I love to work in an organized, calm, and purposeful classroom and those first minutes walking in have sometimes stopped me in my tracks! I share the first 10 things I do in my classroom to take it from summer disaster to ready for September!
On the very first day when they don’t know what to do…
The first day of kindergarten is so exciting and often exhausting! Before I go into my first day, I make a list of the skills I want to teach during the day. At our school, the teachers wear lanyards with our school ID on them. I make a card out of a piece of cardstock or cue card, and list the skills I want my students to be taught the first day and attach it to my lanyard with a marker. Later in the year I can carry around my phone and clipboard for documenting student learning, checklists, etc, but those first few days I need my hands free! Skills are really best taught right before they are needed, so I don’t always know what order they will be taught, but as I teach them, I strike them off my list.
Here are the skills I teach the first day. Your skills might be different, and so might your routines, but sometimes it helps to see what other people are doing and why.
My quiet signal
I teach just ONE quiet signal that is quick, efficient, and leads to a quiet classroom so I can speak. My personal favourite is I say “Waterfall” and the class responds by saying “shhhhhhh” while twinkling their hands down like falling water. A they do the “shhhhh” I expect them to stop everything that they are doing and find me with their eyes. We practice this over and over the first day with me moving all over the classroom. Picking a quick and calming signal is important at the beginning of the year. My students catch on to this so quickly- I love that I do not need to raise my voice or ring a bell or sing a song every time I need their attention. It keeps our day flowing calmly.
How we wash our hands
I’m expecting to get new guidelines on this, but previously we taught these steps to washing your hands…
- Turn on the water and get your hands wet
- Add one pump of soap.
- Lather all over including the backs of your hands, palms, fingernails, thumbs and wrists while quietly singing the ABC song.
- Scrub the soap off under the running water.
- Dry with a paper towel.
- Use the paper towel to turn off the tap.
- Put the paper towel into our composter.
It’s a lot of steps! We have a poster with all the steps. I am assuming that new ones might arrive from Public Health and we will follow whatever the newest guidelines are.
How To Sit At the Carpet
At the beginning of the year I show my students just 1 way to sit at the carpet: Criss Cross Applesauce as we call it! The thing is it is a difficult position for low muscle tone children to maintain. When I see children starting to flop over or sit like a W, I know it is time for me to get the whole class out of our ready listening position into a new one. It’s an excellent way to monitor when my lessons, stories or sharing time are going too long. I try to make it seamless by simply pausing what I am doing and saying, everyone stand up and stretch! Reach for the ceiling, now fold over, and come down to your knees. I show them how to do a child’s pose and we rest there as we breathe slowly as I count to 5, 10 or even 20. Then I say, OK, back to criss cross applesauce and go on as if nothing has happened. At the beginning of the year many can only sit for 2-3 minutes, but by the end most can attend to a great 25-30 minute lesson without special body breaks.
How to put up our hand to get a turn to speak
Our classroom rule is that one hand goes up and the other goes to your lip- which may need to be modified this year as we dont want their hands in their faces! You then must wait without waving it about to be called on to speak. I also teach exceptions- if they put up just one pointer finger I know they need to use the bathroom and they just need to see a nod from me or my teaching partner and away they can go. Also- people who feel ill can give me an emergency wave!
What the bell means when it rings
We have an indoor bell that signals times like school beginning, lunch, etc. We also have an outdoor bell that we ring when it is time to line up after outdoor play, and there is the fire alarm bell. If you can- see if you can get a recording on your phone of the different bell sounds at your school so you can play them for your class at a reduced volume to introduce the different sounds and what they mean.
What does a line look and sound like
I find the safest way for us to travel is in a line instead of a wild gaggle of goslings. In our class we talk about how a line is people all facing in the same direction, one behind the other like a train. It is very quiet so the whole line knows where the director wants the train to go. We do not want any cars to derail! I am not a huge fan of having to sing a song or chant a poem every time we need to go somewhere. It can be done, and often is, but I like to make my transitions efficient so I can maximize our playing and learning time!
Where we line up outside and inside the classroom
Outside we line up against a wall, or on a painted line or against a physical barrier. We sometimes have 6 K classes that use our Kindergarten yard, and each class has its own unique place to line up. This helps when various classes are sharing the yard.
