The first day of preschool and kindergarten is one of the most important. No matter if the students are in preschool or college, that day sets the precedent for everything that is to come. On the first day of preschool, students are introduced to a whole new world of learning. For preschoolers that means learning their new teacher's name, where to find the crayons, and how to ask to use the bathroom. They are also learning to function in the world apart from their parents and are joining a community of peers, often for the first time.
Kids of this age are still early in their development. Some may have already advanced in some important ways cognitively but may still be struggling socially. Other kids may display great physical dexterity but aren't caught up with the other kids when it comes to art or music. Regardless, a safe and welcoming first day of preschool will help to even the playing field for all students.
Teachers should take all the time they need to prepare for this important day. It's best to have a set of classroom rules in mind, but also be open to collaboration with the students. Helping them discover how to self-govern is an important developmental task, but also one that will help make the rest of the school day more fun and productive.
Having a Plan
The first day of kindergarten or preschool can be stressful for children. Often that day is one of the first days where they've been separated from their parents. They are suddenly thrust into a strange room with strange adults and even stranger children. However, if the teacher has a plan, they can soothe everyone and have a productive day.
Teachers need to first be highly organized. That means they need to have plotted out how children should enter the room, direct them to their cubby holes, and help them otherwise become oriented to the room. Much of this can be done in advance with the parents during an orientation session. Since this is the first day, teachers will need to review the rules of the classroom, though this will likely need to happen several more times throughout the year, either as a class or one-on-one with certain children.
It may be helpful to include the children in the rule-making process, since it is their classroom, after all. They may not quite grasp the concept, but the idea is to help the children gain a sense of ownership in the classroom.
- First-Day Blues
On the first day of preschool or kindergarten, you will want to make the child's transition into the classroom atmosphere as quick and seamless as possible. In order to do this, you might try to make their parental goodbyes as quick as possible. Teachers can prep parents for this during orientation and with an email that reinforces the need for a sweet but short farewell.
Once the children are all in the classroom, try to occupy them as quickly as possible. It may help to engage them in a group activity where they can familiarize themselves with the room, their teachers, and fellow students. There may still be a few lingering tears from children who are having a difficult time with the separation, but a series of fun activities may be what is needed to quickly integrate them into the new situation. Consider activities that revolve around transitions to new experiences and that acknowledge the feelings students might be experiencing.
- Providing Information
Prior to the first day of school, you will want to fully prepare the parents. When parents are engaged with the process and can support their children through the transition to preschool or kindergarten, the teacher's job will be all the easier. One of the most important parts of this process is an orientation session. If parents and their kids can explore the classroom prior to the first day, it will be a friendlier place for the little ones when it's time to go it alone.
Parents also need a checklist of items their children will need for school. This can include backpacks, art supplies, a change of clothes, and more. The school should encourage parents to go shopping with their children and let the kids pick out the items they like the best. Parents also need a list of school rules so that they can begin to discuss them with their kids and even apply some to their days prior to the first day of school in order to get them used to the concept within a well-known environment.
When the kids are given adequate lead time to become familiar with the idea of attending school, they will have an easier time adjusting to the newness.
- Staying in Touch
Make sure that parents receive regular correspondence regarding their child. This can include emails home, access to apps that contain all the information kept on a child throughout the day including their performance, or regular blog posts. When possible, teachers should also engage with parents at pick-up time. When parents are fully informed and engaged with their child's education, the children will have a more fruitful preschool or kindergarten experience.
With new technology, parental engagement is made all the easier. If a child has a particularly difficult time, they might be able to video chat with their parents. Teachers can also make notes regarding a child's progress that can be accessed in real time. Another great way to engage with parents is to ask them to come volunteer as teacher aides from time to time. This can be extended to grandparents, as well, who will love the extra time with their grands.
Each child will need a space for their belongings. For this, you can make sure that everyone has a cubby hole or basket where they can stow their hats, gloves, backpacks, and whatever other items they may need during the day. One great first-day activity is to have each child decorate a name card or other decoration for their cubby. Teachers can write the child's name on a notecard and then the child can illustrate it as they see fit. This will help them remember where their belongings are stowed and will help them learn to read their own name.
Since preschoolers are prone to all sorts of spills and other accidents, you might consider having parents bring a change of clothes for their young ones. Schools may also have laundry machines so that soiled clothing can be attended to immediately.
Each classroom needs to be fully outfitted with paper, safety scissors, glue, and all the various items necessary for preschool art and learning activities. Keep these items stored in a consistent fashion so that students can retrieve them when appropriate. Be sure to monitor certain items, such as the safety scissors, which might cause problems.
Since the school day can get hectic, supplies have been known to become disorganized. Try to avoid this with labeled, clear plastic tubs. You can also implement protocols for the students that will help you as the teacher remain organized. For instance, teachers can walk around with a tub for crayons and children can place what they've used back where it belongs.
