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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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First Day of Kindergarten: 8 Survival Skills

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The first day of kindergarten is busy, busy, busy! Learning the names, faces, parents and personalities of all of the students on the class list is essential. You must teach routines and procedures. You need to hold the attention of a roomful of active, excited little minds. New faces will show up that you'll have to add to the class list.

Be prepared for kinks in the plans. Bus numbers will change. Duty assignments will be modified -- now you have morning and afternoon duties for the first few weeks. Lesson plans are due -- and the principal wants lessons plans for the entire week. And no, there is no nap time for the students (or the teacher)! Oh, and don't forget open house -- teachers will need to stay into the evening (I hate it when people think teachers get off at 3:00 every afternoon), but still be at work on time the following morning to receive students.

What does a kindergarten teacher need to do to survive? Here are eight handy survival skills.

1. Nametags

Some kindergarteners may be new to the "school experience." Moving to the cafeteria, going to the bathroom, and working in their classroom may be brand new concepts to them. Have students wear nametags with their name, their school, and their teacher's name for the first week or two. Not only will this help teachers and other support staff learn their names, but it will also help ensure their safety during transition and dismissal time. (And have spare nametags -- a couple of students will mysteriously lose theirs.)

2. Lunch Plan

If your school provides kindergarteners with lunch, know how each student will eat lunch. Find out how much students need for lunch. Have this information ahead of time so that you can answer parents' questions. Make sure you have a procedure in place to collect money and pay for lunches.

3. Going Home

Make it your business to know how each student will get home from school. Find out if he or she is riding the bus or being picked up. Make sure the students are being released to the proper guardian or caretaker. Know this information ahead of time and communicate with each parent to find out if there are any changes. Write down each student’s method of transportation on his or her nametag to help ensure smooth dismissal -- for example, "bus # 100" or "car rider."

4. Transition Times

Twenty kindergarteners will not sit still at their desks or stand perfectly in line the first day -- or any day -- if it's for a long period of time with no structured activity. Minimize transition times as much as possible. For example, once students have put up their pencils, they may continue to independently work on their coloring activity while the other students put up their pencils.

5. Lines

Keep the lunch line moving (money is out and ready), or keep the water fountain line moving (each student has ten seconds to drink water then back to line). Stop the line every so often to check that it remains straight and students are quiet. If a student loses a shoe (someone always will), have that student step out of line to fix the shoe while the line continues. When the line comes to a stop, the student may walk back to his or her place or remain at the end.

6. Keep Students Busy

Whole group instruction may include calendar or story time. Small group activities should be structured. For example:

  • Show the kids how to build patterns with blocks, and give visible examples so they'll know what is expected.
  • Show them how to match lowercase and uppercase letters. For the first few weeks, set up a model showing what the lower- and uppercase letters look like.

7. Behavior

Show interest in all of your students. Make each one feel wanted. Do not assume they know how to do anything. Give clear directions, and have students demonstrate back the expected behavior to ensure understanding.

8. Be Prepared

Elementary teachers are expected to have pencils, papers, colors, construction paper and glue, but kindergarten teachers should be even more prepared with:

  • A spare change of clothing in case a student forgot his or hers and has an accident
  • Some non-latex bandages in case students have latex allergies
  • A belt in case a student shows up without properly fitting pants
  • A large bottle of water stashed for yourself, because you will break a sweat at some point and get very thirsty
  • A squishy ball, which sometimes helps a student who is extremely fidgety

Kindergarten teachers have one of the most challenging but rewarding jobs. When something goes wrong, just breathe and stay calm. When the day is over, think of a plan to better handle the situation next time. The first days are very challenging, but stand firm, stay committed and have a great year.

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Mrs. Rolfe's picture
Mrs. Rolfe
Kindergarten Teacher from Machias, Maine

This is my 5th year in Kindergarten. I taught PreK for 2 years before that in the same school. We are a PK-8 grade school housing over 350 students in all. We have 2 classrooms for all grades and my grade level partner and I meet a lot on implementing new strategies throughout the year. I do wish to pick anyone's brain on how they group their reading levels. I use the homogeneous grouping usually depending on classroom dynamics each year. Last year this did not work for various reasons. This year I believe the classroom (19 in all which is the smallest group I've had yet) as a whole would do great with common reading level groups. We also use the Daily 5 program in our classrooms but I have to admit I have found it challenging to implement due to time and various interruptions in my daily schedule. If anyone has thoughts or experiences with Daily 5 on the Kindergarten level I'd appreciate some input. Thanks in advance.

