The back-to-school season is filled with so much excitement, but also a lot of stress! There are so many choices to make, systems to set up, and things to get done that I always find myself overwhelmed and exhausted. That is why I have tried to make sure I’m as ready as possible with a bunch of fun, easy-to-use, and productive activities. We want our students building community, learning our routines, and getting to know one another right away! If that sounds like something you’d like, keep reading to learn what I do and what materials I have for you! Also, if you have my old back-to-school pack from back in the day, make sure you re-download it! I have added a TON of stuff (and removed a TON of chevron…) to make it more inclusive, comprehensive and all-around better!
Getting to Know Your Students
Of course, we know that the first step in building a classroom community is getting to know your learners. Share about yourself and ask them to share about themselves. I saw a fun activity online that I used this past year, instead of asking everyone to share something interesting about themselves, ask each student to share something really boring or uninteresting about themselves. This takes the pressure off and is sure to get a lot of laughs! Laughter is a great way for students to feel at ease, especially in a new or stressful place, so be sure to crack a few corny jokes and keep things light when possible!
I used to ask students to share about their summer, but I have now changed my wording and ask students what their “best day of summer might look like”. This allows students to imagine anything they want, or to share something from their own life. This is a small change that allows more students to participate comfortably. I didn’t even have to change the activity that I normally use, I just changed the way I introduced it! These small changes are easy to do, but make a big impact! If you are looking for a cute and fun way to share about “dream summer days” check out my “Scoop on Summer” craftivity!
Explicitly Teach Your Routines and Expectations
This may seem like an obvious one, but I mean teach them. Like REALLY teach them. Teach them the way that you teach everything else, don’t just list them or make an anchor chart. Use a read-aloud, do a discussion, model what you want to see, and have the students actively practice.
Something I LOVE to do is have the students show what it DOES look like, then what it DOESN’T look like. It is WAY more fun (again, that laughter is key!). It’s also a great way to show concrete examples of what you are expecting of them. You can act them out as a class or have small groups present.
Taking photos also helps! Students love to see the silly “Don’t Look Like” pictures, so I post those on a bulletin board along with the “Does Look Like” pictures and refer to them throughout the first few weeks of school. The conversation sometimes goes like this, “Remember what good math centers look like? I can see in the pictures the materials are being used properly and both students are working together. How can you adjust your choices to match that?” Bringing their attention to the visual reminder really helps students develop independence and take responsibility for their actions.
Another idea is to make class books! This is a great way to get the kiddos writing and you can even send the book home with a student each night as a fun home connection so every family gets a chance to read it. Check out the example I provide in my Back To School Pack for Attentive Listening!
Build The Social Skills and Structures You Want
With school closures and pandemic rules, some students are finding recess and free play a little more challenging. As teachers, we can help them bridge those gaps! Explain that recess issues and friendship conflicts are totally normal, and actually a healthy part of growing up! We need to be able to share our feelings, good or bad, in healthy ways.
I love using read-alouds for this kind of thing because it allows us to look from the outside rather than waiting for real issues in which kids are too personally involved. Two great read-alouds include “The Sharing Circle” by Theresa Larsen-Jonasson and “Herman Jiggle, It’s RECESS not RESTRESS” by Julia Cook. Both of these stories include children (or woodland animals) dealing with regular kid-to-kid issues and how to solve them. I love the inclusiveness and listening aspect of “The Sharing Circle.” It encourages everyone to listen to each person before finding a solution. Once you have modelled solving a situation with these read-alouds, students can practice in small groups solving a typical recess issue.
As I mentioned, teach these routines and expectations just like you’d teach academic content. Explain it, model it, practice it, and reflect on it. I have created some “Recess Issue” scenario cards which would be great for doing this activity! You can find them in my back to school pack!
Promoting Positive Mental Wellness
We know the importance of positive mental health and wellness for students, especially during stressful times. Help model and promote mindfulness and wellness daily in your classroom. I LOVE the mindful moments on GoNoodle and who doesn’t love a little Cosmic Kids Yoga on an indoor recess day? There are so many great ways to encourage positive mental health in your classroom.
I’ve been trying to show examples of self-care in class and encourage students to think of their mental health as something they need to be aware of just like their academics and social skills. To keep this fun and age-appropriate, I’ve created a bunch of cute animal-themed activities and materials to help students feel confident, calm and well!
These super cute animal affirmations are perfect for around a mirror in your classroom. The self-care choice board is the perfect first-week “home connection”. Let parents know right off the bat that you value their children as whole people and you want them to spend the bulk of their home time on themselves! I love updates to keep parents in the loop and a few little activities here and there are great. However, now that I’m a parent too, I know how fast those after-school evenings fly by, add in soccer practice, etc. and there isn’t a lot of time! A self-care choice board is a great home connection for September. Students can share what they chose and how it made them feel!
Keep Students Engaged and Calm
Year to year I am always SHOCKED at how different each group of kiddos is. Some years, they blow through activities super fast while other years activities seem to never get finished! Keep your kiddos busy and engaged with lots of choice and calm activities. You know the saying, idle hands and all… I like to keep a bunch of activities handy for students to choose from. These would be great for a calm-down corner, if you have one. You could use them as breakfast for the brain/bell work!
Get Students Leading and Owning Right Away
Help students feel comfortable by letting them have ownership. Involve them in as much of the process as you can. Post their work and their photos right away so they can see themselves in the room. Allow them choice in things like locker decorations, nametag creation, and class chants/cheers. Make a sign for your door, choose an animal as your class mascot, etc.!
Another way I love to get kiddos to take ownership is having them lead something for the class. A super fun option is my “Paw-maste” cat yoga! It is purrr-fect for an easy way for students to lead the class in something. Each day, a student can lead a mindful moment after break and share 6 yoga poses with the class. This will calm everyone down after break, and allow you to get that attendance submitted in peace! I like to play a calm Spotify playlist while we do the yoga poses to really set the tone. “Spa Treatment” is my fave for this one!
I know it is cliche, but honestly- YOU need to have fun, too! Have fun with the kiddos, colour with them, join in silent seat ball, play four-square with them and giggle at the potty humour. It will be a LONG year if you aren’t having fun.
Challenge yourself to fall in love with at least one quality in each student. Find something about them to love, and hone in on it. While you do need to keep an eye on those procedures and routines to set the tone for the year, don’t let it get in the way of the joy and fun of a new school year. We all know relationships are the #1 thing to help kids, so build them! Enjoy these kiddos because this is your new fam for the next ten months! And how lucky are your kiddos that YOU are leading them through the best school year yet! 🥳 You’ve got this!!
If you are looking for some of the activities shown here as well as many, many more, check out my back-to-school pack. Be sure to follow me on Instagram and Facebook too, to see more ideas, classroom peeks, and more!