‘I didn’t move up the rocket today…’

Search for behaviour charts on google and you’ll be faced with a myriad of choices – rockets, rainbows, traffic lights, happy and sad faces…all sorts. It saddens me when I see charts like this in an Early Years setting or classroom. It makes me question who the chart is for – is it the children, the teacher, parents? I don’t want this to be a ‘judgey’ blog post at all. This post is more of a questioning, a discussion and a reflection as to whether behaviour charts have a place in classrooms, especially with an increased focus on children’s wellbeing. I want to consider whether the positives of a behaviour chart can outweigh the negatives, thinking about whether the charts are more for punishment than reward.


What’s the problem?
Children in the Early Years are still so young, none older than five. We can’t know the history of every child in our setting or classroom so how can we make sense of behaviour which might be displayed? Are these systems successful in changing behaviour or are they simply a visual reminder that some children have had a better day than others? For some, the pressure to move up a behaviour chart can be a cause of anxiety and stress, especially those who are keen to please. They haven’t moved up the rocket that day, even though they’ve been ‘good’. What message does that send? That they’re not good enough.
Can we better interpret children’s emotions to enable them to self regulate? Some children can find it difficult to understand the concept of a behaviour chart, thinking they’ve been ‘bad’ rather than the behaviour itself being an issue.

Here’s a scenario….
The child being moved down the rocket could be just four years old, not slept well because his parents were arguing till late last night. He heard his mum being punched and listened as she cried. He didn’t have breakfast because mum was still in bed and dad was suffering from a hangover. He’s worried about going home. His tummy is hungry, he didn’t read his book last night and he’s feeling tired. What has been achieved by moving this child down the rocket if his behaviour wasn’t up to your standards?

What I’m trying to say is that children come to us with prior experiences, some of which we will never know. Rather than judging the behaviour, perhaps we should be more understanding and think about why the unwanted behaviour could be occurring. Children could have been exposed to Adverse Life Experiences (ACEs) which impact on their behaviour in the classroom. Visually displaying their behaviour on a chart for all to see could result in the opposite of what you are hoping to achieve. Children could begin to not care if they’re moved down the chart – the child expects that they will be at the bottom of the chart at the end of the day so what does it matter if they snatch, push, hit or not listen? Not only can a chart impact on a child’s self esteem but it can also affect friendships as peers disassociate themselves from the ‘naughty child’ who is always at the bottom of the rocket. This public display is also there for parents to see. Does this have a bearing on who they want their child to be friends with or invite to a play date or party?

What are the other options?
The tone you choose to set regarding behaviour in your setting or class is dependent on many variables. The number of children, the number of staff, children who might have special educational needs, time, top down pressures, levels of development etc. What’s important is to carefully reflect on the variables relevant to the children – their emotional needs, their development, their interests. Would they benefit from a calm space where they can retreat if things are becoming too much? Can we talk more about our emotions, labelling when we are happy, sad, excited, surprised etc? By naming our own emotions, children can begin to recognise and understand their feelings, impacting on their ability to self-regulate. Let’s also remember that the number of children with Speech, Language and Communication Needs (SLCN) are rising. How can we better support children with their emotions and behaviour when they have difficulties communicating?


“Calm Spot”Image from Healing Hearts Play Therapy

To conclude, I’d ask you to think about the intent behind your behaviour chart. How would you feel if your Head or Setting Manager displayed staff behaviour and moved you down the rocket. Perhaps you didn’t hand your planning in on time because you were poorly. May be you missed a meeting because you were tired and just needed to get home. Whatever the reason, would you want someone to judge your actions and behaviour and display this for others to see? We can’t all be the best versions of ourselves all of the time. We all have off days, times when we need to prioritise our own wellbeing. Think about how a child within the Early Years age bracket with a developing brain can make sense of their emotions and behaviour to comply with rules and boundaries all of the time. Can we come up with a better way to acknowledge poor choices other than shaming?

Emma Davis

Emma is an Early Years Teacher and Masters student from Herefordshire. She writes a regular feature for Teach Early Years magazine and also guest blogs in her spare time. Emma loves picture books and reviews for many publishers.

As well as having a busy work life, Emma is studying for a Masters in Education and has a particular interest in literacy and wellbeing.


Follow Emma on Social Media @emmadee77

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One Thought to “‘I didn’t move up the rocket today…’ Emma Davis”

  1. Jemma Hunt

    I loved this blog and it came to me by surprise the day I myself took down the behaviour chart in my nursery class room for many of the reasons mentioned above. It has confirmed my decision in my mind as being the way forward.
    It will be replaced with a calm corner and lots of pictures to help the children communicate how they are feeling.

    Thank you!

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