As a former teacher with many years spent enthusiastically navigating the vibrant chaos of elementary classrooms, I know firsthand the whirlwind that the first day of school represents. The anticipation, the jitters, the sea of new faces – it’s a day of nervous excitement for students and teachers alike. Now, as an educator sharing insights in the edtech landscape, I’ve continued my journey of nurturing curious minds, albeit from a different vantage point.
One of the most important tasks we face as educators on that inaugural day is to foster a welcoming environment that makes our young learners feel safe, seen, and excited for the year ahead. This isn’t just about decorating your classroom or mastering your lesson plans. It’s about creating an atmosphere of warmth and inclusivity, where each child feels that they belong and can’t wait to embark on a year-long journey of discovery and growth.
In the spirit of helping you shape a memorable and impactful first day of school, I’m excited to share a collection of activities that have proven effective over the years. These activities are not just fun-filled, but they also lay the groundwork for a harmonious and productive classroom culture. They’ve been tested in the live-wire environment of actual classrooms, refined over time, and now, I hope, they’ll find a home in yours as well.
From creative ice-breakers that get students talking, to collaborative projects that highlight the value of teamwork, these activities are designed to help you connect with your students, understand them better, and kick off the school year on a high note. So, let’s dive in!
First Day of School Activities for Elementary Students
Here are some practical suggestions for first day of school activities for elementary students:
1. “All About Me” Posters
This activity allows students to introduce themselves creatively to their classmates and you.
Provide each student with a blank poster and art supplies.
Guide them to draw or write about important and fun aspects of their lives on their posters. They can share about their family members, favorite foods, hobbies, pets, their favorite color, or a fun fact about themselves.
Once the posters are complete, students can present their posters to the class. This not only helps students practice their presentation skills but also allows everyone to get to know each other in a fun and personal way.
2. Classroom Tour
It’s essential for students to know where different resources are in the classroom. A classroom tour can familiarize students with their new learning environment.
You can guide the students around the classroom, pointing out specific areas, such as the reading corner, art supplies, bathroom, and emergency exits.
Highlight where they can find classroom resources such as books, games, materials for different subjects, or where they can keep their personal items.
You can turn this into an interactive activity by giving students a checklist of locations to find or creating a fun scavenger hunt with clues leading to different areas of the classroom.
3. Story Time
Reading a story to your students on the first day can not only calm any first-day jitters but also set the tone for a caring and inclusive classroom environment.
Choose a children’s book that discusses themes relevant to starting school or the classroom values you want to instill. This could include themes like friendship, sharing, inclusivity, or overcoming nervousness.
Some book suggestions might include “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn, which deals with separation anxiety, or “Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes, which addresses teasing and appreciating everyone’s unique qualities.
After reading the book, lead a discussion about the themes in the story and how they might apply to your students’ experience at school. For instance, ask them how they would show kindness to a new friend or what they can do if they’re feeling nervous.
4. Time Capsule Activity
This is a wonderful way for students to reflect on their experiences and growth over the course of the school year.
Each student can draw a picture or write about their favorite summer activity or their expectations for the school year. Younger students might draw, while older students might write a short paragraph or two.
Collect all the drawings or writings and place them into a “time capsule” — this could be a decorated shoe box or a large envelope.
Store the time capsule somewhere safe in the classroom and decide on a date at the end of the school year to open it. This can be a fun and meaningful way to see how much students have grown and changed throughout the year.
5. Circle Time Introductions
This activity fosters a sense of community and encourages students to share about themselves.
Have students sit in a circle. Start by introducing yourself, sharing your name, and something unique or interesting about you.
Then invite students to do the same, one at a time. They can share their name, their favorite hobby, their favorite food, or any fun fact about themselves.
Ensure that the environment is supportive and respectful, allowing each student to feel comfortable sharing.
6. Paper Chain of Kindness
This activity promotes empathy and acknowledgment of kind deeds.
Provide each student with a strip of colored paper. Ask them to write down a kind act they did over the summer. It could be helping their parents, taking care of a sibling, helping a friend, or even something simple like watering plants.
Once all students have written their acts of kindness, they can link their pieces of paper together to create a “kindness chain.”
This chain can be hung in the classroom as a visual reminder of the importance of kindness. Throughout the year, you can continue to add to the chain whenever students perform acts of kindness in the classroom, fostering an ongoing emphasis on kindness and empathy.
Here are more books to teach kids about social emotional learning.
7. Crafts Activity
Engaging students in a craft activity not only allows them to express their creativity, but also aids in developing fine motor skills and concentration.
