Besides spending the summer mentally and physically planning for the year ahead, I usually spent about two weeks arranging and rearranging furniture, painting old bookshelves, washing toys, vacuuming carpets and covering pinpricked bulletin boards with bright new paper or fabric, getting my classroom ready before school officially opened. Some of those days I just sat quietly, imagining what it would be like with 24 or 25 children busily playing in the different centers or sitting with me on the carpet singing This Old Man.
I was recently looking at my first day of school plans in an old plan book and I came across these notes to myself at the top of the page:
Monday, September 10, 1990
-Put up check in chart (add clips)
-Tape days – of – the – month birthday timeline to wall
-Collate letter for parents and add names
-Note to parents (put by door)
-Put out name tags
-Make a sign in chart with first names on chart paper
-Put magnetic name clips – on board? on chart board?
-Put out playdough
Whew! This was all to do in the morning before school began!
My major goals for the first few days of school were to help children and parents feel comfortable with me. I also wanted to be sure that the children ended the day feeling like they couldn’t wait to come to school the next day because it was such an exciting place to be and I wanted to make parents excited because their children couldn’t wait to come back to school the next day!
My first day of school really began on the summer day when I mailed a note to each student, introducing myself and telling them about some of the exciting parts of the kindergarten year ahead for them. One year, when I knew that we would be doing a bridge study with our fourth grade buddies, I wrote that we were going to become “bridge experts.” I asked the children if they could find or draw pictures of bridges that they might see over the summer. I sent a piece of blank paper along with my note to support this and gave them my address at school just in case they might want to mail me any pictures. When the children came into the class that first school day, they were greeted by a bulletin board filled with all of the bridge drawings, photos and cut out magazine pictures that I received in the mail.
The letter waiting for parents and caregivers that they found on a table by the entrance to the classroom usually began something like this: Welcome to this first day of kindergarten! Walk around the room and explore with your child. Help your child find the correct name- tag. There’s a big piece of chart paper that includes your child’s name for signing in. Don’t worry if your child doesn’t know how to write his or her name yet. You can let him write the first letter and you write the rest of the name or you write the name and say the letters to him. Believe me, each child will be writing his/her name just fine very soon! After signing in, settle your child at one of the activities that I have put out on the tables. When your child seems comfortable, give a kiss good-bye. (Please do not sneak out! Also, let me know when you’re leaving and if your child is having difficulty settling in.)
The letter went on to describe certain routines such as the daily schedule, lunch routines, supplies that children will need, how we celebrated birthdays and information about trip procedures. I wrote something about the work that we would be doing with our 4th grade buddies. I gave some information about the reading, writing and math that we would be doing but left the specifics for our upcoming curriculum meeting. At that meeting I would have the opportunity to expand on all aspects of the curriculum and answer parent’s questions.) However, I always wrote something about how Choice Time and Inquiry Projects were the heartbeat and core of my kindergarten program.
My letter usually ended by providing information about our “Getting-to-Know-Each-Other Family Picnic.” Here’s something from one of my first day letters: “On the evening of Friday, September 27th we will have a pot luck picnic in Prospect Park. We will meet near the picnic house at 5pm. Our 4th grade buddies and their families will join us. More information will follow, but be sure to mark the date on your calendar now!”
What children and families saw when they first walked into the classroom was (and still is) important in setting the tone for the year ahead. I thought carefully about what the room would “say” to the children and their families. These “visual comments” helped to guide me in my room arrangement and in what I put up on the walls to greet the children.
Surprisingly, it’s in a 1983 New York City Board of Education handbook for teachers, Getting Started in the All-Day Kindergarten, where I found significant information about the importance of involving parents in the kindergarten program. Some words from this out of print book are “Active parent/home involvement is an essential component of a successful kindergarten program. In the world of the five-year old, adults in the home environment act as both significant role models and teachers…Teachers can help parents become involved in the educational process in a number of different ways.” During the course of the school year, I provided many ways for both working and non-working parents to be a part of the life of the class. I believed strongly that a parent or caregiver’s first impression of the classroom and of me had to be positive and inviting. That’s why I was so careful to set up the room so that it could provoke a positive parent-child-teacher dialogue for the year.
Basically, the message that I wanted the room to convey was:
∗ I welcome you to this exciting, caring classroom
∗ You are now part of a community where we will cooperate and work together
∗ You are a very special part of this community
∗ Your work and your ideas are interesting and valued
∗ In this room you will have opportunities to be an explorer, a writer, a mathematician, a reader, an artist, an inventor and a scientist
∗ You are a literate person who can already do some reading and writing. We will all be helping you to know more about reading and writing and we will all be learning together.
∗ In our community we celebrate each other’s achievements.
∗ Because we are a community, there will be times when we all come together to meet as a group.
∗ Because you are a unique individual, there will be times when you want a private place to be alone with your thoughts.
∗ We value and seek out each other’s ideas and we have places to meet together in small groups.
∗ We are a community that always shows respect and compassion for each other and for all living things.
How did I set up a room that communicates these thoughts?
What happened when the children came to school the first few day?
I’ll try and answer these important questions in my next two blog postings.