Every teacher has been a “first time” teacher at some point. Whether it was their first year of teaching or a mid career grade level switch, change can make the utmost veteran teacher feel like a first timer all over again. There’s something especially different about the first time Kindergarten teacher. Kindergarten is a magical place that functions quite differently than most other classrooms in an elementary school. If you’re a first time Kindergarten teacher, these tips will help you feel prepared to have a successful school year.
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First Time Kindergarten Teacher Tip #1: OVER PREPARE!
The best piece of advice I can start with for a first time Kindergarten teacher is to over prepare your plans- especially for your first day and week!
Kindergarteners in September are a different breed of student. Activities that could go quickly in other grade levels (unpacking your bags) can take a Kindergartener eons (as a first time Kindergarten teacher, I remember a child raising their hand to say, “Um, what does unpack mean?”). Conversely, items that may take a while in other grade levels (say, a coloring sheet in different colors with detail) can fly by for a Kindergartener (think scribbling in under a minute and shouting, “I’m done!!!” with exuberance!). This doesn’t mean don’t give a coloring sheet (I almost always do on the first day of school!); it just means to be realistic in the timing of it and have multiple activities at the ready for when a task surprisingly goes by quickly!
This is why I LIVE for this First Day in K pack. There are so many options with varying lengths of time to finish. NO PREP! Just print and keep in a file to pull out as needed throughout the first week. BINGO! Kick those first time Kindergarten teacher nerves to the curb!
Tip #2: Model, Model, Model!
One of the biggest differences in Kindergarten than other grades is the need for visualizations. Kindergarteners brains are working at a rapid pace and making connections constantly, but for a first time Kindergarten teacher, you have to remember that the connections other grades may have are not fully formed yet for a Kindergartener. This is where modeling comes in. For every task, routine, activity, or lesson you do, explicitly model it! Do the entire worksheet in front of the kids. Act out exactly how you want them to line up. Create an anchor chart, but add little pictures to each bullet point. When students see visual representations, they are better able to understand and gain independence. Win-Win for students and teachers alike!
Tip #3: Find Activities You Can Variate All Year
Routine and Repetition are music to a Kindergartener’s ears. Repetition of skills builds a child’s independence and confidence in a skill. Routine brings about safety and security. In order to build those routines and repetitions without the expense of loss of student engagement, I love tasks that are the Same, Same But Different (Have you read this book before? Great Kindergarten Social Studies Read Aloud!).
These rip and tear crafts are an absolute favorite of mine to use with little ones. There are enough to do at least one a month, seasonally themed. They are PHENOMENAL for fine motor skills, plus cute as a button to post up on a bulletin board! The change of design adds a bit of novelty and engagement. Plus, I even change up the materials. Some months we rip and tear construction paper (here’s a more detailed post on the process). Other months we crinkle tissue paper or qtip paint. Little prep, hones fine motor skills, enough to last the whole year and looks adorable? First time Kindergarten teacher SCORE!
I also love to give monthly self portraits and save them throughout the year for an end of year portfolio. It is incredible to see the huge growth from September to June. These Selfie Portraits give a fun little phone frame for a not your average self portrait sheet for your kiddos. Plus there’s one for each month. (You can see these in more detail at a previous blog post here). Print a class set of each one and you already have one major thing checked off your list for the school year!
Tip #4: Communicate with Families Regularly
I once had a coworker who joked with families at Kindergarten Orientation, “I’ll believe half of what your five-year-old tells me about home, if you believe half of what your five-year-old tells you about school!” Of course we respect and trust our students, but Kindergarteners have a way of twisting the details of even the simplest occurrence. This can often make it incredibly difficult for families to know what their baby was doing all day at school. The best way to be proactive with this is to regularly communicate with families (I write ALL about this here!). I’ve been using this *FREE* newsletter template for years now. I send it out every Sunday with the week’s activities on it so that families can use it as a starting point for conversation with their little ones.
Don’t belittle the power of social media platforms for family communication. In one school I worked in, all staff had public Twitters with parent sign off permission (The Social Media Sign Offs and other parent communication forms I use are here– they are my one stop shop to send home the first week of school!). It was a great way for families and staff to not only see what their individual classrooms were doing but to see happenings across the school community. Similarly, in other schools, the culture was more to have private Instagram accounts for families. Ultimately, platform doesn’t matter so long as you can find the best way for you to consistently communicate with your students’ families.
Tip #5: First Time Kindergarten Teachers Need a Highly Structured Classroom Environment
Begin the year as highly structured as possible. Have a place for everything and everything in its place. Have assigned cubbies, assigned seats at chairs, assigned seats at the rug, assigned work groups. Once routines are established, create structured choices. Students can choose from two options you structure for them. Make the goal to scaffold down with a gradual release of control to the ultimate goal of independence and choice among a student centered classroom. By starting so highly structured, you are able to build on modeling the appropriate behaviors and expectations so that as students gain more choice over their day and classroom, they have the strength in expectations to do so with relative ease!
Tip #6: Utilize High Quality Read Alouds
The power of a picture book in the Kindergarten classroom is unlike no other. In the rowdiest of moments, the busiest of days, first time Kindergarten teachers will be amazed at how the world seems to stop when a picture book is read aloud. Use that power to your advantage. Read at least one a day! Read some as mentor texts and some just for fun! I particularly love to use Read Alouds to help include important social skills discussions across my day.
One of my favorite beginning of the school year Kindergarten books is the classic, The Kissing Hand. I love the message of having your loved one with you during the long school day- a reality for many nervous Kindergarteners. This Kissing Hand Bundle will offer you a week’s worth of lesson plans (Hello Tip #1: Overprepare!) to go along with the book. I usually continue to sprinkle the activities as centers throughout the entire first month!
The Final Tip for a First Time Kindergarten Teacher: HAVE FUN!
At the end of the day, have the time of your life. Kindergarten is a magical place. It’s impossible to not find a reason to smile and laugh each day. When you come with the mindset of having fun amidst the organized chaos, you’ll have the most wonderful year!
Veteran Kindergarten Teachers- what tips would you add for a first time Kindergarten teacher to have a successful school year? Comment some below!