1. Take your time during the first week of school.
There is so much to do that first week of school. There are things you want to do in your classroom – start your new routines, get to know you activities etc. Not to mention things your district has put into place. My best piece of advice is to just take your time – if you are rushed and frazzled trying to do too much each day, your students will be too. That is not the type of classroom community that you want to create. The first week of school should be enjoyable for your students, and for you. If you can make that first week great for everyone, you are setting the climate for the entire year. Do not rush through any activities. I tend to over plan for my first week, but if I don’t get to all of my activities during week one, it’s okay. If you begin a great activity and are suddenly called to a last minute assembly, just take a deep breath and smile. Tell your students to leave their work out, and return to the activity when you return. Remember your students take their cue for reactions and moods from you.
Curriculum time will come. The first week of school, however, should be focused on building classroom community and learning the rules and routines. In fact, my lesson plans for the first week of school focus exclusively on reading and writing activities which help build classroom community. For curriculum ideas for the rest of the year, click here.
The first week of school you are guaranteed to have everyone’s attention. That will not be the case all school year. This is your chance to bring your families into the fold of your classroom community. I try to do fun activities that get the whole family involved. One great activity is to ask students to find out how they got their name. Students go home and talk to their family about it. Then students write the story to you (or in younger grades, have their parents write down the story) and bring it back to school to share. This is a great way for you to learn more about your students, and a great way for families to learn about what you are doing in the classroom.
Another fun family activity is having students create a family tree. Once again, this is not an activity that students can do independently. It allows the whole family to get involved. Due to work schedules, language barriers, and a variety of other reasons there are many families that won’t be able to personally volunteer or take part in school activities. Projects like these allow them to still feel that they are part of your classroom community. It is also a great way in the younger grades to let parents know that you expect them to help their children continue learning at home.
*One tip for your second language learners
Allow their parents to assist them in their first language. You can translate (or ask a bilingual co-worker to assist you in translating) the family tree writing later. It’s more important that all of your families feel a part of this activity. You may also have families from Asian, or Arabic speaking countries whose family names will be written in characters which cannot be translated into English. That is fine, put them on display with the rest of the class. Let your class know early on, that all students are welcome in your room.
3. Have each student make a small representation of themselves that you then put together into one large classroom piece.
4. Put up a Welcome bulletin board for the first day of school that includes each child’s name.
Try to have this bulletin board up in time for any school events you may have before the school year actually begins. The students and their families love this because they feel welcome when they see their name, and they can scan the board to see which of their friends from previous years are in the classroom.
This is a great activity to do right before the first recess or lunch. Remind the class that everyone did not go to this school last year, and we are all in a new class this year. Have students model for one another what to do if they see someone playing on the playground (or sitting in the lunchroom) alone. This builds a sense of community and reminds students to interact with everyone.