First day of school ideas center around building community and setting procedures and expectations. All of the following school days build on this foundation. In effect, we multiply first-day activities with our first-week-of-school activities.
I have known many teachers who feel that it takes two weeks or more to get kids into the swing of things. (These are often the same teachers who think that no learning needs to occur the last two weeks of school.) I'm sure this doesn't apply to my readers! But just in case: Trust me when I say that you'll wish you had those weeks back when you realize your kids aren't ready for year-end testing and need more review time!
There is just so much we can accomplish with our eager young learners. Let's get started.
Routines lower student (and teacher!) stress
The wrong approach to the first week of school can really set a teacher up for a difficult year filled with misbehavior and diminished learning. Remember:
- Humans love routine and procedures. This does not just apply to children; it applies to adults and includes you. This is the reason why we hand out minute-by-minute agendas for meetings. This why we publish schedules and directions.
- People don't like surprises. Humans like to know what's happening next. Not knowing causes uncertainty, and that leads to stress.
The faster the children learn classroom routines, the more comfortable they will be with what is going to happen at school. They don't have to worry about it. That frees up their minds to focus on learning.
It also keeps them busy. After the first day, children who are not busy will not be on their best behavior.
Days two through five
After you have implemented your first day of school ideas, here's how those ideas are extended through the next four days.
The second day of school is reinforcement of procedures and expectations.
It takes a few sessions for patterns to “stick” with kids, so you'll be reminding and rehearsing lunch line-up, end-of-day room cleanup, paper passing, etc.
You will also be setting expectations for situations they may not have experienced on the first day, such as:
- fire drills
- going to fitness, library, art, etc.
- in-room delivery of Special Education or other services
- … and many more
These new situations will continue to crop up for the first two weeks, but by the end of Day Two you will have covered many of the most-important ones.
Video tips: practicing a fire drill
The third day is content and teaching all day long.
First day anxieties (transitioning from summer to school) are starting to fade and the routines of the next nine months are settling into place.
The content sessions are kept a little bit shorter than normal since we must go over the different procedures involved in each. For example, I have certain expectations about how children hand in their entry task, pick up their personal whiteboards and seat themselves in our gathering place.
The students must practice this procedure (sometimes more than once), so that leaves a little less time for the subject matter that follows.
Days 4 and 5
Days four and five of the first week are regular schooldays; full curriculum, full instruction in all areas from day four forward.
As noted above, there is no time to waste. Aside from helping with behavior, your first assessments are just a couple of short weeks away. For example, I'm giving my first unit math assessment by the end of the third week of school.
Children don't need two weeks to “settle in.” They crave a situation where they can be settled as soon as possible. The faster they settle into your school routine, the less chance there will be that they settle into an inappropriate routine of their own (naughty) design and the more fun everyone – including you – will have!
If you want your students to behave, then you must keep them busy… and the way we stay busy in school is by doing schoolwork.
First day of school activities are great starters. Transitioning from day one through day five, however, is where the real, long-term impact happens.