How the First Day in Kindergarten Can Set You Up For High Stress or Huge Success

Redhead holding a giant heart-eye emoji ball in front of her face. Title to blog that reads: How the first day of kindergarten can set you up for high stress or huge success

Ahhh….the first day in kindergarten. What a bittersweet and once-in-a-lifetime moment for parents and kids alike. For kindergarten teachers, however, we have many “first days in kindergarten” – with a ‘reset' button each and every year. In my first years of teaching, I thought I was prepared and held a sort of “dream-like” version in my mind of how things would go. Everyone smiling, skipping into the room, parents waving and taking pictures, a soundtrack of Disney birds singing in the background…spoiler alert: it did NOT go that way.


Funny teacher with oversized glasses checking for kindergarten readiness

Psst! Hey parents! If you have a kiddo who is on the road to kindergarten – you've got to download my free pdf! 10 Things Your Kindergarten Teacher Would Love for You to Know Before You Go – get ready to consider yourself “in the know!”


Have you heard the expression that teaching kindergarten is like herding kittens? It's true. And keep in mind not all kittens are super happy to be herded.

So – what in the world can you do (as the kitten herder) to keep as much magic as possible on that very first day in kindergarten? Oh, my friend, I'm glad you're here. I'm about to share my best tips that eliminate stress and bring on success – for the kittens, er…kids, parents, and for YOU too.

First Year Teaching Kindergarten

During my first year teaching kindergarten, I went down the rabbit hole of what a Pinterest-perfect first day in kindergarten should look like. The word “should” – is subjective of course – but could my vision actually become a reality?

I knew how I wanted it to go, and I had all of my first-day activities prepped and ready. The thing was…I didn't quite know HOW to get there. And worse – I didn't KNOW that I didn't know.

Also…believe it or not, five-year-olds do not automatically know what to do.

They don't get the memo of how we think the first day in kindergarten is going to play out.

When Kindergarten Starts

Is it important to spend time prepping your room and your activities? YES, of course.

Having a simple activity that is laid out for their arrival, along with information sent ahead of time to parents as to how they can help get them situated is KEY.

Our kindergarten team loves to use this easy prep activity for our first morning:

In my first year teaching kindergarten, I had a bowl of pony beads in the center of each table upon the kinder's arrival. Very quickly I learned that things will go much smoother for everyone if I had small individual paper cups for each child – filled only a 1/4 full. You can always add more to their cup if they need it – but this is a great starting point.

They don't have as far to reach, spills are far less frequent, and they like having their own special cup of beads.

QUICK TIP: Never ever underestimate how a seemingly little tweak like this can help your first morning run a lot smoother!


For more awesome kindergarten activities for first day – be sure to read this!

8 Amazing Kindergarten teachers share their best tips, tricks, and activities. Be sure to check it out!


Helping Kindergarten Parents Feel Confident

Every year right before the official back-to-school first day, we have an afternoon when all the kids come to school to meet their teacher, see their classroom, and drop off supplies. This year I had a couple of brand new kindergarten moms who had some questions for me.

They started off pretty general, like how the car pick-up line works, how lunch worked on half-days, etc. I assured them we'd go over all the things on back-to-school night. But…back-to-school night is still a couple of weeks out from the first day in kindergarten.

These sweet moms came back into the classroom with a few more questions, and I was happy to answer them. Then it hit me: although it wasn't my first kindergarten rodeo – it was theirs.

NEWS FLASH: parents are also not going to know how to help their kids get set up for success that first morning – unless we help them.

Welcome to Kindergarten Email

The weekend before our first morning together, I sent out an email to my class list with some important info, like:

  • How dismissal procedures work – for the first two 1/2 days, and for full days
  • A form for how their child would be going home on both types of days
  • How to sign up for Bloomz (our choice for parent communication)
  • Boo-hoo Breakfast info
  • How brunch works for the first two 1/2 days, and how lunch/snack normally work
  • A reminder about supplies and important info about sending in a labeled water bottle
  • Sending in extra clothes for the unexpected cafeteria or bathroom accident labeled in a ziplock bag

A lot of this information was also in a take-home packet with forms from the office – but a bulleted quick FAQ is always helpful – especially for new kindergarten parents. I decided to add in a very specific section to hopefully relieve some anxiety and provide clarity and confidence.

