Not only can you survive the first week of kindergarten, you can ROCK it! Read on to see what my lesson plans looked like for the first week of school last year. You’ll find lots of links to resources (even some FREEBIES) and great activities to make the first days a success.
The number one thing to remember is: take it slow and have some fun! You don’t need to teach all the rules and routines on the first day. Yes, there are plenty of things they have to know before you can move into learning…Getting in a line. Sitting on the rug. Locking the bathroom stall. Getting the teacher’s attention without poking her or slapping her in the belly. Staying in the classroom and not wander off into the hallway. I mean, there are so. many. things.
But it’s not all gonna happen in one day anyways. Don’t stress yourself out by getting so wrapped up in making sure they learn the rules that you forget to make them love school! As my former principal reminded us at the beginning of every year…you want to make the first day so much fun that they go home begging to come back again the next day! It will truly set the stage for the rest of the year.
Luckily, there are lots of ways you can teach routines and have some fun the first week of kindergarten, and you’ll find plenty of them in this post. Have some great ideas of your own? Make sure to leave a comment below!
A few things to note:
- We always start on a Wednesday, so it’s a 3-day week, but there’s enough here to get you started.
- I didn’t include specials, lunch, or recess in these lesson plans. I just put what I wanted to accomplish in my own classroom.
- You’ll probably notice that it’s pretty vague and not very detailed at all. I’ve learned over the years to keep it that way. It’s hard to know how long everything will take because it depends so much on your group of kids and your specials/lunch/recess schedule. And it stinks feeling stressed out because you’re not staying on your time schedule. So give yourself some grace and some wiggle room! For my own teaching purposes, I just make quick list for the first week so I don’t get too hung up on time frames.
- You should also know that for the first couple years, I had to be a lot more specific. I wrote down key things I wanted to say word-for-word and went into more detail about procedures. After a few years, I knew what I needed to do and say so I didn’t feel the need to write it all down anymore. But that’s just me! (FYI, I don’t envy those of you who have to turn in lesson plans…)
- You can compare my actual first week of kindergarten lesson plan document and one from the last week in September (apple week!). You’ll see that I usually do go into a lot more detail! But it’s a sanity-saver for me to just have the bare bones of my plan for the first few days.
- You don’t want to stress yourself out by having TOO much planned, but you also don’t want to run out of things to do. Here’s a great post about no-prep learning games that are perfect for time-fillers!
- Distance learning or trying to follow social distancing rules? You might want to read these posts too:
First Week of Kindergarten, Day 1:
Fill water bottles for students before school starts.
I give all my students water bottles to keep in the classroom. It’s so important for them to stay hydrated and it cuts down on asking to go to the water fountain! They learn how & where to fill their water bottles on Day 2.
You could ask parents to send water bottles, but not everybody can afford that. So I just buy them myself and give them as “gifts” during open house. I’ve found cute ones by Cool Gear at Wal-Mart for $0.98 each the past few years but can’t find them right now.
I’ve also used these $1 water bottles from Dollar Tree (BONUS: the bottom is a removable snack cup you can use for storage or centers):
Playtime until everyone gets back from breakfast.
You’ll need something open-ended for the mornings (especially in the first week of kindergarten) so they stay busy. You’ll be busy chatting with parents, collecting supplies, and calming any fears. My students have playtime for the first 3 weeks until they know the routines. Then I introduce my morning work tubs (post on that coming soon! Sign up for my weekly newsletter to make sure you don’t miss it!).
As they’re coming in each morning, I make sure to have some fun, appropriate music playing. I love how welcoming it is. I put together a bunch of monthly playlists just for this reason! You can find out more about them by reading this post.
Introduce the clean up song.
Clean Up as a Team by Mr. B is my favorite because it’s catchy but not too high-energy. I play it every single time it’s time to clean up and transition to something else. During the first few weeks of kindergarten, I tell them when I’m going to start the clean up song so they know what it means. Eventually, though, you can just start it without saying a word and they’ll know what to do.
I used to use The Clean Up Song by Shari Sloane, but the teacher in the room next to me used this song. I just loved it the first time I heard it! When I started using it in my own classroom, there was a noticeable change in the air during clean-up transitions: my students were much calmer and more focused on actually cleaning up. Plus it does a nice, slow countdown from 20 at the end that gives kids plenty of warning.
Introduce the reward chart.
The set I use is pictured below. It’s created by True Life I’m a Teacher (click on the image to view it on TpT). I love it because there are so many themes! (Stay tuned for a more detailed post on my behavior management system).
