More First Day Stuff!

I just wanted to share a few things that got me through those very first few days with the children.  Every year, and every group of children is exciting and different.  Being flexible is probably one of the most important attributes a Kindergarten teacher needs – or maybe that is patience – or sense of humor – or love – or endurance!  I think you need a big dose of all of them!

The teachers in my building always went outside to greet the buses as the children arrived that first full day of school.  Some were also dropped off by parents.  It took awhile for all the buses to arrive in the confusion of all the new schedules, and sometimes we waited outside for 10-15 minutes.  I found that it was really helpful to bring a puppet with me, and I chose to bring Calvin because I could still hold a child’s hand, high five, or hold onto a paper if I needed to, and still make Calvin look like he was interacting with the children.

Calvin helped me count the children as they arrived, and generally set the tone of fun in those first moments of school.

Here is a very basic schedule of how I planned that day:


One of the activities I always included that first day was asking each child to draw a self portrait and write their name.  These gave me lots of great information about fine motor skills and following directions.  I usually gave each child a small mirror to study his/her reflection before drawing.  Here is the paper I used:

I kept these and we did the exact activity in June.  I mounted both pictures on folded paper to compare their drawing and name writing.

Here is the Sept. page to print:

How I look

We asked parents to send in a sack lunch for awhile to give children time to get used to the lunch room before they bought hot lunch, but we sent home a list of hints to make lunch go more easily.

Lunch Time Hints for Parents

I made this sign for the classroom to help children remember our 3 most important rules.

Be safe

Almost everything is covered by those 3 rules.  Of course there were lots and lots of rules about how to use materials around the classroom, how to walk in the hall, play on the playground, etc.  But I treated all of these as routines that I taught rather than rules to be followed.  Instead of saying – No throwing blocks, we talked about exactly how we used and put away blocks.  I tried to concentrate on what I wanted the children to do, not what I did NOT want them to do.

We talked a lot about how many choices they would make every day.

No one is bor1

Here is a cover I used for our Drawing and Writing book at the beginning of the year, following the program Talking, Drawing, Writing.

Drawing cover

I also posted a chart of Goodbye sayings.

goodbye sayings

Sometimes my mind would go blank during those stressful first days – that’s why I wrote out a lesson plan that I could follow if needed, and I also kept a list of songs the children were likely to be familiar with handy – in case I needed to give them a chance to move around, or come together!

Song ideas

We usually made a simple cut and paste bus project.  We sang the song The Wheels on the Bus and acted out riding on the bus by putting about 6 chairs in 2 x 2 rows.  I called on different children to be the driver.  We sang the chorus, then the driver decided how many children would get on the bus (1-4).  I had labeled popsicle sticks with each child’s name.  I pulled out that many sticks and those children sat in the chairs.  Then we sang the chorus again, the bus “stopped” and the driver said how many more children got on – we turned it into a simple math problem, just orally.  It went right over some children’s heads, others got the idea – but they all loved the activity.  Then we started again with a new driver until all children got a chance to participate.

Through the years I often heard parents or the children themselves say that they were excited to go to school so they could learn to read.  I made this very simple little fold up book so the children could take home a book they could read that very first day.  We read it together several times during the day so all the children would remember the names of all the items.

Along with the printable version, here is a reminder of how to fold up these small books – I folded them all ahead of time.

school book

folding books

One more activity that I liked to do at the very beginning of the year was to help the children find a partner and “interview” their partner.  Of course I modeled exactly what they would be doing and was right there to help if needed.  It was a great way to introduce the idea of turning to talk – or “eye to eye, knee to knee.”  You could make partners by passing out ribbons of different lengths and colors and the children need to find the person with a matching ribbon.  You could ask them to find a partner who is wearing the same color as them, or has the same color hair as they do.  There are lots of ways you can turn making partners into a game, but sometimes you might just want them to talk to their neighbor.

Each child wrote his/her name on top of their paper before they sat facing their partner.  Sometimes I gave them each a clipboard to write against.

1st day interview

Each child asked his/her partner which item they liked best –

Rainy days or sunny days?

Ice cream or cupcake?

Cat or dog?

They circled their partner’s preference on their own paper.  Then they traded papers and wrote their own name at the bottom of the partner’s paper.

One thing I liked about this interview activity was that parents so often ask their child if they met any new friends at school that day.  This format gives each child a chance to individually talk to another child and to take home the name of another child in class – which can open up a conversation at home.

I always tried to remember to teach the children the word friend in sign language.

You probably won’t have time to do all these things that first day, but I hope this helps you a little through those first tiring days at school!

13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Cynthia
    Aug 14, 2011 @ 02:58:46

    Thank you so much for sharing all of your wonderful ideas. This is my second year teaching Kindergarten and I’m grateful to have such creative and fun activities to bring into my classroom.