Organization not only keeps teachers from tearing their hair out when they're trying to find something in the midst of class, but it also helps the students. When students see that their teachers are well-organized and in control of the classroom, they will have more confidence in the teacher and school in general.
Use and Cleanup Procedures
Clean-up time is a very important part of the school day. On the first day of school teachers should start instructing new students on how to help with cleanup. When each student is responsible for their own workspace, they gain a sense of ownership and will help keep it clean. In a preschool classroom, where students are in an age range, the older and more experienced children can model cleanup procedures for the younger ones.
It can also help to engage the students by appointing a clean-up leader. Each week a new student can take on this role and can help the others organize their workspace. This ownership exercise will encourage students to think of the classroom as their own. Further, the added responsibility will bolster student esteem in themselves and their peers.
It can also help to follow the same order for each cleaning, having a specific process that can be followed each time you clean up. You could begin by putting away the materials you were just using, then check under desks for things that may have fallen, then wipe down surfaces, etc. Maintaining consistency will help children remember what to clean and how to clean it, plus they are likely to do a better job.
Time management can make the difference between a good and a bad day. Teachers need to know approximately how much time each activity will take, and factor in the preschooler's attention span. Consider not only the duration of each activity but how much preparation and clean-up is required. Teachers should also give students cues regarding how much time they have in their activity. Soon, students will understand how to start wrapping up an important painting when the teacher indicates that they only have five minutes remaining. Regularly scheduled events will help everyone organize their time.
When planning a day, teachers can use certain fixed events to help plan their activities. For youngsters, nap time, snack break, and lunch can make for excellent boundaries for other activities. Teachers can also become familiar with the needs of their classroom and plan accordingly. It can be important to include transitions into the schedule as well. After nap time the kids might need a gentle activity such as a sing-along or story time prior to venturing outside for unstructured play.
Preschoolers are learning. In fact, preschoolers are literally learning everything, including how to behave. Teachers need to be aware of their students' behavior and provide helpful feedback on a regular and consistent basis. However, the specific approach used for this feedback will make the difference between a learning moment and a damaging event.
When it comes to bad behavior, a gentle Socratic approach might help. Asking children questions about their behavior can offer an opportunity for self-reflection and empathy. If they hit another student, teachers can ask how they'd feel if someone did that to them. Remember, empathy is learned.
It can also help to encourage students to give each other feedback. Such peer interactions can be very helpful and often will allow students to gain a sense of community. In a case where one student has harmed another, it can be beneficial for the harmed student to express their pain while also accepting the other's apology.
Consistency is a dominant theme when it comes to teaching and parenting. This is all the more important for the very young. Kids need to understand that their good behaviors can receive positive responses and that their negative behavior will get them the same (negative or at least not positive) responses over time.
Thus, a teachers needs to stay on the same page with each of their students when it comes to how they respond to certain behavior. Each child may need an individualized response, but when the same sorts of punishments and rewards are meted out on a daily basis then children will know that they are in a safe, reliable space. Though your students may test the borders of your rules, when it’s consistent, the kids will respect them more.
Classic Tradition, or Something You Can Skip?
Taking preschoolers on a tour is often an invitation to chaos. Little ones who have not yet had the chance to learn the rules of school, don't yet grasp how to maintain an orderly line, wait patiently, or listen attentively to a lengthy explanation. Rather than bombard little ones with a comprehensive school tour, try introducing each aspect of school individually. Breaking things down into digestible chunks will give them time to learn the rules, meaning you get to avoid herding cats on the first day of school, and will help them integrate each one into a larger picture of the whole.
Having a First-Week Theme
During the first week of school students will need to learn everything from scratch. After all, they've never done much of what school is asking of them. The first week of school should thus begin at the beginning, with things like classroom organization and cleanup. Teachers can make a game that helps student orient themselves to the classroom or introduces them to each other.
However, this may not be the time to introduce a theme, read a long book, or try to keep the kids attention on one thing for too long. It may take the whole first day just to explain each activity of the day, and it will likely take several days of the first week for kids to learn to do each step of an activity with any speed: putting away their stuff in the morning, lining up, cleaning after a project or snack time, etc. If there must be a theme, it might be best to keep it simple.
Having Everything in Your Classroom Available on the First Day
On the first day, every classroom should be fully equipped. However, it might be helpful to keep some things off limits and integrate various supplies and tools over time. There's no need to bombard students with a full arsenal of supplies and toys on the very first day. Teachers can help students by starting with simpler activities and tasks for the first week and then build from there. By the time the students are at week five or six you’ll likely be able to have integrated the full range of what is available. This starting slow will help you maintain order until the kids learn how to get things out, put them away, and follow other important safety rules, like how to carry and use scissors.