Indoor, I spaced out decals on the floor in an alternating pattern to help me separate friends who do not travel well together. This past year I had oak leaves and maple leaves. For example, I could dismiss students from the carpet by saying, if your shoes are black, blue, or green, go stand on a maple leaf! If your shoes are any other colour, find an oak leaf!
Our hands are for helping not for hurting
Some years, I find that my student’s behaviour is more Toddler-like than usual. Those years we repeat this phrase a lot- enough that when hands are used inappropriately, that the reporting sounds like, “Ms. Bee! He used his hands for hurting and not for helping me on the slide today! And I told him that he has to wait his turn!” Instead of having to have a lot of rules like no hitting, no pushing, no pinching, no snatching… A lot is covered by the rule of using our hands for kindness only.
How to use and dispose of a tissue
This is a big one, especially during Covid and our upcoming cold and flu season. In a perfect world, sick students would be home, but in reality, I see a lot of mucus, pretty much daily from the first day of school to the last day. And a lot of them have never independently wiped their noses. One of the most important things we do as Kindergarten Teachers is give our students the independence to become successful little humans. So on the first day, I do a demonstration of how I blow my own nose. I am a bit dramatic, so they quite enjoy it. Then I show them the 5 places in our classroom where we have tissues ready to access. I also show them how to dispose of the tissue. Last year they were allowed in our city compost box, this year we have been asked to put them into a garbage can. Later I also teach what to do if you take the last tissue – but not on the first day. Then after we use a tissue we get to wash our hands again.
How and when to use hand sanitizer
We teach one squirt and rub rub rub until your hands are dry! We also show them all the locations where they can access sanitizer.
How we sit in a chair
Our classroom has perfectly sized little bright blue plastic chairs that will live on forever, dashing my hopes of beautiful neutral coloured chairs, however, so many friends do not seem to know how to sit on a chair, or at a table. So we practice! At the carpet I bring out a chair and I show them how I sit with my back to the back, and my bottom on the seat, and my feet are flat on the floor. My hands are not on the chair but in my lap. I show them a few times, and I have a few students model the behaviour as well. Then I let them go to the chairs at the table and show me. We practice sitting and then standing up and pushing in our chairs, too. As the year progresses I may offer more flexible seating as needed, or foot bands or even rocking chairs. But first, we all try the standard chairs.
Our class celebration cheer
I teach just one cheer the first day. This year I think we will go with a firework cheer. We put our palms together and squiggle them up into the air then at the top we clap once and split our hands apart in an arc overhead and say OOOHHH AHHHHHH! I like to add a few new ones as we establish other routines and then by the end of the year I can ask them, “How do you want to show our pizza volunteer appreciation today?” And they can pick from a bunch of cheers.
This is important! They need to know what to call you. You do not want to be called “Teacher! Teacher!” all year. If I am teaching just my homeroom I have them call me by my full last name, Mrs. Buchanan. But if I am teaching multiple classes, like the year I taught almost the whole school gym, drama, art, music… Ms. Bee was fine with me. Make it comfortable for you and them! One of my dearest colleagues let her Kindergarten students call her Linda because that worked best for her. Some schools will have policies in place as well. At one private school we had to address all staff members as Mr. and Mrs. even in the staff room without students around! So check with your admin before deciding to use your camp name, Rainbow Skittles.
And depending on what rules are in place I may be adding…
How we wear our masks.
How, when and where we put our masks when we take them off.
How to stay apart but be together.
All of these will depend on our local health rules. I am all about staying healthy. My kids and students need me!
Skills I teach the first week as I can get to them…
Listening and responding to your name
How to hang up your backpack
How to put your communication folder in the basket
Fire Drill skills
How to open snack containers and lunch bags
Where to put your belongings
How to ask someone to join in play
How we walk in the hallway
How we use crayons
How we play with various materials and tidy up
A Freebie for you!
If these First day and First Week skills have been helpful to you, click on the below my image for a Free Downloadable printable lanyard checklist for your first day and week! For best results print on cardstock and punch the hole at the bottom so it will be right side up to you when hanging off your lanyard!