Establishing a supportive classroom environment from day one builds a strong foundation of positive relationships and attitudes to school and learning. It is important to begin the year as you wish it to continue, and a welcoming classroom helps children and families feel valued. Having an organised classroom is just a part of it.
Many existing readilearn resources support the establishment of a supportive classroom environment.
The free resource Getting ready for the first day with Busy Bee resources lists some of the available resources and suggestions for using them; including:
- Busy Bee Welcome letter template
- Busy Bee Welcome sign
- Busy Bee Desk name template
- Busy Bee Name badge template
- Busy Bee Who is here? – chart heading
- Busy Bee Find your name – poster
- Busy Bee Name card template
- Busy Bee I am . . . first day of school worksheet
- Busy Bee Birthday chart
These resources are available to download individually, or as a collection in the zip folder Busy Bee – Welcome resources for Day one.
In many of the schools in which I have worked, children are expected to bring their own set of supplies – books, pencils, scissors, glue, paint shirts, even tissues. I recognise that not all schools have this requirement, so ignore any suggestions that are not relevant to your situation.
Whether children are required to bring their own supplies or not, it is useful to have spares available for children to use if necessary. I always had spares of everything that children were required to have in addition to multiple sets of scissors, pencils and glue.
Preparation of activities
Make sure you have sufficient resources and activities, including songs and games, prepared to use throughout the day.
Include some whole class time (for getting to know each other, discussions, stories, songs and games), some seat work, and lots of opportunities for play and exploration of the classroom. Children need time to settle in, and to get to know you and their classmates. It is good to provide some group activities as well as free choice activities, including things; such as,
- Book corner
- Play dough
- Jigsaw puzzles
- Weighing activity with scales
Make sure you have everything you need ready to hand, with more than enough ideas to fill the day – just in case things go quicker than planned, or don’t go to plan.
Get ready for counting the first 100 days of school with a 100 board and a system for counting the days; for example, using the interactive digital Busy Bees 100 chart.
Preparing the classroom
Display a Welcome sign on the door, with children’s names if known. Add photos during the day.
Place Welcome letters on desks for children (if names are known and if children are to have their own desks). Seating arrangements can always be changed later, but it is good for children to have a space which is theirs initially. You may wish to add a desk name, a name badge on a lanyard, and a small welcome gift like a pencil or eraser (if you allow use of them).
Allocate shelves for storing children’s surplus supplies, items that won’t be required during the first few days, or items which will be stored collectively; for example, paint shirts and boxes of tissues. If you label places for parents to place their children’s belongings, it can save a lot of time later, but requires little effort on the part of each parent. (See the new free Labels for organising children’s classroom supplies.)
To store children’s spare pencils, scissors, glue, and other small items, label a large resealable food storage bag for each child and place it on the desk along with the welcome letter and other items. Collect the filled bags and store them in a large tub, organised in order of the roll. This way, each child’s equipment is easy to find when another lead pencil or other item is required (though it may be best to lend a spare rather than interrupt a lesson).
The use of similar equipment for different subjects and purposes can be overwhelming for some children when they begin school. It can be difficult for them to tell one book from another. To help children identify which book is for which subject and to ensure they always have the correct book, I have uploaded some new printable book labels which use both words and pictures. These can be added to the books after they have been collected and before redistribution to the children.
When children arrive
Greet the children and their families as they enter the classroom. Quickly explain the procedure for example; find their desk, put some belongings in it, and store surplus supplies on shelves where indicated. Ensure parents have written the child’s name on every item (including every pencil) before they leave. Hopefully most parents will have already done this at home.
Encourage parents and families to say farewell to their children, reassuring them they’ll be back later to pick them up (or remind them of alternative arrangements), and leave promptly so the day can begin.
Introduce yourself and explain what the children can expect of the year and what your classroom expectations are, including behaviour and work ethic. Tell them how happy you are to be their teacher and how much fun and learning you will have during the year.
Call the roll. If you ask each child to stand and say good morning to everyone, and have everyone say good morning back using the child’s name, it helps the children get to know each other, and helps you remember their names. You may also encourage the children to say something about themselves; for example, I like playing soccer or I went to the beach during the holidays.
Have children draw a picture of themselves; for example, using the Busy Bee I am . . . first day of school worksheet. This provides information about their self-image, their pencil control for drawing and writing, whether they are able to write their name and if they know their age and can write the number. It also provides a record that can be used for demonstrating progress later in the year.
While they are drawing and writing, take a photo of each child and print two copies. Attach one photo to the worksheet and attach the other to the Welcome Sign on the door. Display the worksheets in the classroom. Displaying children’s work right from the beginning helps them to feel valued and gives them a sense of belonging and ownership of the classroom space.
Before the first break, take the children for a walk around the school, showing them places they need to know; for example, toilets, lunch areas, the canteen, the office, other classes, the library, and play spaces. Show them how to get to and from these places. Explain rules and behaviour expectations so that children know what they may and may not do. It is no fun “getting into trouble” because you don’t know the rules. (Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins is a good one to read before doing the walk around the school.)
As the day progresses
If children have their own desk and tidy trays, show them how to organise their trays. Visual reminders, like a photographic record of each step in sequence, help too. Have the children follow directions to place items in their drawers. I asked mine to put their larger items; for example, scraps books, at the bottom, a pencil and glue stick ready to use in the front of their trays, and pencil cases to one side. Your system may differ depending on the type of trays you have available and the equipment children have.
It is a good idea to do some maths work on the first day too. Counting activities using the 100 board, or counting games that require little equipment and preparation are fun. Pop is one such game. Children take turns to count around the circle up to a number; for example, ten. The tenth person, instead of saying “ten”, says “pop” and sits down. The game starts again at “one” and continues around the circle until only one child is left.
Counting activities using linking blocks can be fun too. Children each count out ten blocks. I like to play a conservation of number game. I ask children to place their blocks on the table, count them and tell me the number – ten. I then ask them to rearrange them in different ways; for example, in a straight line, in twos, in a circle, and tell me how many. I always act surprised that it’s the same number. It amuses them and helps cement understanding of number. I then get them to link the blocks together and place them in the front of their tidy trays for easy access at other times.
You could also fill in a birthday chart, inviting the children to write their names in the correct month. This leads beautifully into making a graph showing how old the children are, suggested in the free Getting to know you surveys, a resource which includes other great surveys for the beginning of the year; including, my favourite colour, the number of letters in my name, and the number of people in my family.
I like to leave the last session of the day for individual choice and group activities as suggested above.
It is also important to make plenty of time for reading to the children, at least one story each session.
A love of books and reading is contagious and the only way of passing it on is by sharing.
It’s always important to send the children home happy and bubbling with excitement about their day, eager to return for more the next day.
A bit of time for reflection and discussion of what was achieved during the day reminds children of things they can tell their families.
A chant or song sends them out happy.
A short newsletter to read to families can also serve as a reminder and include any messages that need to be relayed.
These are just a few suggestions. There are many more ideas that can be incorporated into your day. Of course, the structure of the day will differ according to each school’s individual situation and expectations. I’d love to hear how it works in your school.
These resources may be useful as the days progress.
Check out these blog posts that also suggest ideas for establishing a supportive classroom environment.
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