Choose a simple craft that matches a theme of the class or something just for fun. For instance, if your theme for the month is “The Ocean,” students could make paper plate fish or sea creature bookmarks.
Provide clear instructions and necessary materials. Encourage students to use their imagination and creativity.
Once the crafts are complete, you could create a display area in the classroom where students can showcase their work.
8. Group Games
Group games are excellent icebreakers and also promote team-building and cooperation.
Games such as the parachute game require teamwork and cooperation. Students stand in a circle holding the parachute and work together to make it move in different ways, such as making waves or tossing foam balls in the air.
“Simon Says” is another great game that encourages active listening and following directions. You can be “Simon” to start and then let students take turns leading the game.
Always emphasize the importance of fair play, respect for others, and having fun rather than winning.
9. Friendship Salad
This activity can serve as a metaphor for how everyone contributes to the community and how each person’s unique contribution is important.
Ask each student to bring a piece of fruit from home (ensure to check for any allergies within your classroom beforehand).
Discuss with students how each piece of fruit is unique, with its own taste and texture, just like each student in the class is unique and brings their own “flavor” to the group.
As you combine all the fruit into a salad, explain that when we all work together, we create something beautiful and delicious — a “friendship salad.”
Enjoy the salad together as a class, celebrating the start of a wonderful school year filled with learning and friendship.
10. Create Class Rules
It’s important to establish a set of guidelines or rules that will govern the classroom environment. When students participate in the creation of these rules, they are more likely to follow them and hold each other accountable.
Initiate a discussion about what kind of classroom environment they would like to have. This should encompass how they interact with each other and you, how they engage with their work, and how they should act within the classroom.
Facilitate the brainstorming of possible class rules. This can range from how to respect each other, taking turns to speak, keeping the classroom tidy, to how to ask for help when needed.
Once a list of rules is agreed upon, write them down and hang them in a visible place in the classroom. You might also consider having each student sign the list of rules as a pledge to follow them.
11. Ice Breaker Ball Game
This game is a fun way to break the ice and allow students to learn more about each other.
Stand in a circle with your students and have a soft ball or bean bag that is easy to catch.
Start the game by saying your name and sharing something about yourself, such as your favorite food, then toss the ball to a student.
The student who catches the ball then shares their name and something about themselves before tossing the ball to another student.
Continue the game until all students have had a chance to share. It’s a fun way to learn each other’s names and interests.
12. “Getting to Know You” Bingo
This game helps students get to know each other and encourages interaction.
Before the game, prepare a bingo card for each student. The squares might include statements like “Has been to a concert,” “Loves pizza,” “Has a pet dog,” “Can play a musical instrument,” etc.
Distribute the bingo cards and explain the game to the students. Their task is to find classmates who fit each of the squares and have them sign or mark that square.
The first student to fill a row (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally) and shouts “Bingo!” is the winner. This activity promotes communication among students and allows them to discover common interests and experiences.
12. Personalized Door Decorations
This is a fun, artistic activity that allows students to contribute to the classroom environment, making it feel more like a shared, welcoming space.
Choose a shape for the decorations that relates to your classroom theme. For instance, if your theme is “ocean,” the shapes could be various sea creatures; if it’s “space,” they could be stars, planets, or rockets.
Give each student a cut-out shape and allow them to decorate it as they wish, perhaps with their name, a drawing, or some decorative patterns.
Once completed, hang these decorations on the classroom door or around the room. This personalizes the classroom and makes each student feel like they have a place in it.
13. Teacher Q&A
Students are often curious about their teachers, and allowing them to ask you questions can help break down barriers and foster a more relaxed and open classroom atmosphere.
Set aside some time for a Q&A session. You can start by sharing a few fun facts about yourself to get the ball rolling.
Encourage students to ask questions. They may want to know about your favorite books, your pets, or why you became a teacher. Make sure to guide students to ask appropriate and respectful questions.
This activity not only helps students feel more connected to you, but it also models the curiosity and respect for others you want to foster in your classroom.
14. Learning Styles Survey
Understanding your students’ preferred learning styles can greatly assist in planning your lessons and teaching methods.
Create a simple survey with questions designed to uncover how your students prefer to learn. This could include questions to find out if they prefer learning by listening, seeing, doing, or a combination of these.
Allow students to complete the survey in class and discuss the idea of different learning styles. Highlight that there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ style, just different preferences.
Collect the surveys and use this information to help plan future lessons. You can try to incorporate various teaching methods to cater to different learning styles in your classroom, making learning more accessible and engaging for all your students.
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