Introduce the attention-getter (doorbell).
In previous years, I always used call-backs for to get my students’ attention. For example, I would say “Flat tire” and the class would respond with “shhhh….” and stop what they were doing. But I found those would usually wear off – the kids would either respond really slooooowwwllllyy or they would just not respond at all. So then I’d either have to reteach it or teach a new attention-getter.
Also, I got laryngitis every fall, so I was on the hunt for ways to limit the amount of loud talking I had to do. Then one of my co-workers tried an idea she found on Pinterest: using a doorbell! She said it worked really well so I decided to give it a try. It was AMAZING and I highly recommend it! Here’s the one I have:
I put the remote on a lanyard using a $1 hand sanitizer holder from Bath & Body Works. I wore it around my neck so I could ring the bell whenever I needed to. It’s packed away at the moment, but I’ll add a picture as soon as I can dig it out!
Honestly, the doorbell is my absolute favorite classroom hack! The kids knew that when they heard the doorbell, they had to stop, look at me, and listen. And if they didn’t do it the first time I rang it, I never had to try to talk over them to get their attention. I would just keep ringing the doorbell – but I rarely had to do it more than once. Guess what? No laryngitis last year either! Every once in awhile, I would accidentally bump the button on the remote, or a student would hug me and set it off…and we would all just chorus, “FALSE ALARM!” and go back to what we were doing. That didn’t make it less effective at all.
So, in a nutshell, if you’re looking to make ONE, SINGLE, INCREDIBLE TEACHER PURCHASE THIS YEAR, go with the doorbell! From the first week of kindergarten to the last, it will be worth every penny.
Ok, ok, back to the first day plans. Next up, I planned to …
Give them a bathroom break.
- Where to wait your turn
- Locking the stalls
- Washing your hands (2 pumps of soap, 3 pumps of paper towels)
- Voice level
Do a VERY SIMPLE morning message with a short intro to calendar & days in school.
Here’s the calendar I use (and created!). What I love about my calendar kit is that it’s so easy to infuse some extra learning into your morning meeting. Talking daily about patterns helps kids learn to notice them in other places, build a better understanding of the different types of patterns, and improve their ability to make predictions. Plus they’re cute and add a little seasonal flair to your classroom!
There’s no doubt that brand-new kindergartners are ready to get up and get moving by this point. It’s time for a brain break and GoNoodle is a MUST-HAVE. I don’t know if I would survive the first week of kindergarten without it! Never heard of it? Check out this great post by The Primary Peach – she does an excellent job of explaining how it works. Then go sign up for your free GoNoodle account!
Read The Pigeon HAS to go to School by Mo Willems.
Seriously, this book came out last year and it’s by far my favorite First Day of School book. Truthfully, I never really found a must-read book for the first week of school until this one came along. It is so cute, and it helps kids understand why they come to school and why they’re going to love it! If you don’t have it yet, you can pick it up from Amazon by clicking this image:
Go on a pigeon scavenger hunt.
Now, is a read-aloud really a read-aloud if it doesn’t involve some type of related activity afterwards? I created this scavenger hunt last year for my class and it was SO MUCH FUN! I forgot all about it until I was writing this post, so I slapped it up in my TpT store. You can grab it by clicking the image:
Last year, this scavenger hunt ended up taking a good chunk of the day. In fact, I think I may even have had to save one or two locations for Day 2. But the kids were loving it!
Want more great read-aloud recommendations for the first weeks of school? Read this post! It includes my favorite read-aloud books, how I use them in my classroom, and links to resources that go along with them.
Yep, our district still allows rest time! If you’re not allowed to have rest time, you can do independent reading here. For the first several weeks of kindergarten in my classroom, they can read books or just rest quietly. I also let them color on Fun Friday! I used these amazing coloring books by my favorite clip artist, Krista Wallden. The one pictured here is FREE (click on it to grab it from TpT):
Later in the year (after I started guided reading) they would have to read all their “just right” books before they could rest, color, or read their “just for fun” books.
On the first day though, I showed them the class library, gave them their assigned rest spots and their book bins, and let them take turns choosing 10 books to look at.
They keep the same books in their book bins for a week. Picking new books is one of their literacy tub jobs. More on literacy tubs coming soon. Sign up for my weekly newsletter so you don’t miss it!.
Nothing much to explain about snack…except that I do like to have snack in the afternoon. Some of those little honeys do not eat lunch at school, especially the first week, and it can be a long time before they get home. I like to make sure they have something in their tummies before they get on the bus.
