The first day and first few weeks of school are hectic, there’s no arguing that. Start the year off right by getting to know your students while also doing some fun and engaging back to school activities and games.
Whether you greet each student at the door, at their desk as they are working on their morning work, or during Morning Meeting or Calendar, it’s important to check in with your students to gauge their attitude coming into school that morning.
My students love sharing something quick (one or two sentences) about something they did the day before or something that was coming up over the weekend they were excited about. Then I’m able to make a mental note to ask them about it later (if they don’t come up to me first thing in the morning to tell me all about it first!).
Though it’s ideal to meet with each and every student, having a one-on-one conversation every morning with the students who struggle with behavior will go a long way to prevent disruptions throughout the day. My personal experience (and from some of my students screaming this at me in the middle of class) is that they often feel like no one cares about them. Greeting them each morning and asking them how their day is going so far makes a big difference!
For the first day or week of school, it’s helpful to have an activity for them to do right when they walk in the door that requires no directions. And if it’s hands-on and requires some amount of creativity that’s even better! Some ideas are:
- Play dough
- Linking cubes
- Whiteboards and markers
It’s amazing to see the reactions of my students who get to their desks and see something they know exactly how to do. It begins building their confidence from day one so when they come to an activity that is more challenging, they’re willing to give it a try! We all want a class full of risk takers that are excited to try a new challenge in the best of ways, am I right?!
Another option is to have them decorate their own nametags, as Kaylee B mentions in her post 10 First Day of School Activities to Make Your Students Excited for the Year Ahead.
These types of activities also make them more excited to come to school because they don’t feel like they’re doing work, and it allows them some time to build and share their creations with friends. And they love that they actually get to talk and have conversations naturally, and still focus on the activity or skill they are working on!
Later you can add sight word cards they can make with the play dough or with letter tiles and Lego challenges for them to practice math or science skills. The important thing to focus on is allowing them to have some choice of what they can do so they feel in control. For more back-to-school activities, you can find them here!
Meet the Teacher
Whether you call it Open House, Meet the Teacher or Parent Night (or you have a mix of the 3) your students’ first impression of you is hopefully a positive one. Welcome students and parents with a meet the teacher letter, supply list, open house sign and gift bag tag!
Send home a meet the teacher letter with your school supply list attached a few weeks before school starts to have students, parents, and families get to know you before they meet you. You can also include when the school Open House is as a friendly reminder. Address the letter and envelope to each student. They LOVE it because they never get mail!
If you are unable to send mail home to students then you can leave the meet the teacher letter (along with any other documents you need families to fill out) at each student’s seat during your school’s Open House. The letter typically says things they wouldn’t know about you from meeting you, like your favorite food or candy, and allows them the opportunity to connect with you before school begins.
Include a small gift, treat, or book for each student during Open House or the first day of school to welcome them to your class. The letter, supply list, and gift bag tag you can find here. The dollar store or Oriental Trading has some great options for small gifts. It doesn’t have to be big or spectacular. With young students, a little goes a long way to show that you appreciate them and welcome them to your class.
Getting to Know You Back to School Activities
Each day the first week or so, spend a few minutes participating in a getting-to-know-you activity. This can be a scavenger hunt or talking about their favorite things and graphing them, building in a math lesson at the same time. Keep it simple and focused on them.
One of my favorite back-to-school activities is reading the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes and graphing how many letters are in each student’s name. They introduce themselves and two of their favorite things or something about them while they put their name (on a sticky note) in the correct box on the graph. Then we compare names on the graph, discussing who has the longest name, the shortest, and if there are any that are the same length. We also talk about which number has the greatest and least number of names. Have these children stand up as you are talking about them, and your students will naturally learn each other’s names while participating in this activity. And because it is about them, they are eager to participate!
Another one of the back-to-school activities I did last year, I also had students requesting we do it later in the year again! It’s called Adventure Bingo, and I actually found it from a physical education teacher. It gets them up and moving, and learning about each other by talking about different adventures they have been on or physical activities they have participated in.
Teach Social-Emotional Skills
It doesn’t matter how old the children are that you are teaching, there’s always that ONE that comes up to you and tells you what someone else did…and even more if they haven’t learned the social-emotional skills to problem solve with other people.
I have seen this more and more with the pressure of teaching more academic skills at the lower grades. Teachers say they don’t have time to teach social-emotional skills and problem-solving and they spend all day putting out fires between children because their students don’t know how to communicate with other children. Trust me, it will make your life easier in the long run to spend some time at the beginning of the year going over what is important for your students to tell you, what they should try to solve on their own, and how to do it.
I’ve learned over the years to never assume that they know how. Even 6th graders have come up to me to tell me about something that happened with another student and the first thing I always say is “Tell me about what happened,” followed by “What did you do about it?” If they do not have an answer for the second question, they usually want to get the other student in trouble or they lack the skills to solve the problem themselves.
Of course, there are always exceptions. It’s just easier to go over these expectations at the end of the year and revisit them occasionally. Then as the year goes on, you will find students telling you less and less and solving these problems on their own. I taught 4-year-old preschoolers this way for several years, so yes, it works at any grade level!
What better way to make your students feel special and incorporate into your back-to-school activities than saying goodbye at the end of the school day. It’s another thing that doesn’t take up a lot of time but will make a big difference in showing that you care!
There are lots of ways you can choose to do this. In preschool and kindergarten, I’ve used the sayings like “So long King Kong” and “Bye bye butterfly.” I would teach them 1-2 a week and have them posted on my door. When they left for the day I would say one to them and smile as they would say one back.
For all grade levels I have taught, I have also given the option of the 3 H’s: a handshake, a high five, or a hug. No matter what you choose, do what feels comfortable for you and your students. It might be a wave or saying goodbye and that you were glad they were there that day. At the end of the day, it’s the thought that matters and will make them want to come back to school the following day!
For other posts that may be helpful for back to school, check these out:
- Increase student engagement with unicorns and get them excited about learning with these fun math and literacy activities.
- 25 Books that Teach Kindness in the Classroom
- Or if you’re a bit of a supply hoarder like me, here are 25 Must Have Teaching Supplies for the Classroom