Don’t Be Afraid to Shift Things Around if Necessary
Things change, especially preschoolers. When a set of rules and procedures isn't working, there’s no need to hold onto consistency for its own sake. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds." So, don't be foolish, change if you need to. Flexibility is a requirement if you plan to work with children.
When things aren't working well, teachers and administrators should discuss the problems and find solutions. Depending on the situation, it might be valuable to include the students in the process. They should at least be informed when classroom rules and procedures change. Though you will be changing the classroom, if you take a mindful approach, the students should respond just fine.
For instance, if the classroom organization isn't working or needs to change for some outside reason, teachers can explain the situation to the students. Then, teachers can revisit what they did on week one and re-teach the students where to find necessary items in the classroom or how to complete the changed procedure. If the class includes older students, those kids may be able to adapt to the changes quicker than their younger friends. Teachers can use their adaptability to teach the younger ones. Soon, the older students will say things like, "Remember? It used to be here, but now it's over there."
Why Teachers Need Enthusiasm
The teaching profession requires that teachers wear many hats. They must be an instructor, friend, social worker, police person, guidance counselor, and cheerleader. Through that all, they also need to have enthusiasm. Many would wonder why that matters. Does it impact learning or other outcomes? In fact, it seems to be far more important than many would assume.
The word itself is fraught with meaning. Its Greek origins indicate divine inspiration, a state of otherworldly ecstasy. In such a state, teachers would be capable of nearly anything, including fulfilling their duties as teacher. Since the profession has so many disparate, and coinciding, demands it is easy to see how extra-human intervention might be helpful, if not necessary.
Though this may sound like philosophical speculation, an enthusiastic teacher has a very positive, measurable impact on their preschool students. In fact, studies have shown that when teachers are actively engaged with their profession and all that it entails, students become likewise engaged. One outcome of this engagement is lower rates of cheating.
Studies have found that when students perceive their teacher as motivated, they reciprocate with their own motivation. When teachers are perceived as being uncaring or unmotivated students tend to mirror that attitude, as well. Students have been quoted as saying that if their teacher is not enthusiastic about being in the classroom, then that devalues the learning experience. Thus, students are more likely to cheat on tests. After all, if the teacher doesn’t care about the material or teaching it, then why should students care about learning?
- Becoming Enthused
However, how does a teacher become enthusiastic? More importantly, how does he convey this enthusiasm to classroom after packed classroom of students? After all, it seems that what is required goes beyond a mere love of one’s topic. Researchers who place more emphasis on the nuts and bolts of, say, social studies are not necessarily enthused or easily able to inspire students in a way that deters cheating and fosters learning.
What seems to be needed is perhaps less emphasis on feeling said enthusiasm and more attention on performance. If teachers can borrow a few tips from the drama department, they might be able to display, if not feel, the requisite energy to keep their students actively engaged. Educators might think of such classroom behaviors as frivolous or even deprecating to the materials. However, when teachers learn to gesticulate, use their voice in dramatic ways, and otherwise act out the material, students take note.
- The Classroom is a Stage
No great performance was ever supported by a bland, uninspired, unenthusiastic stage. Thus, teachers need to pay equal attention to their classroom. It should be well-organized so that students know where to find their assignments or other pertinent information, but also full of life and color. Since so many schools are overtly institutional, when teachers design their rooms with interesting seating charts, colorful and relevant artwork, and even colorful dry-erase markers, students notice. Even if a teacher is not the most naturally dramatic performer, if their classroom embodies an enthusiasm for the subject matter and student outcomes, the pupils will respond accordingly.
- Stay Focused on the Job of Teaching
Many teachers might interpret much of the literature around enthusiasm to mean that they should do nothing but prance around the classroom and use a chipper tone. It might be assumed that the best teachers are those who embody youthfulness. Some teachers balk at this notion and point out the high rate of young teachers who burn out after a few years. It would seem that the sugar-high of youth is sometimes followed by a disastrous crash.
Thus, teachers need to stay focused on the primary goal of teaching: to communicate the curriculum to students. They need to find a way to demonstrate a love of teaching while practicing that very art. It can be a delicate and difficult balancing act. Perhaps this is more true with drier subject matter, such as mathematics.
- Enthusiastic Discernment
Enthusiasm often indicates outward vibrancy and energy, but that is not a true or valid expression for every teacher. If an educator makes an effort, they should be able to find a way to express their enthusiasm appropriately and sustainably. Some might be full of bouncy froth for a lifetime, while others might express their enthusiasm with a quiet intensity. When teachers discover how to channel their enthusiasm in ways that are authentic to them, students are sure to respond. After all, kids are often experts at detecting when someone is putting them on and thus, even the most energetic performance might fall flat if it’s not true to the performer.
Teachers need to be enthusiastic; research shows this has a positive impact on the learning process. However, educators must also model a sort of enthusiasm that is truthful and sustainable in order to survive as a teacher. Perhaps when students see a model of authentic inspiration, they will be prompted to discover their own.
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