Many new teachers, or teachers new to Pre-K, ask how to begin the year.
How to survive the First Days of Pre-K!
The best advice I got as a new teacher was to forget about apples and themes and any “cutesy stuff” for the first few weeks of school, and focus on teaching them how to use the centers and the materials in the classroom. Lessons at the beginning of school should be basic: how to use glue, how to use scissors, how to use markers, how to use paint, how to line up, etc. Don’t assume that they know these things.
Before the First Day
As soon as I get my class list, I send out a small packet to the parents. The packet includes a letter to the parents introducing myself and my assistant with some brief information about our program and curriculum. It also includes a child info sheet. I ask the parents to bring these to school on orientation day, and remind them of the date and time. The packet also has a “First Day Fears” letter, explaining separation anxieties and some tips for a smooth transition to school. Here’s a link to a First Day Fears Letter from Ms. Bonthuis’ site.
At orientation, we have the children go in another room to watch a movie, while the teachers give a presentation to the parents. I try to keep it brief, so the children have time to come in and explore the classroom. I draw a map on the board for parents who don’t know our school’s arrival and dismissal procedures. I explain a little about the curriculum and briefly go over our handbook, then allow them time to ask questions. I have sign-up sheets on the tables for volunteer time and for parents to write how their child will get home (car, walk, daycare van, or extended day). I also pass out our daily folders and explain their purpose.
The daily folders are used all year, and are brought to school every day. They are used as a communication tool between home and school. Parents are asked to send any notes to me or the school or any money in the folder, and I send any notes from me or the school to them. The child’s work is also sent home in the folder. The folders we use are plastic with clear covers on the front and back and clear pockets on the inside. I slip a decorated paper in the front pocket with the child’s name, school name, and grade. It also says “Please return daily” as a reminder to the parents. The back pocket has a monthly class calendar. The inside pockets have “return to school” written on the left side, and “keep at home” written on the right side. I put a copy of our handbook and our curriculum in the folder for orientation day, and have the parents take them home and return them the first day of school. The folders are from Nicky’s Folders. I’ve been using these for years, and they are very durable.
First Day of School Arrival
The first day of school is always very busy at arrival time because parents remember something they need to tell me or ask me, and the children want to wander around the room pulling things out. On the tables, I set out crayons and paper with the words “I drew this on the first day of school” printed on the bottom. I save these for their portfolios. I also put Legos on the table to keep the kids busy. My assistant helps steer the wanderers back to the table to help keep the first day chaos down to a minimum.
It’s nice to have a wide variety of materials in the centers for the children to use, but this can be overwhelming at the first of the year. It’s better to have less to begin with, let them get used to the room and how things are set up, then bring more materials out a few at a time. I introduce most materials at small group time before I put them in the center. I don’t have closet space to put things away, so I actually do have lots of things on the shelves at the beginning of the year, it just isn’t all available. It’s also a good idea to keep everything in the same place all year because it is less confusing for the kids. You don’t want to rearrange things on your shelves too much because the kids will never understand how and where they should be put away.
I have my centers set up how I want them to be for the year, but I turn the shelves around facing the walls, and bag up or wrap up some of the items. I wrap or bag the materials at the end of each year. That way, they’re packed for the summer and ready for the beginning of the next school year (and dust free!) The first few weeks of school, I only have the blocks, housekeeping, art, and reading center available. I slowly add other centers.
I do a lesson for each center before the kids use it, and we go over each center’s rules every day for the first few weeks. The first day of school, I split the class in half. My assistant takes half to the housekeeping center and I take half to the block center (afterwards, we switch). We show them where everything goes, and we explain safety rules (such as not throwing blocks or throwing things from the loft). We take a few things down and put them away asking the children if they remember where they go. Then, each child is given one or more items from that center and the children take turns putting them away. There are times when we have to repeat this. If things get out of hand in a particular center (safety issues or clean up issues), I close that center for a day, and we review the rules before using it again.
Tips for each center:
- HOUSEKEEPING: I don’t add dress-up clothes until September (2nd month of school for us).
- BLOCKS: At the beginning, we only have the basic wooden blocks. I don’t add cars and trucks or animals until later.
- ART: My art center has a lot of materials. The first few weeks, the only materials available are paper, markers, crayons, glue, and scissors. I wrap the other materials in butcher paper and write the contents on the package. When I feel the kids are ready for something new, we open a “present” (the kids love to open a new present).
- WRITING: This is done basically the same way as art. The first week, only paper, markers, and pencils are available.
- MATH and ABC: I put the manipulatives in 2-gallon ziplock bags and sit the bags down in the tubs. That way the kids can’t get into them and spread them all over the room before we’ve had a chance to go over the center rules. (This particular shelf is large and cannot be turned around.)
- READING: I only have a few board books out in the beginning. More books are added later.
- SCIENCE: This shelf is turned around backwards until we are ready for it.
As mentioned, our first activities and lessons center on learning about the classroom, school procedures, and how to use basic materials. These lessons last as long as needed. There is no set end time for beginning school lessons. See the School Unit page for my beginning school activities and lessons. You can also read about our day in Pre-K and see our schedule.
More pages on this site:
Homework for Preschool, Pre-K, or Kindergarten
Homework in Preschool and Kindergarten
Homework from vanessa on Vimeo.
To do or not to do, that is the question! The topic of homework for young children is one that is fiercely debated in the field of early childhood education. Many parents and administrators are all for it, many teachers are against it.
Some schools mandate homework for Pre-K because they think it’s going to close the achievement gap, others do it because they think parents “expect it” and still others assign homework because it’s what they’ve always done. There’s a little something here for everyone, no matter what your situation.
Different types of homework has been shown to benefit different populations. The type of program you work in may also dictate the type of homework you send home, if any.
