG:  The biggest thing I can say is give yourself plenty of time! It may take a good 20 minutes or so to get those babies packed up at the beginning of the year. They will learn and get faster! It's never good to feel rushed, and your students will understand your expectations better if you aren't trying to get them crazily out the door. I also suggest that you chart out your expectations and have them practice it BEFORE the end of the day. That way you can have them tell you what went well and what needs work.

RS: Dismiss a few at a time from the carpet area. We practice our alphabet/high frequency word songs from our Heidi Songs collection while they wait for their turn. They don't get to get up unless they are following the rules. I give a sticker at the end of the day for good behavior and make them put their hands on their head to keep them off their friends.

RSP:  Are announcements at same time daily? Can you have them pack a group at a time, place their backpacks "in line" and do a closing game/song/story as each group packs so they aren't all doing it at once?

JHT:  I have "bus buddies" for my riders...several 4th graders come down 5 min early and pick up the littles who ride the same bus. This makes great leaders out of our olders and takes a HUGE load off me at the end of the day. Our announcements are in the morning with a school-wide recitation of the Pledge.

TDO:  You may already do this, but we would put car riders at the tables, walkers sitting on the carpet and bus riders sitting in a line at the door because they were the first to leave. Pretty soon the kids would automatically go to the spots. That made it easier for us.

KTD:  Me too!  Now I started calling them over to their cubbies in teams while they are still at their math centers before the end of the day to pack. (They stand in line with backpacks open, I put work in). Then they put backpack on their chairs and resume centers. We clean up right before dismissal. I give mini stickers for bringing me tiny pieces of trash, I give table stars or and the clean table bear to cleanest table and then I call their groups to the door and bye!! I've tried packing while they read at their tables and they are too antsy. I've tried having them pack themselves but they leave important papers or take others papers by accident.

JJB:  We put our chairs up and then put our backpacks on top of the chairs. When finished they come to the carpet and we talk about our day. I use cherry Chapstick to draw a smiley face on their hand. Dr. Jean's idea: "Happy Chappy". Sounds corny, but it works.

TRA:  If you have a TV or projector, put something on that. I have several scholastic animated stories on DVD that I play at the end of the day. They can sit and wait for a good 20 minutes before their buses are called… Two buses at a time. These DVDs help keep them focused and fairly quiet. Later in the year I will bring them to the rug and play hangman or a guessing game… We change it up each day. But the DVDs are a big help! I actually bought them at Marshall's, they were $6 each and have several stories on each one. They're a life saver after a crazy day!

HW:  Pick a mystery student to help them do their jobs calmly. And I agree...announcements at that time of day? Yikes!!! Maybe get them all packed up before announcements then spend the time you have left after announcements to review or dance to some songs on GoNoodle!!!!

AMS:  Can you divide and conquer? Two of our teachers take pick up students in the hallway and the other two teachers take their bus riders inside their class. We dismiss the kindergarten students during announcements because they don't really listen at the end of the day anyway.

JFD:  I always pack up super early. We have specials last thing so they pack up before developmental centers then about 1.5 hours early. There have been days we pack up at like noon. That way the only think to worry about at the end of the day is getting to the right dismissal spot. And you can take your time telling students where they have to put items to go home earlier.

WMS:  I always put a DVD on ONCE everyone was in their chair, with their backpack packed and on the back of it, silent. Great incentive. Heidi Songs work great! Naturally, if they're making too much noise you can always pause it... Ah...the power of screen time... As for the three different groups, they could always have spots in different parts of the room they're assigned to? I'm thinking carpet/chairs/lined up by the door? Good luck!

GL:  I do yoga and only call one group at a time and help that group to speed it up then they leave backpacks outside along the wall so it's not in the way.

SM:  We have recess at the end of the day. We pack up before we go out and a few even take bags out with them if they leave on the first group of buses. When we get back to the room, those kids that leave first never even go back to their seat. They just wait by the door so they are ready to go. The other kids get water then take something to their desk to do until their bus is called. Usually a book to look at, paper to draw on, and some just sit and talk to other kids at their table, which I allow at the end of the day. Then when their bus is called they do a quick clean up of whatever they had at before they leave. My kids simply have to go down a short flight of stairs to the main hallway and aides guide them from there. But at this point in the year, they know where there buses are, plus every child has a heavy duty, laminated bus tag affixed to their backpack so everybody knows where they go.

