12 Fun Ideas for a Memorable First Day of School
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As a teacher, you’ve experienced multiple first days of school. But for the students in your class, this is their only first day in your class. So make the first day special. Make it fun. Make it memorable. Here are twelve ideas to get you started:
1) Estimate With Smarties. Smarties are one of the most teacher-friendly candies. Not only are they wrapped, they’ve got the perfect name for the students in your class. Near the end of the day, do a quick lesson about estimating, discussing the idea of making a “reasonable guess.” Go around the room and have each student offer an estimate about how many packages of Smarties you have placed in a see-through container. Count them out and talk about the estimates that were closest. And at dismissal time, give your smarties a roll of Smarties to enjoy!
2) Photograph Your Students. Find a spot in your classroom that will serve as a good backdrop and take an individual photo of each student. These photos will then become your first bulletin board display. I often placed the photos on our closet doors, keeping them up year-round, and hanging up different work samples next to the photo throughout the year.
3) Make a Time Capsule. It’s nothing fancy, you’ll just need to collect enough paper towel rolls during the summer so each child gets one. Inside the paper towel roll, children will roll up their completed handout. Make the handout simple. Ask children to list their favorites — book, song, color, movie, television show, class subject. Ask them to write down a hope for the school year. On the back of the paper, have kids trace their handprint. Roll the paper up, put it inside the paper towel roll, and wrap the roll in tissue paper (like a giant Tootsie Roll). Use a marker to write each child’s name on the tissue paper. Open the time capsules during the last week of school. Students will be amazed to see how their answers have both changed and stayed the same — and how much their hands have grown!
4) Paint Your Students’ Feet. This art project is best done if you have a teacher’s assistant and/or helper(s) in the classroom. Set up a painting area, and be sure to mix some hand-soap into the paint (the paint will wipe off much easier that way, from both skin and clothes). Paint each student’s right foot onto a white sheet of paper leaving space for a child to write one way that he/she will make sure to start the school year off on the “right foot.” For example, “I will read each night at home. I will always remember to write my name on my papers. I will ask a question when I’m confused.”
5) Create a Class Puzzle. “We All Fit Together.” That’s the message behind a class puzzle. You can create your own individual pieces or purchase puzzle pieces that you then assemble into one large class puzzle. (Laminate the puzzle to be sure it lasts all year long). Have students write their names and decorate their puzzle pieces.
6) Assemble a Friendship Wreath. This is a relatively easy project with an important message. By ourselves, we can only accomplish so much. But, with all our hands joined together, it’s an impressive sight, and we can accomplish anything. Younger students may need help painting their hands, while older students will be able to paint their own hands on white pieces of paper. (Be sure their names are written on the paper). Once the paint is dry, cut around the handprints, writing the students’ names on the backs.
7) Write a Letter To the Teacher. Ask students to craft you a letter (based on their grade-level, the letter can be a few sentences or a few paragraphs). This is their chance to privately tell you anything they want their new teacher to know about them, such as their hesitation to read aloud, the fact that they share a bedroom with a baby brother and their sleep is often disturbed, and so on. Before children begin their letters, share an “oral” letter with your class, telling them some things about yourself. (I always let my class know that I never learned to whistle and that when we play Mad-Libs, I would need help spelling a couple of words like “vacuum” and “chihuahua”).
8) Write a Class Preamble. Model your class Preamble after the Preamble to the United States Constitution. This is an alternative to providing your students with a standard list of class rules. Students should actively participate in the writing of the Preamble. (For example, “We the fourth grade students of room 7, in order to form the best class possible, establish fairness, …”) After it’s done, you may type it up and/or enlarge it, but be sure to have each student sign the document as well.
9) Use Name Tags. They serve the same purpose as the more traditional “Hello, My Name Is…” tags, but teachers can find much cuter, more kid-friendly versions at many stores, including Lakeshore and Amazon. It’s a win-win: the name tags make it easier for teachers to address their students by name on the first day of school, and they serve as an easy, inexpensive souvenir for students to bring home.
10) Play With a Beach Ball. Inflate a regular beach ball and using a Sharpie, write a series of “getting-to-know-you” questions on different spots of the ball. Depending on the grade level you’re teaching, questions can be as simple as “What is your favorite color?” or more conversation-generating such as “Who do you admire?” The game can be played outside on the yard or inside if you have enough space in your classroom. Have students stand in a circle. When a student catches the ball, he/she must answer the question nearest to his/her left thumb.
11) Create a Class Word Search. If you need a quiet, first-day activity, generate a class word search. (Throughout the year, you can also use this website to generate word searches and crossword puzzles for spelling words and vocabulary words). The word searches will keep the kids busy at their desks, they’ll enjoy finding their own names, plus it’ll give them a chance to learn their classmates’ names.
12) Treat for the Teacher. The first day isn’t all about the students. Make sure to plan a treat for yourself as well, because if you don’t plan for it, it most likely won’t happen. Begin the day with a special coffee and pastry. Take yourself out for a banana split or a pedicure before heading home. Or, maybe you give yourself the night off, and order in a pizza instead of cooking dinner.
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