Personal Responsibility in Preschool – Never Break a Crayon Again!

Do you want to save money, teach kids personal responsibility, and make the school day run much smoother all at the same time? If this sounds too good to be true, you are going to love what you learn in this week’s episode!

When you start the school-year, your classroom is filled with brand new crayons, sharpened pencils, untouched watercolors, and glue-sticks that have never seen their caps removed.

Ahhh. Good times.

But those good times soon become a romanticized memory. School kicks into gear. Crayons break. Caps are lost. Markers dry out. The watercolors become colored water.  At that point it feels like you have two choices: (1) get annoyed that students are careless with class supplies and replace them OR (2) resign yourself to the fact that preschoolers aren’t always going to take care of class supplies and replace them.

I didn’t like either of these options and I’m sure you don’t either! Any option where you have to constantly replace broken and mistreated classroom supplies is less than ideal.  That’s why I stopped asking students to take care of the classroom supplies. Instead, I asked them to take care of their own supplies!

I gave each student their own packs of crayons, watercolors, pencils, and glue-sticks, and, wouldn’t you know, they started taking much better care than they ever did before!  Find out just how to make this work in your classroom in this week’s episode!

The reason this worked so well in my classroom isn’t a mystery; it can all be explained by the Tragedy of the Commons and the concept of moral hazard. Now this is about to get a little wordy but bear with me; I’ll bring it back to make sense.

Wikipedia’s definition of the tragedy of the commons explains, “the tragedy of the commons is a situation within a shared-resource system (your classroom) where individual users acting independently (students) according to their own self-interest (getting work done) behave contrary to the common good of all users by depleting or spoiling that resource through their collective action (using up glue-sticks, coloring too hard).”

Moral hazard is the idea that when you don’t have to suffer the consequences for your actions, you are probably going to be less cautious than if you had to deal with those consequences. So if a student forgets to put the cap back on a glue-stick and then that student puts the glue-stick back into the class supply to dry out, will that student ever realize they did this? They can just get a new working glue-stick the next time the class does an activity! No consequences. And not only will there be no consequences, this student may never even learn that they put the glue back incorrectly and so the mistake will repeat.

Starting to sound familiar?

To solve this problem, I stopped asking students to take care of the class’ supplies and I started asking them to take care of their supplies!

Here’s how it looked: Every student in our classroom had their own pencil box that belonged only to them. Each box was filled with a pencil, an eraser, a glue-stick, a 16-pack of crayons, a pair of scissors, and pack of watercolors. These items were each student’s responsibility. If they broke a crayon or left their glue-stick dried out, they would have to replace it by using the money they earned in our classroom salary system (for more on salary system see episode 010 & download our freebie below).

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If you already listened to Episode 010, you know that the salary system had huge rewards where students could spend all the classroom money they earned at our end-of-year market. Here, they could buy toys, coloring books, and other fun items that they could proudly purchase with their hard-earned money.  They obviously wanted to spend their money on this awesome, fun stuff rather than spending it replacing their glue-sticks and crayons!

By giving students “skin-in-the-game” and literal ownership over their school-work, students began to color softer, double-check their glue-sticks, and even keep their pencils sharpened! Find out exactly how these economic concepts can teach your classroom personal responsibility, forward-thinking, and self-control! Sometimes the best way to teach responsibility is to just give kids more responsibility.

Then, watch them flourish!

Thanks so much for joining us this week! Did you think of some important skills I missed? Would you mind sharing in the comments so all the great teachers can use it too!? Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it using the social media buttons you see at the bottom of the post. Also, please leave an honest review for the Punk Rock Preschool Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are super helpful and greatly appreciated and I will read all of them!  If you have any questions or want to learn more, head on over to! And finally, don’t forget to subscribe to the show on iTunes to get automatic updates!

Resources and People Mentioned in this Podcast:

Show Notes (w/times):

  • 00:59 – Introduction
  • 05:40 – Mindset Shift
  • 07:05 – Strategies
  • 10:40 – Strategies – Solving the Tragedy of the Commons
  • 19:31 – Actionable Next Steps

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