What to Expect When You Get To Our Classroom

Now, some teachers may think this is too specific – but let me say, this first day in kindergarten ran the smoothest of any I've ever experienced. There were NO tears. Every child was seated working on their activity when the bell rang – like they had been in my classroom for months already. I was blown away.

Here is the excerpt from the email (I've taken out the numbered class list for privacy purposes)


a screen shot of an excerpt from an email sent to kindergarten parents to help them prepare for the first day

Activities for First Day of Kindergarten

Ok – so the bell has rung, your brand new kindergarteners are happily beading their necklaces, and your parents are all at the Boo-Hoo Breakfast.

NOW WHAT??

This is where I made a fatal flaw in my first year of teaching.

I knew I would have to teach them how our classroom would work, where things were in the school, etc.

  • I did NOT know I was going to have to teach them how it looks to sit on the carpet with 19+ other friends. How to respectfully control their bodies and not kick neighbors with our limited space.
  • I did NOT think through the fact they were all going to shout out at once (some calling me mom out of habit) and possibly have a meltdown if they didn't get a chance to talk.
  • I did NOT think about the fact that “lining up” was not something they could automatically do (insert that visual again of herding kittens)


You simply must teach these things as soon as possible to avoid confusion and chaos for them – and for you. If not, get ready for high stress. If you do, get ready for huge success.


Let THEM KNOW Teachers and Students Are a Team

There are 3 things I teach my kindergarteners in our very first hour together.

I present each of these things as a game – and even as I describe them here, there is no way to truly explain how these VERY SIMPLE things work like magic with five-year-olds.

Part of the magic is in the presentation.

I don't talk to my kindergarteners in the same way I'd talk to a cute baby – even though it can be tempting because they are SO cute! For me, the key is to carry excitement in my voice – and let them know how happy I am to start our year together. I let them know we are a TEAM. Think of yourself as Ted Lasso if you will!

picture of an old chalkboard with the quote "you can't scare me.  I teach kindergarten"

THE FIRST HOOK

Before you teach these three things – you have to hook them and get their attention. I ask if any of them have ever been on a soccer team or a tee-ball team – BUT I –

DO NOT ASK LIKE THIS:

“Have you ever been on a soccer team?” (if you do this right off the bat – be prepared for 20+ voices to answer all at once – then how are you going to get control back? You haven't yet taught them ANY of your expectations!)

PREPARE TO ASK LIKE THIS:

“Ok…I don't know if you can do this yet…this may be more of a 1st grader thing. BUT if you want to try – sit criss-cross and put your hands like this!” (Show them how to clasp your hands together and quickly stand tall. They will mimic you with their bodies. If you do it with a sense of urgency – they will too! If you have some not yet trying – compliment those who are by name. Watch the others join in!)

Once they do this – I act shocked and praise them: “Seriously? Are you SURE you aren't already 1st graders?” They will laugh – so challenge them again. “I don't think you can do that again..surely not. I'm going to turn around…(turn around and keep talking) and when I turn back – there's NO WAY you will be sitting criss-cross with your hands in star AGAIN. SURELY not….”

Turn back quickly and see how hard they are trying to do what you've challenged them to do.

NOW ASK LIKE THIS:

“I'm going to ask a question – and without shouting out – you're going to answer by putting your hands on your head! Ready? Have you ever been on a soccer team?” If someone forgets and shouts out – point to your own hands on your head – or a friend who is doing it. “Now, I'm going to ask a question and you're going to answer by putting your hands on your shoulders – like this. Have you ever been on a tee-ball team? You guys are AWESOME at this!!”

Now I quickly explain to them that in this class – we are a TEAM. I am their coach, but we are all teammates playing in the same game. We are here to help each other and cheer each other on!

THIS IS HOW EASY IT IS TO HOOK THEM IN THE FIRST 5 MINUTES ALL TOGETHER ON DAY ONE.

1. HOTEL DESK BELLS

Now that you have their attention, it is time to implement the first item that changed my classroom management game forever. Hotel Desk Bells. I have 4 in various places around my room.

I have the red and silver version, but I'm kind of loving these emoji bell sets! Click on any link and head to my Amazon Favorites – look in “Gotta Have Extra” for these finds.

Now that I have their attention, I tell them that AS A TEAM we are going to play a little game. That game includes little hotel desk bells that are planted all over my room. 

