When thinking about the first day everything seems to come so natural and automatic now that I've been doing this for a while. When I really thought about what would help a new teacher out the most (or even a teacher that is just new to Kindergarten) it was hard for me to narrow it down. So here is a "condensed" (no not really...brace yourself) list of some of my favorite tips and ideas. I'm sure I'll think of many more once I hit "publish" on this post! =)
1. The first day of school really begins for Kindergarten parents way before the actual first day....communication with the parents is essential. I send post cards to my students and an introduction letter to my new parents. I tell them just a bit about me but mainly share how excited I am about being their child's teacher. I also give them a few tips to help them prepare for our open house. We have a long list of info that is needed on that night and many new parents are taken by surprise. When the families come in for open house they already feel like they have a connection to you.....a huge icebreaker in some cases!
2. At our open house (or you could have this for parents on the first day if you do not have an open house) I have a packet with info about my room. They've already received information about the school in general, but this gives them a chance to really get an idea of what their child's classroom and Kindergarten experience will be like. I am attempting to also include this information on my class website, but am having technical difficulties. =(
In this packet I include:
- An overview of our literacy and math programs
- Literacy center, math center and traditional center descriptions
- Housekeeping items...lunch money collection procedures, birthday procedures, snacks, extra clothing storage, etc.
- Information on homework procedures for later in the year
- Contact information
One piece of information in the packet that really seems to help my parents is "tip" sheet for making the start of the year go smoothly.
Now all of these tips so far have be prep work for the actual first day. What do you do when you actually have 20+ five year olds and their parents walking through your door on the first day?
Well.....here is what seems to work for me:
The First Day
1. Have something for the kids to do while you answer those last minute questions from parents or help a child who is having difficulty separating from their parent. I always seem to use playdoh for this. I've tried coloring, looking at books, puzzles and manipulatives and playdoh seems to hold their interest the best. In the early years when I would have them just wait for me at their seats or on the carpet I would always have a couple wandering around the room ...or worse yet.....trying to escape!!! Ugh!
2. I put homemade stop signs on my centers / shelves that I do not want the kiddos running and getting into right away. I know some teachers that use red tape for this purpose as well. I tell the kids that if there is a stop sign we have to wait and hear the rules before we can use the area/materials. This has been a life saver on those first few mornings when curious five year olds want to explore EVERYTHING in the room. Not that they all obey the stop signs of course but it works for the most part.
3. Once our office makes an announcement that it's time for parents to say good bye (they are very nice/respectful in their approach to this of course) I tell the kids to give one last hug and kiss and we will get busy having fun! I've been very fortunate over the last few years and have had very few "criers." Warning....if you are new....expect criers or upset kiddos some mornings during the first few weeks of school. Once the newness wears off they begin to miss home again sometimes. This took me by surprise the first few years. I figured after the first couple of days that they would be all adjusted...I was soooo wrong.
4. Once the parents are gone we settle in for our first morning meeting. Of course the rules are introduced and then I go over a VISUAL schedule. They just want to know when they are going to get to PLAY of course! When they look at this schedule it gives them a visual for seeing when they will not only get to play outside but also in the room for our traditional center time. I put a huge star on our center time schedule card so they know when they will FINALLY be able to use some of the fun stuff in the room. As we complete things on the schedule I flip the cards over. They love counting how many cards we have left until center time and time to go home.
5. Speaking of centers.....keep it simple and introduce the traditional centers first. I like to take my time introducing my literacy / Daily 5 centers and math centers. I don't want to rush this process and feel they need time before starting these important activities. During the first few days I introduce whole group activities during our Daily 5 and math center times. We all practice "read to self" or "word work" before we begin rotations with either of these center times. I usually open up the majority of my traditional centers on the first day. I have helpers take down the "stop signs" in these centers. They get so excited about this! I do put them up again after center time and we discuss that we only go to these areas of the room during this special time of the day. This helps the next morning when some do "forget."
6. Over plan........it's better to have too much planned than not enough.
7. Keep in mind you may not get to all of those amazing plans that you wrote. =) Frustrating...but true.
8. Transitions (bathroom/going to specials) takes FOREVER at the beginning of the year. Our bathroom breaks can be over twenty minutes sometimes. Ugh.
9. If you have a full day program you may want to let your kids practice holding a lunch tray with play food in the room first. Our school has a little video that shows kids going through the lunch line and finding their seat in our cafeteria. After we watch this I have them practice in the room before we actually head to the cafe. HUGE, HUGE improvement over the days when I would just march down to the cafeteria with my class on the first day.
Saves a lot of tears....mine, not theirs!
10. One last tip...I always have the kids draw a self portrait of themselves on the first day and write their name. This gives me some insight into how detailed their work is and of course if they can write their name or not. I usually have them do another self portrait each month and these go into their portfolios.
Whew....you made it! Thanks for reading until the end of this l-o-n-g post! I hope that everyone has a great "First Day" regardless if you've taught twenty five years or if this is your first Kindergarten classroom. Kindergarten is amazing and I am so looking forward to working with my next class! Best wishes to a new year!