KFUNdamentals:  It's a real challenge. I tell my class that I'll take a picture of the ones who follow directions best You can set up 3 "line up" spots & have 1 student model how to quickly get his/her backpack and walk to their line up spot. Then send 2 more, everyone watches. Then 3 more, etc. They are modeling how to quickly get their backpack, walk to their line, and stand quietly while they find the back of the person in front of them. Leave lots of time for this. Then combine the 3 groups into one 3-part line. Give verbal praise and take some pictures!

KLV:  I use my smelly markers and give them stars on their hands only to those who are sitting professionally or in line professionally (hands behind their backs, looking at the door, and a bubble in their mouth). You could also choose a "secret" line walker by picking out a name stick (if you use name sticks) and then holding onto it until you get them where they need to be. If that student did a great job he gets a smelly star on his hand and the class gets a happy face added to our class happy chart!

HB:  We put on educational video clips or Starfall on the whiteboard. Problem solved.

LOB:   I've got it dialed in! Easy peasy! We do choosing time at end of day. I hold kids name up they choose activity, then must totally pack up before starting activity (check cubby, grab jacket and lunch box, put in backpack and set it on the line in front of classroom). They do it quickly because they are anxious to begin choosing activity.  We use a pocket chart and I put all choices on it, then kids name under activity they choose.  Here's my mean rule. “If you forget to pack something up, head down at choosing!!" They do a great job!!

SBH:  I have the children pack up their things early and they place their backpack at their spots at their tables. Then I gather them on the rug and read them a story. That way they are all in one place for announcements and I can dismiss them a few at a time to get their backpacks that are already ready for the bus line.

TSS:  If you have a smartboard, try putting on a tumble book (they are free online books that are read to the students) while they are getting ready to go, or use it as an incentive if they get ready on time/early.

SN:  My dismissal has always been a struggle too. Very loud and hectic! I don't have that problem this year and the only thing I can attribute it to is rewarding the well behaved ones like crazy. Sometimes even with BIG fuzzies. I also have been leaving a bit more time so it is not so hectic.

DDA:  I have each of my 3 dismissal groups sit in lines once we are packed.

VBS:  Here's how I do my dismissal: We have special area at the end of the day, so before that the students get ready to go home. I call up one table at a time to put on bus tags and get folders. The students then do their calendars and put their papers in their folders. Then I call one table at a time to get book bags and pack up. When we come back from special area, the go to their seat and sit quietly. I have a dismissal clipboard by the door. I call them up one group at a time to dismiss and I check them off as they leave. During the get folders, book bags, pack up time, we have a voice level of 0 (we do champs). The first week of school, it took 30 minutes to pack up. Now we are down to about 15. If we get packed up and have a few minutes to kill, I practice sight words or numbers, or sing a song, etc.

KSB:  This year I made sure to leave time for a quick closing circle so we can end in a positive way. We practiced, practiced, practiced expectations and modeled desired routine then we play a sing and try to "beat" the song we talk about how we need to get ready quickly and focus on yourselves and all that and in order to have time for our closing circle ( which is usually a quick game or song and a class cheer to end the day). Students sit with backpacks on during our closing circle and do the activity with it on as well. Kids look forward to it and now so do I... Then we are all gathered and ready and we say goodbye and dismissal bussers etc. The song we use is See You Later, Alligator...its about 3 mins, kids like it! Second week of school and both my morning and afternoon 4k best the song today for the first time but we were all very excited and proud of themselves! Good luck!

LM:  I agree to give yourself plenty of time. I would always rush. Get everything ahead of time then you can still do an activity. I start 15 minutes before we leave. When the announcements come on , students must stop, put their hands on their shoulders and be quiet.

LA: I have them get their backpacks from their cubbies a few at a time, about 20 minutes before we leave the classroom. Once they are all packed up, I'll read a book or put on a read aloud on my Elmo. I have them line up quietly, and if they run or they are loud, I have them sit down and try it again. I tell them it's very important to be quiet so they can hear directions and get to the right place.

I hope you found some of these suggestions helpful if you too are struggling with getting control of your class during dismissal!!  :)


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