Have some playtime.
Yep! Our district still allows – even encourages – playtime in kindergarten. It’s so good for them for so many reasons. Plus, they’re only 5! Some of them have never had to spend an entire day following directions. By the end of the day, they just need a break.
Here are some of my favorite toys for the classroom (buy them on Amazon now or shop around at garage sales & thrift stores):
Not only is play time necessary for the students on that first day, it’s a must-have for me too! It buys me some time to get a few things done – I need to make sure I know what each kid’s after-school plan is. I also need to get things ready to send home.
If you’re not allowed to have play time, there’s a simple work-around. Just set up some open-ended centers or tubs where students are able to explore the manipulatives they’ll be using in kindergarten. Technically, it’s still playing, but you can justify it since they’re using learning materials!
Get them ready to go home.
When it’s time to go home, I explain to the whole class that some students are riding the bus home and some are getting picked up/walking. Then I tell them that I’ve talked to all of their parents about it so they don’t have to worry about what they’re supposed to do. Letting them know you’ve communicated about it with their parents goes a long way in easing their anxiety about getting home.
When it’s time to line up, I say, “Stay in your chair until I call your name. Jackson, your mom is picking you up today. Come line up. Nora, your grandpa is picking you up today. Come line up.” Be specific with everything you say!
I would go into more detail about getting ready at the end of the day here, but I feel like that needs to be an entirely separate post!
Send them on the bus and breathe!
After the buses leave, these are the things that go through my mind:
- My brain hurts.
- My body is tired.
- I survived!
- Did I remember to read to them? (One year I forgot to read to them!!! What kind of teacher does that?)
- Did they have fun?
- What do I need to tweak for tomorrow?
- I need to go to bed.
- But I’m totally going to survive the first week of kindergarten!
First Week of Kindergarten, Day 2:
The next day, I’ll build on what we worked on the first day…we’ll review all the things we learned the first day and practice them, but also add in some new stuff. Here’s what I’d add on Day 2:
Practice filling water bottles.
Right when students start arriving, I’ll show them where to fill their water bottles. I just take 1 or 2 kids at a time while everyone else is eating breakfast and/or playing. This becomes one of their daily jobs that they have to complete before we start morning meeting.
Assign rug spots & practice finding them.
I’ve always been a fan of assigned rug spots. In most cases, I try to provide choice in the classroom whenever I can, but this is not one of those cases. It just wastes so much time when they can choose their spots because they:
- Hover and wait to see where their friends sit
- Find a spot but then decide to move at the last second
- Inevitably sit next to someone that they can’t help talking to or touching and it disrupts learning once I start the lesson.
So assigned rug spots it is – for me at least. An added bonus is that you can make a reward or special occasion out of letting them choose their own spots for a lesson (or even a whole day).
After I assign their spots, I practice with them by playing a little game that goes like this:
- I have them start at their table spots.
- I tell them I’m going to turn around backwards & count to 10 because I want to see if they can all get to their rug spots quietly by the time I’m done.
- When I get to 10 and turn around, I exclaim (as though they’re still at their table spots), “Kindergartners! I told you to go to the rug! Why are you still sitting at…”
- I pretend to realize they’re not on the rug and make a big show about how surprised I was because I didn’t even hear them moving around.
They absolutely eat it up and want to play over and over again. It’s good practice and it gets them moving around a little bit…it’s a fun way to start the day.
Introduce the trampoline.
I have a small trampoline that I use in the classroom. I decided to try it out a couple years ago because another kindergarten teacher in my building had one and I was intrigued! Just like my doorbell-lanyard, my trampoline is currently packed away, but I’ll add some pictures when I dig it out. I bought mine on clearance at Walmart, but you can click on this image to check one out on Amazon:
My students were really hard on our trampoline the first year. I ended up buying a replacement cover like the one pictured below. It’s held up for 2 years – but I was also a lot more intentional about teaching them not to pick at the cover!
Anyways, on Day 2, I set the trampoline out in the middle of the rug and I taught them the rules:
- Only one student on at a time.
- They have to make a line – and I show them exactly where the line starts and which direction it should go. In my experience, if they don’t make a line, they all crowd around it which is so unsafe. Then they fight over who’s turn it is and sometimes even start trying to “claim” it by putting a foot on it while someone else is still jumping.
- They have to carefully step on, take 10 jumps, then carefully step off. I make it very clear from the beginning that if they jump off of it, they’re done using it for the day.
