Avoiding Dismissal Disaster

Have you ever tried to dismiss a large class of four or five year olds at the beginning of the year? Do you get light-headed and nauseous just reading about it?

Then you must be a preschool or kindergarten teacher!

Car Tags in Preschool and Kindergarten

How to Avoid Dismissal Disaster

It’s impossible to keep track of who went where when parents are rushing the door and grabbing their kids like it’s a Filene’s Basement sale.

Maybe you have a car pick-up line that stretches so far into the distance it looks like the grand opening of an In-N-Out Burger {a little local humor} and moves at about the same pace.

How many of you have stood outside scanning the horizon and asking your students “What color car does your mommy drive?” Not fun!

If you don’t have a plan for getting your students to the right place quickly and in an orderly fashion then dismissal time can turn into a nightmare.

Using Car Tags for Dismissal

When I taught at a large elementary school we used the dismissal tags pictured above to help speed things up at the end of the day.

Make one tag for each child in your class and distribute them to parents. I used my Cricut to make these tags using the My Community cartridge but you can easily create your own by tracing a template on cardstock or using a die-cut machine.

How to Use Car Tags

The key to speeding up dismissal is for each teacher to have an identifying symbol. The symbol in the picture above is an apple; all of the students in one class have pick-up tags with the same picture. The other teachers are each assigned a different shape.

This system helps speed up the dismissal process significantly. If you have a drive-thru pick-up line, parents can place the tags on their rear view mirrors so you can quickly match each child to the correct car. If your parents walk to pick up their children have them show you their tag.

About Vanessa Levin

Vanessa is the creator of Pre-K Pages and author of the book A Fabulous First Year and Beyond: A Practical Guide for Pre-K and Kindergarten Teachers. She has more than two decades of teaching experience and enjoys helping kids and teachers through her professional development sessions. Follow Vanessa on Facebook, Google +, Twitter and Pinterest.


  1. Thankfully, our school is not large enough for a drive thru pick up line! I have a class roster on a clipboard by my back door where I dismiss my students. No one leaves without me visibly seeing who they’re leaving with – even if it’s just waving to grandma in her car. I quickly jot down who the child goes with – mom, dad, sister etc. It came in handy the olther day when a father showed up to pick his child up, and he was already gone. I looked at my list and was able to tell him that the uncle had already picked him up. It literally only takes less than 3 minutes to get all of my kiddos out the door and marked down, so I think it’s well worth my peace of mind!

  2. Our parents walk to pick up their children and we do have specific I.D. tags that the parents must show. The students have a matching I.D. tag that is kept in their book bag. Once we become very familiar with the parents, we do not always make them show the tag, but I am very strict that if it is an unfamiliar person who will be picking up the child, I must see the tag. The difficulty I have is the tendency of four year olds to run the instant they see their parents. We talk about this and talk about this, right before we go out the door every day, but the nice line they walk in all the way out to the pick up area dissolves the instant they get there and kids run. I am scared to death someone is going to wipe out right there in front of all the parents and end up with a bloody knee or lip. But what can you do?

    • Hi Sarah,
      We had the same problem with kids running to their parents. Some of our students are special needs and would run directly into the street if allowed. For the safety of the students we decided to keep them inside the building for dismissal. They line up against the walls just inside the doors. As the cars drive up one teacher calls the child’s name and takes the child by the hand to the car. There are always teachers standing inside with the kids who are waiting and teachers who are escorting kids to the their cars. Parents who walk have to approach the same door and show their tag through the window. Since 9-11 no parents are allowed into the building to pick-up and taking our large classes (22 or more per teacher) outside was too dangerous so this was the best solution for us. I forgot to add that the pick-up tags help substitute teachers too, they’re so grateful to have a system.

  3. Heidi Butkus says:

    Awesome idea, Vanessa!!!! Nothing is worse than losing a small child! I wish I had had this idea years ago when we did the car pick up line. It was pure chaos!
    Heidi Butkus
    blog: http://heidisongs.blogspot.com

    • So how do you handle dismissal now Heidi? Do they all ride the bus or do they all walk? Inquiring minds want to know :)

  4. Heidi Butkus says:

    We gave up on the “valet parking” idea (putting the children directly into cars as the parents drive by) a long time ago. Now the parents have to come to the door and get the children. I hand them the children one at a time when they come to the door and ask for the children by name. It’s far less risky!
    Before I switched to this system, we used to take them to the gate and have them wait outside, and I would send them out to their parents outside the gate. But even then once a child got away from me, because she wandered away while my back was turned as I was handing children to the parents. She walked away to the playground and I never noticed that she had left. Meanwhile, her parents were late picking up. I had not put the two events together, and about twenty minutes later, they came to my door and asked for their daughter. I was stunned, since I had no idea where she was! It was absolutely awful for a moment or two, until she showed up right there, twenty feet away, playing by herself on the kinder playground! They were furious, and went to the principal to complain. They were right to do so, because I had essentially lost their child. But the principal supported me and said, “Hey, she wandered away, and you were late. You share some of the blame here.” They pulled the child from the school completely. I felt just awful! After that, I moved the entire class inside to dismiss, and I haven’t lost a child yet- other than one sneaking into the bathroom without permission during dismissal- and they always show up eventually!