  2. Lucille
    Aug 16, 2011 @ 19:27:27

    Thank you for these great ideas. I’ve been teaching kindergarten for 23 years but I’m always eager to learn new things. I’ve copied so many of your ideas and plan on using them tomorrow!!!! Thank you again.


  3. Lucille
    Aug 19, 2011 @ 06:20:29

    Do you have any suggestions about getting the children to focus and not talk while the teacher is teaching? This seems to be a huge problem in our kindergarten this year. We’ve gone over rules many times, used picture cues, rearranged seating etc….but no luck. They just continue to talk to eachother right in the middle of a lesson. ???????????


    • dbsenk
      Aug 19, 2011 @ 07:41:32

      Hi Lucille, Your question just made me remember so clearly how difficult those first few weeks of school can be! I think it is so important to set the expectations you want – listening, keeping hands to self, etc., but also you want the children to feel happy and secure at school. I see you have tried a lot of things. Sometimes I just tried one thing after another too.

      One little piece of advice – focus on the behavior you want, NOT the behavior you don’t want. Find every opportunity to celebrate even a tiny bit of good listening – or one or two children that are making good choices. I used to stop in the middle of talking and look amazed at a child – then say “Did you see what Anna is doing? Did you notice that? Did you see that even though lots of kids were talking Anna was looking at me and thinking with me!! Anna! Come give me a hug! Wow – what a good listener!”

      Another thing I used to do was role play. I would have the kids sitting around the circle, then I would ask a couple of kids to help me – have one pretend to be the teacher – give him a pointer and ask him to read the calendar or alphabet chart or something then I would pretend to be a student – first talking and playing around with another child while the “teacher” was talking. It would make the kids really laugh. So I would ask “Why are you laughing? Do you think I’m being a good listener?” Then either I would role play better listening or ask another child to come and show what good listening looks like. After role playing I would ask the kids to tell me what the good listening looked like – instead of me telling them.

      If it seemed that one child was really the most disruptive I sometimes took that child aside during free choice or something and asked them to help me. Then I would have that child demonstrate different things like hands in lap, facing me, raising hand, etc. and I took pictures, then made a book of good listening. Using that child as the model sometimes helped him or her make better choices. You could send a copy of the book home with that child too – to read with parents and reinforce good listening.

      You mentioned you had tried different seating arrangements – I found that making an AB pattern of boy girl around the circle sometimes made a big difference – the last few years I taught I actually assigned seats around the circle which I thought I would never do because I love giving choices so much, but it made a big difference.

      I am thinking about all of you kindergarten teachers this time of year. It was always exciting to start off a new year, but each group brings a whole set of challenges. I used to say that those challenging little bunnies were “helping me learn to be a better teacher.” My family just shook their head and laughed.


  4. Lucille
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 09:04:49

    Thanks for the ideas. I will try some next week. By Friday, the kids were already improving a lot. I also thought of using a “talking stick”. Only the person holding the stick gets to talk. It would only be used during whole group instruction because I don’t mind the talking otherwise. It’s funny but your words of wisedom pop into my head throughout the school day. Thanks so much.


  5. Claire
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 23:32:36

    First thank you so much for all that you have shared. I am pretty much doing my first day exactly like you. I do have one question. On your schedule you have “Lit Lab.” Can you explain what it is? Thanks!


    • dbsenk
      Aug 23, 2011 @ 03:10:41

      Lit Lab was a special – like P.E. and music. My district created it because elementary teachers needed more prep time in our schedule to be equal to secondary teachers. It was a combination of computer lab and literacy – the children listened to stories, etc. and played literacy games on the computers, it was held in the computer lab and taught by the computer teacher. They no longer have that special, now they go to health instead.


  6. Lisa
    Sep 06, 2011 @ 20:47:31

    hi diane! i really like your first day interview with partners. i was wondering why it is printed on only the left side. did you have them draw/write something on the right? thanks!


    • dbsenk
      Sep 06, 2011 @ 21:24:31

      Thanks Lisa, I really had 2 on the page and I cut it in half. On my computer I just saved my original – at school I xeroxed it and put a second copy on the other side before I ran them off for my class, just to save paper.

      Sent from my iPad


  7. amy
    Apr 05, 2012 @ 06:53:38

    Thanks for your ideas! I love hearing realistic and fun suggestions!! 🙂


  8. Trackback: Class Two : Strengthening Motivation and Phonological Awareness - Playdough To Plato
  9. Catherine
    Oct 05, 2013 @ 01:03:14

    It’s long past the first day here, but I like your interview idea for our unit on friends. Also the school book will be great for my ESL learners. THANKS


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