Then everybody gets a turn to practice. Oooh, the excitement!
Some years I have kept the trampoline out all day long, and some years I’ve had to put it away and only take it out before morning meeting and during play time. It kind of depends on the group and how well they can handle it, but I prefer to leave it out all day so that students can take a quick jump break while they’re working.
Here are a few other ways I’ve used the trampoline:
- Birthday kids get to sit on it instead of their rug spots for the day!
- A table for demonstrating new center jobs, art projects, science experiments, etc.
- A reward for kids who are reading quietly during independent/partner reading
- A spot to put papers/materials that students need to get to do an art project or assignment
Introduce Write the Room.
This is the very first step in getting my literacy tubs under way. If I can teach them all how to do ONE thing, I can start adding in other things. And I’m a huge fan of Write the Room because you can have your students practice just about any skill. And it’s super easy to differentiate! It also gets them up and moving around instead of sitting in one place.
Now, since it’s the first week of kindergarten, there are going to be students who aren’t ready to write. So I use this FREE Color the Room resource by Erin from Teaching & Creating to teach the procedures. That way everyone can be successful!
I put lots of emphasis on coloring the recording sheet using the same colors that they see on the cards, and on coloring carefully. This sets the expectation that they need to look carefully at the cards and do their best work.
A word of caution: this seems like it will be a quick and easy activity for Day 2. And it is pretty easy, but it always takes a lot longer than I think it will…especially when you’re emphasizing how they should do their best work and color carefully.
What do early finishers do?
If it’s a literacy activity (which is what I’m counting Color the Room as) they get to read “my” books…the ones on my read-aloud bookshelf that they don’t get to put in their book bins. And they can read with whoever they want. This is such a simple way to manage early finishers. It’s way easier than prepping and organizing a bunch of extra activities – and time spent reading is never wasted!
Not only that, but when you make reading a reward, it teaches them that reading is fun! In all my years of teaching, I’ve only had a handful of kids who didn’t want to read as an early finisher activity. In those cases, I try to set them up with the most spectacular book I can find that meets their interests. It all comes down to finding a way to get them hooked.
I always have my students put their finished work in a red basket. So when they finish Color the Room, I show them where to put their papers, and then I let them read. This keeps them meaningfully busy and it gives me a chance to help those who aren’t finished yet.
This is our very first math lesson! Have you ever heard of Tenzi? It’s a dice game and it’s a kindergarten teacher’s dream! The most basic way to play is this: each player has 10 dice and you race to see who can roll and get all their dice on the same number first.
However, there are lots of different versions…in fact, you can even get a deck called 77 Ways to Play Tenzi. There are so many great ways to learn about numbers with this game!
The official Tenzi dice sets are pretty expensive – they do come in lots of fun colors and they’re really great quality. But the price isn’t so great if you’re considering getting a set of 10 for each student in your class.
I found packs of 100 colored dice for way cheaper on Amazon that come with 10 velvet pouches to hold them in. Here they are (click on the image to snag some):
During the first week of kindergarten, we start with 5 dice instead of 10 – hence the name Fivezi. To teach them how to play, I have my students sit in a circle on the rug. I give them each a set of dice and a container to roll their dice into. That helps keep them from rolling them all over the room!
I had a bunch of plastic containers that were left by the previous teacher in my classroom last year, but before that, I used these paper food boats:
To introduce Fivezi, I would tell them a number and have them start rolling. There’s no racing yet…just getting the hang of it, so we wait until the whole class gets their set of 5 before we move on. We’ll do that once for each number. Then I show them how they can turn it into a race. I get them partnered up and let them play. And that’s it!
This becomes the early finisher activity for math. It’s great because they can play alone or with a partner, and they LOVE it. It’s been a great motivator for them to get their work done. As the year goes on, I’ll teach them different ways to play so it stays fresh and exciting for them.
So let me just be very clear on this: I have 2, and only 2, early finisher activities for the entire year! They’re the same during the first week of kindergarten as they are during the last. And they require zero prep. Reading and playing Tenzi. That’s all you need, and your students will love them both… more than worksheets, I can guarantee that! Go ahead, feel the freedom!
That’s it for Day 2. All I had left was snack, playtime, and heading home. Easy peasy, right?
First Week of Kindergarten, Day 3:
Again, we keep practicing the rules and routines that we’ve already worked on, which still takes up a good chunk of time. But on Day 3, I can add in a few more things:
Introduce daily jobs.
