The first day of Kindergarten is an exciting one! It can be full of anticipation, enthusiasm, a little bit of trepidation, and quite often, lots and lots of energy. For many kids, this will be their first experience in school. So, how do you make this very important day a success? By keeping it simple and having FUN! Remember, some of your kinders have never been in school before. They may not know how to sit in a designated spot, form a line, color a picture, or even hold a pencil. Not to worry. By the end of this blog, you will have all the tips needed to help your first day of kindergarten go smoothly and your kids leave with a smile.
Tip #1 Be Prepared!
Before the first day, be sure your classroom is organized in a kid friendly way (see tip #2 for more on this). Have plenty of class lists on hand, know the fire drill procedures, and buy lots of fun stickers for end of the day dismissal (more on this in tip # 5). The night before, review your plans, and make sure you have everything ready and in its place.
Tip #2 Keep it Simple (Less is More)
When organizing your classroom, the key is to keep it simple. Everyone loves the look of a beautiful, organized, well stocked classroom. However, what’s most important is that your students can easily find, access, and put everything back. For this to happen, you need to keep things low (so your kinders can reach the item) and simple. I suggest using tubs to help organize everything and then labeling those tubs with pictures and words. Be sure you do NOT set out too much! Less really is more. You may think your classroom looks a bit sparse, but trust me, for these first few weeks you want to keep things simple. Read on for some examples of keeping it simple.
Centers - Keeping it Simple
If you want your students to be able to access classroom centers independently, and you don’t want a chaotic mess at the end of each day, you need to limit the number of items you place in each center. I assume you are familiar with centers, but if you need a bit more detail, read Start Centers in Kindergarten With These Sanity Saving Tips, by Deedee Wills. In my classroom, center time was child directed, rooted in academics, and (as described by my students) the most FUN part of the day! Below are a few suggestions on how to set up these centers for the first few weeks of school.
*Reading Center (aka Classroom Library)
For the first few weeks of school, less is more. When setting up your classroom library, only set out 5 or 6 tubs filled with books that match the label on the tub. Be sure you choose themes/topics that are easily recognizable so your kids can sort them back into the appropriate tub. Some examples of beginning of the year book tub themes might be color books, number books, alphabet books, animal books, Clifford books, etc. I know a fully stocked classroom library is appealing to the eye. However, if you want your students to be able to access the books independently and replace them correctly, start by keeping it simple. Less is more. A few well-placed stuffed animals and pillows will help fill up your library and give it that warm and inviting feeling. As the year progresses, you will add many more book tubs to your library.
* Math Center
I suggest placing 5 or 6 labeled tubs filled with math manipulatives in your math center. I liked to have just enough tubs to place 1 tub on each student table (I had 6 shared student tables in my classroom). This way, I could spend the first few days of math time teaching my kids how to play with the math manipulatives. Some of my favorite math manipulatives were pattern blocks, linking cubes, colorful tiles, links, and whatever kind of fun counters you have in your classroom (bears, fruit, cars, etc). For more details on how I taught this math lesson, see tip #6 Make it Fun-Free Exploration.
Again, I cannot stress enough that you want to limit the number of items you put in your art center these first few days of school. There is nothing worse than having feathers, glitter, and tiny scraps of paper strewn all over your room at the end of the day. Only put out the items you have time to model how to use responsibly. Just as with your other centers, you will add to this center as the year progresses. I usually stocked my art center with construction paper, crayons, markers, stamps, scissors and glue. After everyone has had a chance to play in the art center, and has shown they can be responsible artists, then start adding more items such as paint dobbers, feathers, sequences, stickers, etc. Be sure you go over your rules and expectations every time you add something new to the art center. You will also want to have a labeled container for each item to be stored and easily cleaned up.
Table Caddies/Tubs/Buckets- Keeping it Simple
In my classroom, students shared writing tools. There was a table caddy in the center of each table which would eventually hold markers, crayons, and pencils. Note that I said eventually; On the first day of kindergarten, these caddies would only hold pencils and crayons. This was because I wanted to teach my students HOW to use markers. So, for the first day of school, my students would only be drawing/coloring with pencils and crayons. (Except in the art center, where they were allowed to color with markers-woo hoo!) After I taught my students how to use markers, I would place 2 sets of markers in each caddy. Each table would get the same amount, and the same colors. (I used Crayola Classic Colors.) This little tip will avoid fights from breaking out over marker colors.
Tip #3 Keep Parents Informed
Whether you email, call, or meet with the parents/guardians of your students, you need to make sure they are aware of important information. For example, they need to know how/when to drop off and pick up their kids, lunch policies, volunteering opportunities, homework policy, etc. I suggest creating a Parent Information Letter with all the information you want your families to know. You can give this letter to the parents of your students on Back to School Night. Read more about this in our blog, How to Have a Successful Back to School Night. How you choose to disperse this important information is up to you. Just make sure every parent gets it!
