September in a Kindergarten classroom is a time like no other. One of my good K teacher friends always used to say, "Kindergarten is yucky until after Halloween" and there is definitely some truth to those words! Any Kindergarten teacher will tell you that introducing first-time students to the school setting is challenging! It's an incredibly important time for you and your littles--starting the year off on the right foot will set all of you up for ten months of rich and productive learning experiences. I find that too often, teachers are worried about academic outcomes from the first week of school (and no wonder...lots of pressure to boost literacy and numeracy achievement). Instead, I believe that time invested in developing strong routines, procedures, and classroom community will pay huge dividends down the road in your classroom.
Here are a few suggestions for setting appropriate expectations, keeping your little ones moving, and creating a calm and happy classroom atmosphere.
1) Frequent movement breaks: at the start of the year, I maintain that a Kindergarten child should be able to sit and focus for five minutes (one minute per year of age). I'm not sure where I got this notion from, but it generally seems to hold true. So when planning activities, don't require your children to sit and be still for longer than five minutes at a time. If they seem engaged, you can begin to stretch it out, but watch closely for signs of fatigue and restlessness. What do we do for movement breaks?
- action songs/games: sing them yourself or play them on Spotify or YouTube. Below I've included a Spotify playlist with some of my favourites. Of course Go Noodle is always a great option too...however I find that sometimes I lose my class while I'm logging back into the computer and finding the activity I want. Action songs need to be quick and easy...usually I just sing them myself. A quick game of The Farmer in the Dell or Ring Around the Rosie works well for a fun movement break too.
- yoga: grab yourself a set of yoga cards and keep them nearby! Depending on the length of the movement break, every child can choose a card or maybe the special helper picks five. Go through the deck and eliminate the cards you don't want to do in your K classroom (headstand...not a good idea). Hold up the card, demonstrate the pose, and let everyone give it a try. Yoga is non-competitive and promotes balance, strength, and calm.
- action counting: jump 5 times as you count out loud, march 10 times, pat your knees 3 times... you get the idea.
- move around the classroom: I have two instructional areas set up in my classroom, one at the SMART Board and the other one at the circle. We also have our table spots. Throughout the day, we move frequently from one area to the next for quick and easy movement breaks. I cover my eyes and challenge them to move so quietly that I can't hear them, then I make a big fuss that they mustn't be listening because I can't hear a thing. They love it, and it provides excellent practice for moving around the classroom quietly.
- math games: I post the numerals 0-10 around the classroom in random places. For a quick movement break, I'll give each child a ten frame/dot pattern card and they have to find the numeral it matches and stand in front of it. A few rounds of this strengthens number recognition and provides some much needed movement.
3) Develop a calm classroom atmosphere: Kindergarten classrooms can be busy, noisy places (as they should be), but calm and quiet times are needed too. How to accomplish this?
- Insist on quiet before instruction: there are countless ways to prepare students to listen (1-2-3 eyes on me, 1-2 eyes on you) or my personal favourite (criss cross applesauce, hands in lap, gingersnap, lips zipped, Cool Whip), so find one or two that work for you and your students. Take the time to practice what good listening behavior looks like and why it is important. Offer lots of praise!
- Breath work: to help regulate our bodies and emotions, we take part in different breathing activities throughout the day. Breath work can be as simple as a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth, and both you and your students will feel more relaxed after. In fact, I always maintain that breath work in the classroom is more for me than my students! Check out this video for some ideas or grab this book from Amazon.
- Minimize classroom clutter: cover your shelves with fabric, turn off the fluorescent lights and add some mini lights or lamps, and get rid of the glaring primary colours everywhere. I haven't thoroughly looked into the research on this, but I know that my room feels calmer and more soothing since I made these changes (with more to come). Take a look at my classroom here.
- Soothing music: while we engage in quiet activities, we listen to soothing background music. Here's our favourite playlist at the moment.
- Diffuse essential oils: as long as families are supportive and you are compliant with school policies, consider diffusing calming essential oils such as lavender or Young Living Stress Away. My kiddos love having a diffuser in the classroom and are so interested in the different oils and why we use them.
- math games: simple dice games are easy to teach and fun to play. They provide an opportunity to strengthen skills such as subitizing, one-to-one correspondence, number recognition, and turn-taking. Here's a couple of my favourite games!
- fine motor activities: developing fine motor skills and strengthening little hands is an important pre-cursor to more formal printing activities. That's why we do lots of fun centre-style activities in the first term of Kindergarten. Students love these activities, and often I integrate literacy, numeracy, and science outcomes as students develop their pincer grasp and increase hand strength. Learn more here!
What are your suggestions for starting the year off right in Kindergarten? How do you keep busy four and five-year olds engaged as they learn the routines of school? Comment below or reach out to me on social media--I'd love to hear from you!