Is it possible for kindergarten teachers to have a safe and positive first day of school? I believe the answer is yes. I returned to kindergarten last September and will be teaching it again this year. In reflecting back to many first days of school with the little people in the past twenty-something years, and taking the Kindergarten AQ course, here are five tips I can offer:
1. Start the day off right:
Take a clipboard (with school provided dismissal details if you have them) and meet students and whoever is dropping them off before the bell. After a warm introduction at the child’s height, make note of:
- Who brought child today
- How child is getting home today
- Confirm regular dismissal routine
- If they brought a change of shoes, thank them, decide how much of a priority it is for you to deal with shoe changes on the very first day of school and proceed accordingly
Welcome student and direct him / her to say goodbye for now, and where to go / what to do (see next tip!) Say goodbye / nice-to-meet you to parent / guardian and confirm child’s location at end of day. Repeat. Got criers? Click here!
2. Have interesting things prepared to engage students immediately:
Young children are drawn to little things they can touch, explore and play with. Have various items and toys on tables and the carpet to engage students as they enter the room to allow time to talk to adults dropping others off. Some ideas:
- Rocks and various containers
- Jewels and mirrors
- Small, open-ended toys
- Crayons and paper / coloring pages
- High-interest picture books
3. After parents / guardians have left:
Gather students on the carpet to welcome them again and take attendance. A fun way to do attendance is to sing it with The Good Morning Train song:
I like to deliver attendance as a whole class, if possible, on the first day, and say hello to the school secretary. Pairing up older students with younger ones as buddies is helpful for lining up and learning new routines, and this first trip to the office together is the first time we travel together in our new class.
Upon returning to the classroom, I show them where the washroom is, and the STOP / GO sign on the door, explaining that if they see STOP, they should not enter, and to turn the sign to STOP when they are going in themselves (and vica versa for GO).
4. Learning student names
I taught my first kindergarten class 23 years ago and somehow managed to memorize all 24 of my students’ names on the very first day of school. It is nowhere near that easy for me now! Singing attendance helps, but what helps me more are visuals.
Last year, I printed a class set of crowns for my students to color and took photos of them wearing them with their names literally across their foreheads. I made myself a study / cheat sheet that I used for the week. A few of my boys looked so much alike and I kept mixing them up! The kids loved being Kindergarten Royalty and it helped to have them wearing their crowns when we were getting them ready for dismissal, too. Everyone got to right bus (credit to our class E.C.E.!)
The laminated, color-coded (by construction paper I mounted them on that also framed them) posters (below) were up in our cubby room last year (on the same wall as the door so they could not be seen through the window). I laminated them before any information was added to them so they could be reusable year after year, but soon learned another benefit of doing so: changes happen throughout the year!
I made multiple bus copies so we would have one to represent each bus. I knew that I needed a quick, clear visual at the end of the day, and how much it helps substitutes when they are in. We did not have these filled in on the first day of school, and I do not plan do anything semi-permanent in time for the first day this year, either. Dry-erase markers work on laminate, sticky notes, too. Once dismissal was secured, I did type lists that we taped on top, and when notes came in about changes for the day, I simply put sticky notes right on top.
And guess what ended up happening over time? The kids were reading them, finding little words in them (i.e. ‘us’ in bus, ‘is’ in sister, ‘and’ in grandparent) These kids are like sponges!
Best wishes to all of you as you head back to class!