Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Crucial First Minutes of the First Day


How do you start the first day of school? I mean the very first twenty minutes of the first day. These minutes are all-important, so I am very mindful about what happens. Today I'm going to share what works for me.

The Goals

• Greet each child individually
• Start to establish the entry routine
• Check backpacks
• Make quick connections and positive impressions with parents
• Keep things moving along and parents out the door in a timely way
• Keep everybody HAPPY on the. big. day.

Whew! That's a lot. But it can be done– I've come to love our routine.

First of all, I hand out or mail this list to parents before school starts. It let's them know what to expect as they come to my door on the first day. I also keep a big poster of it by the door in case somebody didn't read it... well, THAT never happens, surely... snort. It is written to the child, so that an adult can read it to them.

You can download a completely editable copy by clicking on it.

Before the Bell  I have my start up assistant stand by our coat hook area to help with hanging up backpacks, and then redirecting kids to the tables where a blob of playdough already waits at each place. Our district gives kindergarten classes ten days of paid help each year... Thank Goodness! If they didn't I'd be begging and bribing a friend or relative to come in! Extra hands the first few days of kindergarten is vital.

I do assign names to the coat hooks as I need these to be somewhat alphabetical– it helps when you have to find a kid's belongings in a hurry. I keep the first two spots empty, so if it becomes apparent someone needs closer proximity to my help or further proximity from a friend, I can move them.  I do not put out name tags at table spots as I need to get to know kids a bit before I create table groups.

Greetings  I sit at my chair at the door so I can be at eye level to greet each child and peek in backpacks, removing what is inside for me. I do this EVERY. DAY. all year long. It is crucial to start the day with a personal connection– you learn so much about how the day is going to go with kids in just this quick exchange! On this first day I expect parents who brought their child to school to come in with them. On the first day of kindergarten most parents do drop off, and those few kids who don't have an adult with them are quickly caught up in the flow and given a bit of extra help by my assistant.

Playdough wins hands down as the first coming-in-the-door activity– better than books or a worksheet of any kind. Kids can keep themselves occupied, yet look around and interact with the kids beside them if they choose. I don't put out any tools, just the dough. For this one occasion I allow myself to buy it, as at this time of year because I just don't have time to make it. My playdough moms will make kool-aid scented batches later in the year. (Four-packs go on sale at Target for for about three bucks, and I usually get three of these with the same colors. I have four tables, and three cans will do five or six kids.)

Attention Getter  As soon as all kids are seated, and parents are standing nearby, I use one of our attention grabbers. Often Chicka-Chicka, Boom-Boom is a good one because so many of the kids know the book. I point to myself and say, "Chicka-Chicka" then point to them and say, "Boom-Boom." We practice a couple times until they get the call and response pattern, a pattern that we will use a lot in the classroom.

Start the Routine  I welcome everybody to Kidpeople Kindergarten and point out that everyday when they come to school they will do just what they did today. "Everyday you'll greet me at the door, show me your backpack, put your backpacks away, and sit down to the table activity, and to greet your friends. Then everyday we'll take attendance, just like we're going to do now." As the year progresses the way we take attendance will morph, with the responsibility shifting more to the students, but they don't need to know that on this first day.

Taking Attendance  I show them how to raise their hand high and say "Hello" in their big voice when I call their name. Not all of them will do this the first time, but enough will that expectations are set and attendance taking moves along so that only the quiet ones need help. It's another little bit of input for me, too, as I get to know the kids as fast as I can in the first days. I say "Hello Cameron" or "Hello Abby" as I call their names from the sheet, so they are prompted to respond "Hello" back, which I like better than just the word "Here."

Our Agenda  I then say, "Raise your hand to tell me Who likes to read books together? Who likes to have snacks? Who likes to play? Who likes to use markers?" I raise my hand in an exaggerated way in answer to each of my own questions and pretty soon enthusiastic hands are shooting up. I say, "Well, it is really good that so many of you like what I like, because we are going to be doing that stuff TODAY, and most days in kindergarten. And we're also going to be having meetings! I bet your parents have meetings at their work, too. Our meetings will be right up there on the carpet. At our meetings we sing songs, and read books, and count, and all sorts of fun stuff. I bet your parents don't get to do such fun things at their meetings."  Lots of parent grins and head nods at this.

The Big Send Off  I go on to say, "It's time for our meeting now, and time for our parents to go, maybe to their own meetings, so I'm going to show you how we send them off. They sometimes need our help on the first day."

Then I give a big exaggerated wave with my whole arm with each thing I say:

"Hope you have a nice day!" and I give a prompt and time for the kids to repeat my motion and words.

"We're gonna have a good day!" wait for kids to echo.

"We'll see you at the end of the day!" Kids repeat.