Some teachers love having a helper of the day that does all the special jobs. I personally prefer giving jobs to several students each day because:
- Students love having a sense of responsibility, which I believe contributes to building a strong classroom community. Having jobs every few days helps remind them that they have ownership in the classroom.
- A helper of the day only gets their turn once every couple of months…and kindergartners are not always that patient! It can be hard for them to wait so long.
- Jobs can be used as a behavior management tool – for example, “You’re the Line Leader today. I know you can show the rest of the class how we walk in the hallway!” or “You’re not showing me that you can be respectful of our classroom when you throw pencils. Will you be able to treat our papers with respect when you’re the Paper Passer? Then please show me.” More students with jobs = more opportunities to manage behaviors.
Here are the job chart cards I made for my classroom. You just hang them up on your bulletin board and use a dry erase marker to write the names in each day. Click on the image to grab them for FREE!
After I explain the job chart and announce the class jobs, I continue with Morning Meeting and throw in a GoNoodle break. Then it’s time for a read aloud!
Introduce Bucket Slips
Bucket slips are my way of reinforcing positive behaviors. I didn’t invent it by any means – the idea has been floating around for awhile. I’ve just been using it the past couple years. The first thing we do is read Have You Filled a Bucket Today?: A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids by Carol McCloud and David Messing.
It’s a great book that explains how we all have invisible buckets that can be filled or dipped from. We fill other people’s buckets by making them feel good inside – and that fills our own buckets too. We dip from other people’s buckets by making them feel not-so-good inside – which dips from our own buckets. I love this analogy because it’s so easy for kids to understand. You can grab a copy of the book by clicking on the image above.
Then, to incorporate this concept into my classroom management, I introduce the bucket slips. They’re little sheets of paper that I fill out when I catch a student filling someone’s bucket…I jot down the date and what they did, then send it home so they can show their parents.
I love this because it’s a reward, but it keeps the focus on what they did instead of an object or a prize. Kids are so proud when they earn one and parents love to see them. You can grab them for $1 in my TpT store:
Introduce Daily Sign In
Every morning from here on out, when students come into the classroom in the morning, one of their daily jobs is to sign in by writing their name. It serves two purposes:
- To have them practice writing their names
- To quickly see who is absent. They turn it in after they’re done, so if it’s still sitting at their table spot, I know they’re gone.
For the first week of kindergarten, students write their names as well as they can on their sign-sheets. They look like this:
After a few weeks, when they’re successful at that, they start working on tracing their names on the lines using lowercase letters. With my Name Practice Daily Sign-in System, you just type their names into the editable PDF and print them. Then they trace them:
And eventually, they’ll work up to tracing and writing their first and last names. This example shows the Handwriting Without Tears style lines. The set comes with both traditional lines (shown above) and HWT lines.
You can grab this resource for your classroom by clicking the image below. It’s also available in a booklet-style, which I created for one of my little sweeties who needed some accommodations.
Start introducing classroom tools.
My first year, I was so confused by the teachers in my building who were not letting their students use glue sticks or markers right away. They waited and taught a lesson about each school supply first. It took a couple years for me to figure it out, but then I got it.
Things run so much more smoothly when everybody knows how to use the classroom tools, how to take care of them, and what the expectations are. I made the mistake of assuming that all my kindergartners had experience with glue bottles and markers and scissors. In reality, many of them don’t have those kinds of things at home!
I started with markers. Before we even used them, I taught them how to take the covers off and how to make sure they get put back on all the way by listening for the click. Who knew they would get so excited to make their marker lids click? But it’s so fascinating for them!
Then I gave them this roll & color sheet and some dice. They practiced coloring carefully, staying in the lines, and making sure the lids clicked when they closed them. Click on either of the images to get the roll & color for FREE!
Play dough letters.
After surviving most of the first week of kindergarten, those kiddos are exhausted, so one go-to that I fall back on is play dough. It keeps them engaged, and you can do lots of learning with it. The first week, I just let them play with it for awhile, then asked them to make the first letter in their names. You could also use these alphabet play dough mats from Lavinia Pop.
And, before you know it, the first week of kindergarten is all wrapped up! You can go home to sleep, and plan, and sleep some more…and be proud of all you accomplished!
One thing I love is that sometime during that second week, you’ll suddenly realize, Wow! They’re getting it! I so love that moment, and I hope it comes for you sooner rather than later.
Let me know what your go-to activities are for the first week of kindergarten in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you!