First Day Story with Parents
At my school, on the first day, the kinder teachers would invite all of the kindergarten parents into our classrooms for a cute story. Before the story, I introduced myself and asked the students to come and sit on our colorful rug. Their parents would gather around any place they could find room. (Our classrooms were not very spacious, so parents were a bit squished.) Then I would explain that I was SO EXCITED for our first day of kindergarten, and that before we began, I had to quickly share some important information with everyone (such as where and how to pick up the kids at the end of the day, and how lunch works). The key here is to be succinct. This is another great time to give each family the Parent Information Letter to be read on their own time. Finally, it was story time. I would ask everyone to listen carefully as I read The Night Before Kindergarten. This book was perfect as it was cute, engaging, and delivered a great message: kindergarten is a safe and fun place to be. At the end of the story, I would tell my kinders to give their parents a hug and kiss goodbye. If there was a student whose guardian couldn’t be there, I would offer a big hug from myself or a classroom stuffed animal. Make sure to send home the Parent Information Letter to those not present. It is also a good idea to contact those families and ask if they have any questions or concerns.
Tip #4 Keep Your Kids Moving
Keep activities short. Do not expect your kinders to sit still for more than 15 minutes. In fact, the only activity that should last more than 15 minutes is lunch 😊 . Be sure to have lots of movement activities throughout the day. Jack Hartman has great movement videos to go with every academic skill you can think of. GoNoodle is another fun and free online resource that your kids will love.
Tip #5 Teach Rituals and Routines
This whole first week of school is going to be about teaching rituals and routines. Every fun activity is an opportunity to teach your students the daily rituals and routines of school. You are going to have to model and practice EVERYTHING, from how to sit during a story, how to raise your hand before talking, how to walk in a quiet line, how to transition from one activity to the next, how to play on the playground equipment, etc… And most importantly, be sure you practice what to do if the fire alarm sounds. Most schools have a fire drill the first week of school. If this happens, you don’t want yourself or your students to be caught off guard or you will end up like John Kimble from Kindergarten Cop. So, be sure to talk to your kids about fire drills and practice, practice, practice. Okay, just one mock fire drill will suffice. Just be sure to get in at least one so your kids know what to do, and so they don’t go running out of the building, yelling and crying when that screeching alarm sounds.
Tip #6 Make it Fun!
The first day needs to be fun, so your kindergartners will want to come back the next day! The best way to ensure your kids are having fun, is for you to have fun! Happiness is contagious. So, if you are excited, your kids will be too. Below are a few more ideas on how to make the first day fun!
Music is another great way to have fun. If you are one of those lucky teachers that can carry a tune, feel free to turn everything into a song. Your kids will love it! If you are like me, you might need a little help from Greg and Steve, or Hap Palmer. Both of these artists have some wonderful songs for kids. You can also visit our blog for links to some great good morning songs. Google is a great resource for fun and academic songs. To save you some time, we have compiled some of our favorite literacy and math videos.
Kindergarteners love free exploration, or “play time”. One way to make play time fun AND educational is to model how to “play” responsibly with classroom toys. For example, during math time, I liked to set out one tub of math manipulatives on each table. I would review how to “play” with these math toys before allowing children to explore. I set rules such as, no dumping out the tubs; Only take one or two handfuls of manipulatives each; share; be sure to put all manipulatives back and sit quietly when it is time to clean up; etc. Then give students some time to explore the tub on their tables. My students loved exploring, aka “playing with” math toys.
As mentioned above, center time was my students favorite time of the day. Since my center time was at the end of the day, my students went home happy and looking forward to returning the next day. Whether you choose to have centers at the end of the day or not, be sure to do something extra special and fun to end the day with a bang!
Tip #7 Safety First! (Don't Lose Any of Your Kids)
As I mentioned earlier, be sure you have a class list on hand or nearby at all times of the day. You are going to want to count heads regularly. In the rare event you come up short, use your handy class list to find out which kid is missing and alert the office immediately. Below are a few tips to help ensure that you don’t lose any of your kindergarteners.
Schedule a school tour so your students know where everything is and don’t get lost. This is also a good time to show students how to navigate the lunchroom, the rules of the playground, bathroom rules, when and how to line up, where the office is, etc. You might want to recruit the help of older students. Be sure to model expectations, and have students practice them whenever possible. For example, when touring the lunchroom, take your students on a mock run of lunchroom procedures.
For the teacher (who is still getting to know his/her students) dismissal can be scary. If you are not careful, your students will take off running the moment they see their parents, and you will be left not knowing who was safely picked up. With these helpful tips, both you and the families of your students will breathe easy knowing that your students were safely picked up from school.
For a safe dismissal, you need a class list (I did mention that you would need lots of these😉) and some really fun stickers (I liked the scented ones.). Before the end of the day, teach your students to stay in line and raise their hand when they see their parents. Emphasize that they are to stay in line and wait for you to come to them. As you begin to see hands in the air, approach one student at a time and ask them to identify the person that is picking them up. You will then cross that student’s name off your class list and give them one of those adorable stickers you spent a little too much on because it is the first week of school. Then off they will go, safe and accounted for. Just make sure you and your students practice this safety procedure before actual dismissal. Emphasize that no one is allowed to leave until they get that awesome sticker. You may also want to remind them that they must stay in line and may not approach you. Otherwise, you will be surrounded by a mob of kids putting their hands in your face trying to get a sticker.
First Day of Kindergarten Lesson Plan
To give you an idea of what the first day of kindergarten looked like at my school, I have included a photo of an old lesson plan of mine.
Kindergarten can be a bit of an adjustment for some kids. Even if they are having fun, they may still cry for their parents or want to go home at times. Don’t take this as a judgement. Just offer up a little empathy and know that with a bit of time, your kinders will end up loving you and enjoying school.
Just remember, above all else, make the first day fun! End the day with a BANG!