My Tried and True First Day of School Plans {3 Tips for the First Day of School}

I've had a lot of first days of school as a teacher and have learned a few things along the way. 

I hate icebreakers.  Take a group of kids who have some nervous energy, put them in a room where rules, routines, and expectations have yet to be learned and designate one adult who has yet to establish the teacher look that means business and you have the recipe for chaos. Instead I prefer activities that are calm, fun, and purposeful.

It's important to start the year on a positive note. Here is a collection of my tried and true tips for the first day of school.
  • Reach out to the students and their families before the first day of school. Give them a call to introduce yourself and ask how the child will be going home on the first day. This is especially true with the littlest learners.
  • Send them a note (good old fashion snail mail or an email if you have the address) letting them know what to expect on the first day of school. Tell them where you will meet them and what will happen as soon as they enter the classroom (see below). This will not only cut down on nerves, but will also help your day run smoothly.

  • Have an activity that will last several days and can be done independently so if a situation comes up and your attention is needed it can be their go to project for the week. I have had great success with these "I am a ____ Grader" activity books. You can read about them here: Back to School Activity Booklets for All Grade Levels

  • Get to school early. Allow plenty of extra time so you are not worried about traffic, coffee spills, last minute students added to your roster or any other unplanned distractions. You want to be calm, cool and collected when the littles arrive.

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  • Prepare at home the night before...Pick out your outfit and lay it out with shoes and accessories, Pack your teacher bag. Plan a healthy breakfast. Pack a healthy lunch, snacks and water. Have your keys, cell phone, etc. on the counter and ready to go. Make sure there is plenty of gas in the car. Feeling “ready” will make a huge difference.

  • Arrive early.  The first day is exciting. Be sure to get to school early so you have a chance to settle into the classroom, make sure all your ducks are in a row and be calm and ready to greet your new friends.
  • Select activities that don’t require specific academic skills. Because you are not yet aware of your students’ abilities it is best to have them work on activities that won’t cause frustration. I created a collection of activities that can be completed using words or pictures for this reason. I also always have them paint a self-portrait that we display throughout the year.
  • Choose your ice breakers carefully. Many of them are great in theory, but cause lots of excitement. Remember, it’s day one which means you won’t have complete control over the class just yet. Save the more exciting activities for later in the week. 

  • Have an “everyone can do it” activity ready for when the students first enter the classroom. Unexpected things happen (having a student show up that wasn’t on your list, lingering parents, a child in tears) that will take your attention. Therefore, it is helpful to have an open-ended activity ready and waiting for the students. For many years now I have used Playdough (even with third graders). It’s the perfect start to the new year because it is a quiet activity that doesn’t require reading or writing, it isn’t a task they can quickly complete and then not know what t do afterwards, and best of all it is calming for their First Day Jitters.
  • Have a plan for all those school supplies. I use large grocery bags that I prepare ahead of time. You can read all about my system here.
  • Take pictures. Easier said than done since you’ll be super-busy, but with some planning (or assistance) you’ll have no problem snapping some great photos that will be cherished keepsakes. Last year I created a First Day of School frame and took a photo of each of my students holding it. I ended up printing two to send home and one to go in their portfolio. This year I intend to display them with a writing sample {either “The First Day of School” from my Narrative of the Week Packet or “The First Day of School vs The Last Day of School” to prepare them for writing opinion paragraphs which we will do using my Opinion of the Week Packet. These will make a nice bulletin boardBecause you will be busy it will be helpful to find a “helper” to take pictures for you. 

  • Extra hands are always helpful, but on the first day they are a blessing. Consider asking a parent volunteer from a previous year to come in and help for an couple hours. Since they are familiar with you, your classrooms, and your routines they can be a great asset. 
  • Share your expectations for the first day before school even begins. If you have a class website or if you send a Welcome Letter in the mail, you can send an overview of what to expect on the first day of school. Explain where the students will go when they arrive at school. Tell them what they will do with their supplies, backpacks lunch bags and snacks. Share some of the activities that you will be doing on the first day.
  • Touch base with each family before school starts. Ask them to email you the manner in which their child will be dismissed on the first day. It means a lot to parents when you reach out to them before the new year (either by phone, mail or email). 
  • End the day making them want to come back for more. I send home a All About Me Bag activity for them to do on the first night. They come to school the  next day excited to share. I also explain the expectations for the morning before they leave so they’ll know what to do when they come in.


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