Teach kindergarten? Tips for a safe, positive first day!
When I returned to classroom teaching in kindergarten, I reflected on my decades of first days of school as a teacher. I started my career in kindergarten and first grade. In the years I spent in support roles, my first day of school was often spent in the kindergarten hall.
We who live in the land of little people know the first day(s) of school priorities are all about safety, reassurance, calm and putting the systems in place that lays the groundwork for continued safety, reassurance and calm.
Here are five things I do on the first day of kindergarten to ensure the most positive experience possible for myself, partners, students and their families:
1. Begin with end in mind:
To ensure parents that their kindergarteners will have a safe, positive first day, show up with a smile, nametag and a clipboard (or electronic equivalent). If you have dismissal details to give them, even better!
Meet students and whoever is dropping them off before the bell. After a warm introduction eye to eye with your student, make note of:
- Who brought child today
- How child is getting home today
- Confirm regular / planned / usual 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. WRITE DOWN THE DETAILS. Repeat.
2. Engagement right away (“Look – a distraction!”)
Young children are drawn to little things they can touch, explore and play with. Have various items available to grab their attention when they arrive. Having things to engage students right away allows time to talk to adults dropping off. I have had students so excited to explore that their curiosity has overridden their separation anxiety.
- Rocks and various containers
- Jewels and mirrors
- Small, open-ended toys
- Crayons and paper / coloring pages
- High-interest picture books
- Light board
- Outdoor – paint brushes and water
- Water table with colored water, boats, sea creatures
- Outdoor blocks or links
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).
And of course, I read them a story. More on that here:
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.!) Update: With having students for two years in a row, on alternate years, they are Kindergarten Rock Stars.
The laminated, color-coded (by construction paper I mounted them on that also framed them) posters (above) 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. There ended up being TWO benefits do doing so:
- They are reusable year after year
- They can easily be updated as changes happen throughout the year! I started off with typed lists taped on them, but over the year used dry-erase markers and sticky notes for quick updates.
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. Dry-erase markers work on laminate and sticky notes are ideal in the beginning too. Once dismissal plans were confirmed after the first week or two of school, I did type lists that we taped on, and when notes came in about changes for the day, I simply put sticky notes right on top.
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). They also occupied themselves in cubby room by finding each other’s names and ‘teaching’ others who were ready early!
So when you find yourself thinking about the first day of school, remember that there is only so much you can control. I hope these 5 teacher tips are helpful, and invite you to add any you have in the comments for others (and myself!) to learn from! As we all know, every year and every group is different!
Best wishes to all of you as you head back to class!