Be forewarned, this is a LONG post!
At the end of January, here in Australia, we will commence the start of our school year. This coming year, I will be teaching Foundation (also known as Prep or Kindergarten, depending on your location). This will be the seventh year that I’ve taught Foundation, in one form or another.
I recently had a request from a reader who is about to commence her first year of teaching in a Foundation/Prep class about what to do in the first week. Every school and teacher is different, but I’m going to share with you all a general outline of what happens in my school. I want to stress that everything in this post is simply what works in MY school/classroom. (I’d love for people to share their own experiences in the comments.)
At my school, we have a Start Up Learning Program (SULP) that the entire school follows. This program helps us build our new classroom community by establishing classroom norms, rules and procedures, as well as introducing our students to each other and to the teaching staff. It incorporates programs such as Habits of Mind, BounceBack, deBono’s Thinking Hats and buddy activities. I’d advise speaking to your new school and team about the sorts of programs they usually include at the start of the year.
This program ensures that all the Foundation/Prep classes complete the exact same activities (although not necessarily in the same order or on the same day).
Our Foundation/Prep students start one day later than the rest of the school. This allows the rest of the school to settle in to the school year and also spares the brand-new, youngest members of the school from the usual first-day craziness of the older students. We’ve done this at my school for the last five years and it’s very effective as the second day is generally a lot calmer.
On their first day of school, Foundation/Prep students have a staggered start time from 9:00am, with 2 students arriving at 5 minute intervals. This allows the teachers to spend a bit of one-on-one time with students and their families to welcome them to the classroom. All students are in by 10:00am. While students are arriving, we have out a variety of developmental play-based activities, such as puzzles, puppets, drawing/colouring in, magnets, Lego blocks, plastic animals, toy cars, etc. These activities bridge the gap between Kinder and school and allow students the opportunity to settle quicker. Parents are encouraged to help their child settle and then attend a Tea & Tissues morning tea in our hall, run by other parents.
On this first day, the Foundation/Prep students have a separate recess time. These little guys are the rock stars of the school for the first few weeks and rather than overwhelm them on their first day, we give them some space to explore their new surroundings with their same-age peers rather than have the older kids come and crowd them. It gives us the opportunity to explain play spaces, areas that are out of bounds and what to do in the yard if they hurt themselves or need help (i.e.: find the yard duty teacher).
Students finish before lunch time on the first day only. Prior to the end of their day, we invite their Grade 5/6 buddies to come down and meet them. Their buddies were assigned before the end of 2015 and most students had the opportunity to meet them. The older buddies come down to reintroduce themselves, greet their younger buddies and then, at 12:30pm, walk them out to their parents. This gives the buddies an opportunity to introduce themselves to the parents, but also ensures that the Foundation/Prep students don’t just wander off at pick-up time.
We start every morning with a picture book after taking the roll. Books may include stories about starting school. I also find it useful to read familiar and popular picture books, such as Mem Fox books, Dr. Seuss books or Eric Carle books.
We put together a Starting School booklet for all students that contain a range of activities:
– All About Me (Name, Age, Self-Portrait)*
– I’m a Success (Yellow Thinking Hat activity – students draw/write something they are good at)*
– I Like to Play (Students draw/write something they like to play and share with the group)*
– My Family (Students draw/write about their family)*
– Facts About Me (White Thinking Hat activity – students look in a mirror and draw themselves as they see themselves in the mirror, i.e.: the facts)*
* I do occasionally make copies of these activities to make books for the classroom library. It’s a quick and easy way to develop your own book collection and students love looking back at their own work! I’ve uploaded a starting school booklet on TPT for those who would like these activities.
We use a range of activities from our integrated studies units. These activities include a morning of rotations where each class of students gets to work with each Foundation/Prep teacher (we have four classes, so four rotations).
We have a variety of Buddy Activities, the first being the meet and greet mentioned on the first day, a buddy handprint task where students and their buddies trace and then decorate their handprints (which we then display in the classroom). The buddies also take students on a tour of the school and then come back and assist the Foundation/Prep students in pasting photos of school staff onto a map of the school (such as the Principal, AP, office staff, specialist teachers, etc). We also have a few recess/lunch sessions together, too.
We build classroom community and procedures by creating a T-chart of “What Makes a Good Student?/What Makes a Good Teacher?” We create a morning procedure flow-chart of what students need to do each morning when they come in the classroom. We discuss our whole school behaviour management procedure (The Five Steps). We look at what is in students’ lunch boxes – the things they can eat for fruit snack, recess and things for lunch.
Students also have the opportunity to attend some of their specialist classes (our school has specialist ICT, Science, Physical Education, Japanese and Arts teachers), and to participate in a range of developmental play activities, often in the afternoon.
If I have time, I like to use activities from my Start Write Away class books pack over the first few weeks to build up our classroom library and have a lot more student work in the classroom.
As a new teacher in Foundation/Prep, you will be VERY tired. It’s a lot of fun and very rewarding, but little kids are very high energy, so be prepared to take it easy on yourself in the afternoons/evenings.
Model everything. Don’t assume they understand what you’re asking them to do. Use short, simple steps and have students repeat the steps back to you.
Young students will either finish things very quickly or very slowly and you’ll have both groups of kids in your class. Be prepared to have a few phrases up your sleeve (like, “I love how you’ve used your favourite colour to draw your picture. What other colours could you include?”). Tip: I like to create a 3 Star Colouring-in chart with the kids to set my high expectations on work, which usually alleviates some of the “I’m Done in Five Seconds” students.
If all students finish quicker than you expect, go with it. Wrap up the task, then read a book (have LOTS of books on hand – if you don’t have a large collection, see your school library/librarian) or sing a song. Foundation/Prep students LOVE to sing songs, especially ones they know. They also don’t care if you can’t sing well. I like If You’re Happy and You Know It (because you can draw this one out with students suggesting new actions) and Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes (because it has lots of physical activity in it). Also, check out GoNoodle – a great free resource that I use every single day in my classroom.
Be prepared to spend a lot of time chatting to parents. They’re anxious at this time of year, and giving them a few minutes before or after school will work in your favour in the long-run.
Start every day fresh and with a smile. You’re going to have an amazing year!
I hope that helps some of my readers who are just starting out. Remember to enjoy yourself and your class!