Then I say "Mwaa!" as I put a hand to my mouth and throw a big kiss, which the kids repeat. I start waving to parents and saying see you later, as the parents give last minute waves or hugs to their little people and they move en masse out the door.

There is real beauty in this send off. The message is very clear to both the bigs and the littles that it is time to go. The words and actions engage the kids, give them something to focus on and do. I keep it upbeat and happily matter of fact, and almost by magic both kids and parents move along. Very rarely do we have any tears... from the kids, anyway. wink. I've set the stage with what to do, what we'll be doing next, and what my expectations are for everybody's behavior. As parents walk out I am ever watchful of who might need a little extra help... big or little... and my aide is key again in this, as she watches and assists, too.

And We're Off  Even before every parent is out the door I'm already asking kids to take their blob of playdough and push it into the middle of the table with the other kids' blobs, and prompting kids to come to the carpet. I start singing our Hello song, my assistant gathers up the playdough, and our day is on its way.

As you see, this routine allows me to meet all the goals I set for the first minutes of kindergarten. Written out, the steps seem long, but it goes quickly in under twenty minutes. I hope you found my plan helpful. No matter what you do, those first minutes deserve special planning, so I'd love it if you'd share with me, too.

Hope you'll come back in the next few days for more posts in the Start of School series. Coming up are ideas for getting parents to help in the classroom, even if they can't REALLY come in!

Happy Start of School!


  1. Kathleen, I am forwarding this to our new kdg teacher You've written it out well. So at five AM I find I cannot go back to sleep because starting school in 3 weeks is starting to consume me--even after 42 years!
    I am thinking back to your classroom arrangement post and considering my classroom. Omgoodness it happened about 20 years ago our system was moving to the ACADEMIC KINDERGARTEN. I lost my daily big blocks (I packed to the side) , kitchen play house, sandbox, painting easel, and more for the sake of improving test scores. I complied but saw the effects on the kids and me. I would tell my parents to remember what they did in first grade and THAT is what we're doing in kindergarten. We write on lined paper although we don't have time to give TIME to develope correct t pencil grip thru large and fine muscle practice activities. (Working on a computer DOES NOT really improve pincher grasp).
    At least we didn't have to go to desks but we needed smaller tables and varied work/learning/play areas because as the new commercial phrase states (dr scholls , I think) OUR BODIES ARE MADE TO MOVE!!
    If we really think about it our kiddos are 5-6 years old. That's 72-+months , their bodies are still developing. Right/left, up/down, crossing the midline, spatial awareness, personal body space, etc.
    So what happened is I observed learning problems, intra-and inter-personal social relationship problems, overt stress signs of irritability, selfishness, chewing of their clothes(sleeves and collars), fingers in mouths, heads down (inattentiveness--tuning out)..fewer smiles(despite brain breaks, hugs,& other efforts on my part)
    Yes you can lead a horse to waster, we gave the kids brain knowledge that they could recite (sounded impressive) but they are not mature enough to use it yet and some developed habits harder to break in their misunderstanding. Speech errors, learning disabilities due to young mess and pushing academics over hands in appropriate learning.,..I could go on...
    So this past year after struggling with, can I do this?, I AM reaching out to other k-teachers and encouraging and experimenting with DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRUATE ( it is not a forbidden word) learning for our young kids.
    We must be confident that young kids are special and they deserve our efforts to be KINDERgarden. Sensory tubs (tho not really getting hands deep in to feel as our old sandbox time), help connect the senses for memory and learning. It is the same necessary room arrangement needs to be flexible to keep their attention (albeit 5-15 min). A variety of work/learning practice areas to be comfortable, nurturing and practice friendly tables, floor, rug, standing for small group interaction. A large group space for movements and class family experiences.
    Sorry I got on my soapbox and rambled.. I want to THANK YOU for all you do to encourage all in our journey with our new to school learners.
    In the time of new research, kids still develop through the same stages (Piaget, gesell) but at different rates. We cannot forget that. There has been and are too many stresses our kids are exposed to. Let's give them a chance to be kids.
    Thank you!!!!!!!

    1. Well, Janet, I can relate! It is difficult these days, and becoming more so with each passing year, to use research based teaching practices with our youngest set– practices that we know work, AND make it fit with what kinders are being asked to do now. Most of the K teachers I know are bending themselves into pretzels to keep as much of the good no matter what. I cheer you on with the good fight! And I hope, hope, hope you find some tips, tricks and take aways on my blog pages to help you DO IT ALL! Thanks for sharing... and I add, you win the award for the longest comment ever on my blog :) Until next time, Kathleen

    2. p.s. And thanks so much for sharing this. The biggest joy and satisfaction I get from my blog is knowing that people READ it :) Please always share where you can! xo


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