    • I agree, valet parking is no fun. I put my foot down when they changed the child safety seat laws in TX and almost all of my pre-k students were supposed to be in car seats. I decided it was too risky to put a child into a car who was not properly restrained according to the law. I was fortunate that my administration agreed and we also moved dismissal inside- but other campuses weren’t as lucky. Some of the campuses in my district don’t have a choice because they don’t have enough parking for parents. They have to pay a city police officer to direct and move traffic as quickly as possible during arrival and dismissal or it backs up onto major roads and causes major problems.

  5. Karen @ PreKinders says:

    Neat idea! I really need one of those Cricut machines! :)

    • Yes, you really need to catch up with technology and get a Cricut machine- and a telephone machine and a tv machine too while you’re at it :) lol

  6. I teach in a public school, and my classroom exits to a small hallway where the kids have their lockers, and then the door to outside and the playground is right there. I teach the children and the parents that the child needs to give me a high five before they can leave me. (I stand outside as they come out the door) It has worked well over the last 14 years, only have had 1 or 2 in all that time go off to play on the playground equipment before their parent picked them up. Any children who need to go to the main entrance to catch a bus or daycare van is escorted from outside with me by a 5th grade student, so the children still have to high 5 me, to let me know they are leaving.

  7. Chris Ann Prescott says:

    Our dismissal time seems like a nightmare! Our church preschool is a 3 1/2 hour program and we have carpool in the morning, but parents have to come in to pick up in the afternoon. Four out of the five days, there are afterschool activities like ballet, karate, art, etc. that are spread out across the campus and my assistant has to take some while I’m left behind with the others waiting for parents and getting kids dressed for karate. Needless to say, we have kids going everywhere while those left behind waiting for their parents are running around the classroom. We’ve tried everything from giving the kids jobs like stacking chairs, wiping tables, to having them sit at their table reading books until their parent arrives. I try to have an afternoon circle time and a goodbye song, but that is also difficult to do when we have to “dress” the others so that they are not late for their activities.

    Did I mention I have 18 four year olds and 12 of them are boys? Any ideas would be appreciated!!

  8. I teach at an elementary school that has six eng. and 2 bilingual pre-k classes. We begin loading 30 min. before the k-5th. We dismiss in the bus zone before the busses come. There is enough room for two lanes of traffic. One teacher has a megaphone and calls out the name and teacher of the child as the car come thru the line and. Stops at the designated spot. Each car has the child’s name and teachers name on card stock placed in the front of the car or someone in the car holds it up. If a parent forgets or someone different try’s to pick up a child they are directed to the front. They have to sign out their child at the office. We can load @ 100 kids in @ 15 min. The “left overs are taken to the foyer and the parent comes in and signs them out:)

  9. We have a long sidewalk along a curb for pick up. The first parent that arrives for pick up pulls up to a painted red mark and other parents line up behind the first. We bring all the kids outside at the same time. They stand on a red line painted on the sidewalk. We have a yellow line under cover to use on rainy days. We painted 3 circles (one red, one yellow, one blue) on the side walk spaced the distance of a car length apart. Then we have 3 squares (one red, one yellow, one blue) and then 3 triangles (one red, one yellow, one blue). As we recognize the driver of the car we call out either the students names and we tell them what shape and color to stand on. They stand on the shape and then board the car. No car is allowed to pull out and around the car in front of them for safety reasons. Once the lead car pulls away others follow and the next round of cars pull in with the first car of that pack pulling up to the marked line. By then we are predicting which car is coming in the line and we call out students to stand on a specific shape. By the time the cars pull forward a child is standing and waiting. The rule is they are not allowed to move until the wheels stop moving! We are dismissing about 40+ kids and it takes about 5-10 minutes. We encourage the parents picking up several children to arrive at the end of the pick up line since it takes longer to buckle up more than one child. We also encourage parents to stay off cell phones during arrival and/or dismissal. Not only because of safety but we want them to be “present” to hear about their child’s day at preschool.

    We run into problems when parents have similar style or colored vehicle. I think this year I will try your idea and give the parents something to make their car look different from a peers car. Maybe the parents would have something to hang from the mirror for us.

Printables for Pre-K and Kindergarten Teachers

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