5 Ideas to Begin the School Year

As I mentally prepare for school to start, my brain is overloaded with ideas I want to try. So many ideas, it's hard to choose. To be helpful, I'm sharing a few things I am planning on doing at the beginning of the year. I hope some of these can apply to multiple grade levels.

1. DNA (Idea from Mrs. Mac's Kinders blog :) Read here for more tips and pictures)

Dreams, Needs, and Abilities (DNA) is a concept that I'm excited to do in my classroom. It not only spells out areas I can focus on for each child, but for any other adult that walks into the classroom. This also gives the students a place to see themselves in the classroom.

There will be a picture of each child framed on the wall. I will use class time the first few weeks of school to really get to know each child. I will take notes, listen in to conversations, and observe them playing. Then I'll use these notes and individual talks to add in their DNA next to their picture. See the blog post linked above for pictures.

Also, I want to add another layer and ask the parents to answer these questions about their child at the beginning of the year. Insights from parents are so helpful, and it will be fun to see if their answers align.

2. Breaks, Structured, and Unstructured Activities

This is such a simple and easy idea. I want to add in more small breaks throughout our day. I already do some of this, but I often forget as the year moves along. Or I feel rushed to get so many things accomplished before the end of the day arrives that these breaks seem to move to the wayside. However, it's essential to have these breaks as it benefits not only the students, but me as well. Some ideas for breaks could be walking a lap around the building, sitting on our outdoor patio, skipping/hopping/running a lap around our indoor commons area, nature walk, walk upstairs to the 2nd floor and back, walk to an outdoor terrace/courtyard, sing a song, do a dance, etc. Let's give our brain and our students' brains some downtime to help them focus better.

As I was reading the book Kids First from Day 1 by Christine Hertz and Kristine Mraz, they talk about scheduling for success. This goes along with adding breaks, but scheduling these breaks and activities can be more meaningful if we really sit down before our day begins and TRY to plan these out. Let me preface this by saying, there is no perfect schedule and we all know how to be flexible, but how can we schedule our day to give our students a variety of highly structured, medium structured, minimally structured, and unstructured time? A structured time is defined as anything that requires a child to subvert his/her will to do a series of steps or tasks outlined by someone else. Unstructured activities could consist of anything where the choice/project/partners/possibilities are in the hands of the child. So as I think about our typical day, I am keeping in mind pockets of time where I can incorporate these structured and unstructured activities, and breaks too!

3. Tour of School/Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts, I love. Recommend going on some type of scavenger hunt (or 'tour' to appeal upper grades) the first week of school. We get to tour the school, add in some academics, keep our bodies moving, practice what we do in the hallways, ask questions, say 'hi', and meet everyone! The kids always love this, especially with us all being at a new school.

For older students, this could also relieve some anxiety for students starting at a much larger school. You could help them find their different classrooms/teachers, and show them where different areas of the school are located.

4. ABC Shadow Boxes

ABC Shadow Boxes is a great activity to start adding in academics slowly. The first month of kindergarten is always a beautiful whirlwind. It's best to focus on social skills, what our day looks like, getting to know your students, and getting students home the correct way. Trust me, getting students home the correct way the first week is my biggest stressor. No one wants their baby on the wrong bus, missing the bus, or not picked up in the car rider line.

Back to Shadow Boxes. This is how I ease in our letters in a fun way. Each child comes to school having a variety of different skills and that can make it hard to know where to start. This gives me a chance to see who knows what letters, work on a large group lesson, collaborate, make a box together, and share it with others. My students love to find things around our classroom that begin with that letter. Those that know their letters usually start to talk about the sounds. This is a great way to differentiate a lesson, but have it involve every student (see my recent instagram post @kindyteachingmom).

Meet the Teacher Night

Our school hosts a 'Meet the Teacher' night before school starts for our Kindergarten families. Parents love this because it gives them a chance to meet and get to know their child's teacher, get their questions answered, and see the classroom.

This year, I am changing how I want to deliver my Meet the Teacher. This is the first time I will meet my families, and I want to make sure I exude what I truly believe in and want for their child.

Many of us experienced school by being lectured at all day. That is not how my classroom runs. This does not mean I never present information or teach a mini lesson. There is a time and place for mini lessons and the teacher delivering information, but not all day long. So just like my teaching style, I will not spend the hour by 'talking at' parents with a powerpoint or packet.

During my Meet the Teacher night, I want to start with a community circle. In my class, we start each day with a community circle. We greet, share, do an activity, and I share a message. We go around the circle and each person shares. However, they always have the option to not share. I want to go through these steps with my parents as a way to get to know one another, and also experience what their children will do each morning.

Some questions I'm thinking about asking are:

- Greeting: Introduce yourselves and tell us about your family

- Share: One word to describe how your feeling about your child heading to kindergarten

- Activity: Draw a picture of your hobby/interests/free time choice (I want to know how I can reach out and connect our families hobbies/interests into our classroom)

- Message: Share my values, what I believe in as an educator, and what I want for my students.

What are some of your favorite ways to begin the school year? How do you involve and connect with your families? How do you get to know your students?