Mrs. Rolfe's picture
Mrs. Rolfe
Kindergarten Teacher from Machias, Maine

Hey Jennifer,
I am not familiar with what ICT stands for. As far as classroom management on this level I've taken the Responsive Classroom Approach that once taught and rehearsed with the students creates a sense of ownership of our own actions. It basically states "You break it (be it feelings or items) you fix it." We build a lot at the beginning of the year on treating others the way we want to be treated. Lots of role playing and discussion on how to communicate using our words instead of our hands. The power of verbal communication is key in this approach as it builds vocabulary and confidence in standing up for ourselves in a non violent way. I also (being a mom) am loving but firm with my students. Making sure to build safety and security in my classroom is essential. Giving respect in order to receive it and such. Also making sure that you know classroom procedures and collaborating with other teachers that see the children often is key to standing together to reinforce routines and policies within group. I have also found that modeling and teaching a 5 minute mini-lesson is more beneficial for student learning. I teach a lot of 5 minute mini-lessons throughout the day between child centered work stations and small group work. There is so much we are suppose to teach the children by year end that sometimes I get taught up in trying to get it all in, which has kicked me down a few times. I've found that smaller steps and repetitiveness is key at this grade level. Keeping their minds working by teaching/modeling/doing. My classroom is over flowing with hands on activity trays in Math/Science/Social Studies/Language Arts concepts that are set out once modeled. I am rotating tray activities to keep up with the new information and themes each month so children don't get bored with the activities. The activities also are geared towards at least 2 if not 3 learning levels so children can learn on their current ability level and have room to advance once concepts become more familiar or concrete. Success is the only option and it takes a lot time but once set can make years to follow easier. Hope that helped.

Chelsea Dennis's picture

I don't plan on teaching kindergarten, but the title was very eye catching. One skill that stood out to me was the name tags for the students to have for the first two weeks of school. It won't only help the teacher learn their students' names, but it will also make the kids feel relevant, it makes a kid feel special when the teacher personally knows them by their name. Another skill that stood out to me was keeping the students busy. Many teachers make the mistake by having children just sit once everything is done or in-between lessons, which most of the time could be a mistake. The students at this age will sometimes get off task and rowdy, making it hard for the teacher to bring them back to focus. This was a very interesting and helpful blog for many new teachers; great job!

Sa'sha Little's picture

Wow! This article was amazing; it was very helpful and allowed me to understand kindergarten better. I know I will use every survival skill when I get in the classroom!

Jamese Broadnax's picture

I agreed with this article. I haven't had my own classroom yet but I have seen some teachers follow these tips and it worked out good for them. You also brought new ideas to my attention such as the name badges. I have never seen a teacher give their students name badges to try and learn their names. I bet this is very helpful, fun, and great way to remember your students face and name at the same time. All this tips are great and will be helpful for me as a future educator that also wants to teach kindergarten.

Elpidia Lopez's picture
Elpidia Lopez
Parent of a 6 year old and a 8 month old in Los Angeles

I agree with your article and I really like your tips. I was a Teachers Assistant for about 4 years and I really enjoyed working with Kindergarten students. This is the grade level that I would like to teach when I get my teaching credential. I have seen all of your tips in action especially the one about the name tags. I almost always had a kid begin to wonder off and I would be able to call his/her name to get his/her attention back on me. Name tags are a blessing. The other tip that I really liked was the one about going home. This is something that I never thought of and I would use in the future when I have my own classroom

Ekta's picture
Pre-K teacher from Singapore

Hi. Your article is very true and close to reality.I am very new in the teaching and is presently at the novice stage of development. The way you have described it, seems to be the mirror image my situation. of is presently what is happening in my classroom. One of the great ideas that caught my attention was name tags. They are so important as teachers it will really help to remember the names of the new students. Have all the information for example lunch plans, bus arrangements. Curious young minds are so excited the directress really has to be well prepared with the plan for the day. Allergies and their medical back up, contact sheet of all parents etc. To aim for effective student learning the directress, should keep the teaching or introducing session for the unit to be about 20 ,minutes at the circle time. To stop and explain very clear rules about the behaviour expected in classroom.

Miss Gloria's picture

Hello. I've been teaching Kindergarten for 6 years. I live in Mexico City and teach English in a private school. I've used many of these tips and they work, but where I have trouble is keeping 20 kids busy.

KNicoleH's picture


As a future teacher myself I found this blog entry to be very insightful. The first day of kindergarten can be just as intimidating for the new teacher as it is for the students. I am glad you pointed out the "kinks in the plan" portion of teaching. It would be foolish to think every day went smoothly. It is important to be calm and collective when plans are suddenly altered. I love your idea of putting the student's transportation method on their name tags. I would just hope the students keep the name tags on their shirt! I think the most important rule of survival that you pointed out was to "be prepared". Having an extra change of clothes, belt, and bandages are things that a lot of people would not consider to have in their classroom. This entry was very insightful for me. I believe that some of these survival tips could be carried into other grade levels as well. I will definitely have to bookmark this page. Thanks for the tips!

judyd123's picture

I have been teaching kindergarten for over 30 years. My best advise to survive the first day of kindergarten is over planning and do not under estimate a five-year-old. Over planning a variety of activities will help the day to run more smoothly You have to keep in mind for many children this is their first experience away from home. You have to listen to the children to see what they are feeling and experiencing. If you keep this in mind, you will know how to direct their day and keep your sanity.

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