Parents and Homework
My goal for homework in my own classroom is to support and encourage parents as partners in their child’s education. It is my responsibility as the teacher to teach the required skills, but it is the parent’s job to help support me in my efforts. In other words, “It takes a village…” Some parents need more help and encouragement than others, it is also my job to offer that help and encouragement to those who need it.
Reading Aloud to Children as Homework
I believe every parent and teacher should be required to read The Read-Aloud Handbook: 7th Edition by Jim Trelease. Jim explains, very clearly and with plenty of anecdotes, humor and wisdom, the importance of reading aloud to children.
If you’re interested in reading more on this topic I encourage you to check out the online book study I hosted for The Read-Aloud Handbook.
Meaningful Homework Activities for Parents to Do With Children
The book Just Right Homework Activities for Pre-K offers many meaningful activities that parents can do at home with their children. It includes detailed instructions for parents for each activity as well as blackline masters.
When working with Title 1 and programs that serve at-risk populations it may be necessary to provide parent training through educational sessions. All parents want to help their children, but not all parents know how to do so.
I created the video at the top of this page to show to parents at our “Homework Help” educational session.
Printable Personalized Practice Cards
A useful tool that can help you not only assess students, but communicate progress to parents is ESGI. ESGI auto-generates personalized parent letters, in both English and Spanish, that you can use to easily show parents their child’s progress and provide them with personalized practice cards to help their child at home.
With just one click of a button in ESGI, you can quickly generate parent letters for each child in your class along with corresponding flash cards, specifically aligned to each child’s individual needs.
Click HERE to try ESGI free for 60 days and use promo code PREKPAGES to save $40 off your first year!
In the beginning, some components of a structured homework program might include:
- First Name Identification & Writing Practice
- Numbers and Counting
- Color Recognition- for those that need it
- Shape Recognition-for those that need it
- Letter Recognition
- Books for parents to read aloud to their child (See my take-home book program)
As young children mature and their needs change some changes to the homework may be necessary, such as:
- Last Name Identification & Writing Practice
- Sight Words (for those who are ready)
- Number identification, 20 and up
- Rhyming and other phonemic awareness skills
- Letter sounds
Of course, differentiation for students performing above or below grade level expectations should always be taken into consideration when assigning homework.
How Do I Get Started Setting Up a Homework Program?
Step 1: Prepare your materials. Prepare the following materials to give to each child.
- Name Card and Letter Tiles: Prepare a name card for every student using ABC Print Arrow font (see resources section) then print on cardstock and laminate. You could also use a sentence strip and a permanent to create name cards. You can use letter tiles from Wal-Mart or Staples or you can cut a matching sentence strip apart between the letters to make the name puzzle.
- Number Flash Cards: You can use a simple font to type the numbers into a document in Word, print, laminate, cut, hole punch, and put on rings. The rings are highly recommended so the cards don’t become lost. You can also find free, printable number flash cards on-line.
- Letter Flash Cards: The letter flash cards at left were made in Word using the ABC Print font, just print, laminate, cut, hole punch, and put on rings. Don’t forget to make one set of upper and one set of lowercase. The rings are highly recommended so the cards don’t become lost.
- Color Flash Cards: The color flash cards pictured above were made by placing color stickers on paper. You can also find free, printable color flash cards on-line. The rings are highly recommended so the cards don’t become lost.
- Shape Flash Cards: You can also find free, printable shape flash cards on-line. Just print, laminate, cut, hole punch, and put on rings.
Step 2: Next, you will need to create a system to communicate what activities you expect your students to do each night. One of the most effective ways to do this is by creating a monthly “Homework Calendar.”
You can download free calendars online that you can customize to meet your needs. In each space on the calendar indicate which activities you want parents to focus on each night, this helps parents from becoming overwhelmed. At the bottom of each space on the calendar there is a place for parents to sign indicating they have helped their child complete the assigned tasks. You can mark each space with a stamp or sticker to indicate your acknowledgement of homework completion. The homework calendars are kept in our BEAR books and carried back and forth by the child each day in his or her backpack.
If this method is too much for you then you may prefer the simpler Reading Log method.
Step 3: To implement a successful Pre-K Homework Program in your classroom you must meet with all the parents to explain your program. Do not expect your program to be successful without this critical component. Have an informational meeting or “Parent Night” and send home flyers to invite the parents. Make sure to include this event in your weekly newsletter as well.
When having parent education sessions such as this it is best to have some sort of prior arrangements made for the students and siblings to be outside of the classroom in an alternate location so the parents can focus on the information that is being presented.
- After parents have arrived and you have welcomed them and thanked them for attending, show them the homework video (see top of page).
- Next, use your document camera to show them the actual materials they will be receiving. Model how to use the materials and how to do each activity they were shown in the video.
- Show them a sample homework calendar and what to do with it.
- Explain your system for sending materials home in detail, for example will materials be sent home in a bag or a folder?
- Make sure parents thoroughly understand the purpose and expectations for your homework program as well as your system.
- Allow parents to ask questions and thank them again for attending.
You could also create a video like the one at the top of this page to show to parents.
- Homework should last no more than 5-10 minutes total each night including the book that parents read to their child.
- Worksheets should never be sent home as homework. This sends the message to parents that worksheets are an acceptable form of “work” and it is a good teaching practice when the exact opposite is true.
- Homework at this age should be fun and children should enjoy doing it. Advise parents that if their child does not seem to enjoy homework time they should make an appointment to see you so you can help them determine what is wrong and how to make it fun.
- Emphasize that reading to their children every day is the single most important thing they can do as parents. It is also highly recommended that you show the parents one of the following short video clips about the importance of reading to their children:
How to Help Your Child Read (English)
How to Read Out Loud to Your Preschooler (English)
Como ayudar a tu hijo leer (Spanish)