I show them a bell, and model for them how every time they hear the bell that they are to look for me in the classroom and freeze like a snowflake.  Again, a touch of drama never hurts saying things along the lines of, “oh I don’t know if you can do it this…it may be too hard etc. Keep it light-hearted and fast-paced.

I tell them to turn and talk to their neighbors – and as soon as they hear the bell – they FREEZE! We try a couple of times with the bell up front. Once they get it – I tell them I'm going to make it a little harder.

I will walk to the other areas of the room where my bells are – and we will repeat our ‘game'.

TIP: I also explain to them that the bells are NOT for them to ring. UNLESS they are my teacher helper. (Another little nugget I drop – but don't yet explain! Now they want to know “how to become a teacher helper to get to ring those bells!”)

2. ROCKET HAND

Now I have their attention and a tool that I can reach for if they start to get restless. Keep in mind…they are still kittens – just slightly wrangled.

The second trick that I roll out in those first few minutes together: ROCKET HAND.

We talk about what a rocket does… Does it go over to the side, does it go in a circle, does it “lean on their friend” :)… NOPE!

It goes straight up in the air or it is not going to get all the way out into space.


When a rocket goes straight up in the air, not only does it get where it needs to go – but all of the people watching it go completely silent because it is so cool to watch the rocket flying up in the air!

I model. Then I ask if they think they can do it. (Cue dramatic count-down).

Now it's time for volunteers to model.

While one friend is shooting a rocket hand straight up into the air all of the other friends hang out in complete silence while they watch that rocket go in the air.

Once again, do not underestimate the fact that kindergartners will absolutely fall in love with this and almost every single one of them will want to try it out and model it for their friends! Move fast so everyone who wants to try – CAN!

If they get a little restless or overly giggly…RING THE HOTEL BELL. If not everyone settles and freezes – commend those that do. “WOWWWW. Look at the way Lucas just FROZE! SO cool.” Repeat until the stray and restless kittens…er kinders do it too.

Now… You are less than an hour into your very first day in kindergarten with your precious new honeys and you have already set the tone that:

  1. When they hear the HOTEL BELL they are to find you and freeze
  2. If they have something to say or share they need to shoot up their ROCKET HAND

3. Follow The Leader

Believe it or not, walking in a line is not an automatic skill that kindergarteners have!  Contrary to this coming as natural as it does for a mother duck and her little ducklings…this is absolutely a taught thing! 

I use a number system in my classroom. If you refer back up to the email I sent to my parents – I asked them to help their child learn their special number. There are so many reasons why a number system is super helpful, but here are a few reasons why it's great for line order:

  • It eliminates all arguing about who was where first
  • Lining up ends up being automatic and second nature – nobody pushes to the front
  • MOST IMPORTANTLY for SAFETY REASONS: I can quickly scan and see who I'm missing when we line up after recess, for fire drills, etc.

Lay out the numbers in your classroom. There are many ways to do this – I write them on cardstock cut-outs and tape to the floor with packing tape.

Even if they don’t know all of their numbers yet, which is very common for teen numbers, they will quickly start to recognize their number and where they should be.

picture of a number line in kindergarten classroom for kids to easily line-up
The numbers in my classroom we use to line up

So how do we practice this? We make it a game, of course!

I will place them on their number first, and then we will practice going from their cubbies to their line, to their table, and back to their line again. They love to volunteer to show how it's done, one at a time.

We actually walk around our room and practice our eyes forward, who we are between, how we need to keep our hands in our own space, etc.

I will lead them in a circle, I will weave in between the tables and sometimes I will pause and let the rest of the line catch up. Not only is this hilarious and fun for them, but it also shows me pretty quickly who I need to look out for, where my line gaps might happen, and who has the most probability of getting lost!!

RINSE AND REPEAT

After your first day in kindergarten, if you have established some sense of order through play and some routines through game-like repetition, consider it a BIG win. Kindergarteners thrive in order and routine, and that's the very thing that will allow the space for free-play, creativity, and community.

Get some sleep. Wake up early. And get ready to show up for them again.

On day two, three, and even four and five – be sure you review all your routines. Ask for volunteers to model. Celebrate them. Repetition will build confidence.

You WILL be exhausted. It WILL be worth it. Hang in there!

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