It’s August! When I was teaching I was already starting to feel beginning of the year pressure and stress! Maybe only an early childhood teacher can understand that, but the beginning of the year is often overwhelming! It is a combination of not knowing who is going to show up on your class list (special needs, behavior issues, dominant personalities, fearful (or tearful) little bunnies, anxious or demanding parents), the amount of materials we use and store, and planning how to keep the children safe and occupied those first LONG days of school, without overwhelming them. And all of that is easier said than done! That means we need to be well prepared and totally ready to start the year! That is how I used to spend the month of August.
One of the most important things you can do to insure a smooth start to the year is to spend some time thinking of the routines you want to establish, and how you will teach and reinforce these at the beginning of the year. Routines and rituals are two ways to provide consistency for young children, and to help them feel safe and confident at school. Even adults like to know what is going to happen, and what we will be expected to do. Developing, modeling, and practicing routines builds that sense of security and comfort, and it also just makes the day go more smoothly. Adding rituals is a way to bond your children together as a school family, I will be blogging about those soon!
One of the things I loved about Kindergarten was how closely I got to work with parents, some volunteered in my room, but I developed relationships with most of them. Parents needed to trust me to care for their child and keep him safe 7 hours every day, not to mention teaching the curriculum. I spent more time with my children than their parents did during the school year. Some parents need the comfort of knowing that you have specific procedures in place for how to handle everything from bathroom issues to bus helpers. Building a partnership with parents is vitally important, and some parents will be reassured when you can explain your routines.
As you think through your day you might make a list of things that the children will be doing every day. What I learned about Kindergarten is that you have to be very concrete and model every step that you want children to take. Then you need to keep reinforcing each step until they become ingrained and you hear the kids say “this is the way we do it.”Here is a list I made of some of the daily activities in my classroom that I developed routines for.
Here is a copy to print if it will help you think through the procedures you need to develop:
Of course every classroom, school and teacher are different and you have to develop the procedures that will work best in your situation, but this list might help you think through some of the decisions you need to make.
Coats and backpacks – Some of my classes used hooks in a coat room, other kids had individual lockers. You need to think about how you will teach them to find their own space, put away their backpack, lunch box, hats, mittens, boots, scarves, snowpants, etc. (In Michigan we needed it all!) Thankfully we didn’t have to do all the winter clothese at the beginning of the year.
Modeling is the single most efficient way to teach these procedures, and you need to model again and again. But another helpful idea is to take photographs of the children doing exactly what you want them to do, and make a book that you can read together until the routines become ingrained. Also if a child needs more support you could copy the book for parents to read and reinforce at home.
This book includes a few of the rituals I added, but you can see that it is a good reminder of what the children need to do each day. When I had children in my classroom that needed more help I sometimes turned these pictures into a step by step chart that I hung where they could refer to it.
Attendance and lunch count
When I first began teaching full day Kindergarten I made name cards and the children placed them in these boxes that I covered with contact paper to show whether they were buying the main item, choice or brought lunch from home. When their name card had been picked up and put in the box I could also tell they were present at school. But we offered more options – the children could select the main choice, an alternate, yogurt and graham crackers, or just milk. Of course some children also brought their entire lunch and didn’t need to buy anything. So I made a graphing chart:
I found this small pocket chart in the dollar section of Target and used my sewing machine to stitch 5 columns. I laminated each child’s photograph, and photos of all the lunch choices. I also copied a clipart picture of a lunch box and a single serve milk carton. The children would place their picture in the correct column to show their lunch choice for the day. Later in the day we would move these photos to a yes/no graph chart (pictured to the left). This gave us several opportunities to analyze graphs every day, and I didn’t have to move the kids’ pictures!
I made that pocket chart from some that were also offered at Target a few years ago – this time I sewed two together to make it long enough for my entire class to choose the same answer on the graph. Here are some of the graph questions I saved:
I used this graphing system, but I also took attendance by having the children each recite his/her own name. At the very beginning of the year I called each child’s name and asked how they were getting home – they would tell me their bus number, or pick up, or School Aged Care. When all the children knew their bus numbers, etc. I told them that they were going to begin to take attendance by themselves. The first time I put them in alphabetical order around the circle. I explained that each child only had to listen for one other child’s name, and then say his or her own name. It only took a few times for most children to chant off their name at the right time. I liked this so much – they were all quiet because they had to listen for when to say their name, they learned each other’s names quickly, and when an adult stopped in to our room the children could recite their names to introduce themselves. Parents and visitors were always impressed. Sometimes I even told the children to line up according to their attendance and they could do it! I ran into a former Kindergarten student who was a senior in high school and she told me she could still recite the class list from kindergarten!
There are so many valuable things you can do with the Calendar. Many math programs include lots of calendar activities. There are also songs and poems that you can incorporate – but you have to decide what you want to include. How will you count the days of school? Weather? Zero the Hero? Seasons?
You need to take the time to talk very directly about using the bathroom – putting the seat up and down, using toilet paper, flushing, washing hands. I had a step by step line drawing of how to use the bathroom that I showed the children during this talk, then posted by the potty!
Sorry, I don’t have a copy of the girl version!
Snack? You need to decide if you will include snack in your day – will they bring their own or take turns bringing class snack. If they bring their own where will they store them? Will it mean another trip out to lockers? How will they know what to save for lunch time? So many issues to decide! I asked for donations of non-perishable snacks like graham crackers, pretzels, popcorn, cheese crackers, etc. I modeled and they practiced washing hands, counting out snack into a cupcake liner and sitting to eat, then cleaning up.
Lunch procedures also lend themselves nicely to a Routine Book.
When I first modeled our lunch procedures I brought in a real lunch box and talked about eating my sandwich or main part of lunch first, using the open lunch box as a crumb catcher, etc. When I made a routine book I tried to keep it to 7-8 pages and couldn’t include every detail, but I would often remind them of all the details when we read it.
Routine books can really be used to teach and reinforce almost all procedures in your classroom. Sometimes songs and chants are helpful too. For lining up we often chanted:
My hands are hanging at my sides
I’m standing straight and tall
My eyes are facing straight ahead
I’m ready for the hall!
Quiet Time – This is another issue you need to make decisions about. Will you actually have the children lie down to rest? Will they be expected to be silent or only quiet? Will they just rest or look at books, or listen to music? Will they bring rugs or towels? Where and how will these be stored? Will you just have lower key activities? There really are no right or wrong answers across the board, you just have to decide what will work for you and your children.
You will also be modeling how the children will put their work into their mailboxes or cubbies or folders, and how to empty their mailboxes, etc. at the end of the day. They will need to practice retrieving their coats, etc. and getting dressed to go home. Many children get very anxious about dismissal time, and finding the right bus – talking through and practicing can help this go much smoother – so can having older children who come to help the little ones find their buses.
Some children really need to visualize all the events of the day. Here are some simple drawings that you might use to make a visual schedule. I know there are some wonderful computer programs that provide great pictures too.
Here are printable versions of all the ones I kept:
Teachers make so many decisions every day. You have to make thoughtful choices about how you are going to introduce and reinforce everything. Taking the time to develop consistent routines will make every day go more smoothly and help children feel secure and confident about school.