5 Activities to Build Community on the First Day of School and All Year Long!
As I greet the children coming in on the first day, I can't help but feel that same excitement that only the start of a new year can bring. That very first day they become "my kids" to guide, plan for, and love watching grow over the course of a year.
Each year, some are curious, wondering what this whole school thing is all about. Others look nervous. Some still may have tears in their eyes after saying goodbye to parents and are close by a teacher. A few are bouncing with excitement as they see all of the opportunities to explore! When I see their faces with all different emotions, I am reminded how important it is that each child feel welcome, know they are safe, and develop a love of learning.
So starting on my first day of school it is
very important for me to begin developing a
classroom community. Why, you may wonder
would classroom community be a priority?
With all of the classroom assessments,
lesson plans, Individual education goals
to review, why begin the year building a
community with children this young?
The main reason is that more and more children are coming to Kindergarten without the ability to socialize, share, and have the self help skills they need to succeed. Children at this age are just figuring out what it means to be human!
So how can this be done you may wonder with children who are developmentally in the egocentric stage of development? The morning meeting is about focusing on the child, togetherness, social skill development, and communication. You can still continue to read stories and have a mini lesson as their attention spans grow. But the focus is on helping the child learn more about themselves and how they have similarities, differences, and develop listening skills within the group.
The effort put in to teach and build community helps children learn to self regulate and manage themselves. So halfway through the year or sometimes even earlier you can see children internalize and work out problems on their own.
What happens before circle time is equally important and can set the tone for the day. Greeting each child in the morning whether it is a simple Hello or a fun handshake and providing a task to focus on can set a positive tone for the school day.
These Five Steps help develop a Community of Learners
1. Meet together with a Song, Class Poem, or Chant
The first thing we will do is to gather everyone together each day and begin with a song. Music has a powerful ability to add an exciting, welcoming touch to mornings and help children who may not have had the best morning at home start the day off on a better note. Some songs I use in the classroom are simple so they can easily learn them in the beginning of the year. The "Friends" song uses sign language and repeats and is a quick song which helps when children's attention spans are shorter in the beginning of the year. It also helps as a nice tie in to discussing how to be a good friend in our class. The song is below.
The Friends Song
Friends, Friends 123
(Children use sign language for Friends and the numbers)
All my friends are here with me!
Your my friend, Your my friend, Your my friend
( Children point to their friends and use the sign for friend.)
Friends, Friends 123
All my friends are here with me!
Midway through the year I often switch the song to an upbeat song by Jack Hartman! He has a great morning song called, "Let's Start this Day!" which is on his Hip Hop Alpha Bop CD Vol. 2! This gives children an opportunity to tap their knees, say good morning and gives a welcoming tone to the morning!
Towards the end of the year I switch to an active morning song that involves partner work. This song is from Dr Jean and is called "Hello Friend". It is fun for children to greet their friend with a handshake, boogie on down, give a fist bump, and turn around! This is a very fun active song which can be perfect at the end of the year.
2. Have children become part of the creating the rules together and review and model them weekly.
Even though children are young they often know right away that they do not like to be hit and do not want anyone to take their toys. These simple discussions about what makes a happy classroom are helpful. I often write down the children's words on chart paper after reading a story about a Monster who came to school. We talk about what we don't want in our classroom then the children model and help the Monster learn the rules at school. By the end of the story and discussion we have a list of some general safety rules.
The next day, I show children the poster of the rules
have children sign a contract with their fingerprints and recite a pledge individually or as a class.
They may come up in front of the class and repeat, "I promise to do my best to keep out classroom happy and safe." and everyone gives them applause.
After about 6 weeks children may begin to test boundaries and need visuals
with happy choices and sad choices.
Morning meetings are perfect for reviewing the rule chart,discussing and modeling how to ask for a toy instead of taking, and how to put toys away often need modeled two to three times a week before they begin to internalize this skill.
3. Ask the Question of the Day
Asking the question of the day allows each child to be heard and individually communicate with the teacher and learn about their peers. Sometimes I will read the story first and then ask a question related to the book. Other times I may want to find out what they know about a topic first and engage them in discussing their experiences such as raking leaves or making a snowman. I love the Fall, Winter, Christmas, Spring, and Summer Question of the Day at www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Little-Detectives-Preschool The Summer questions are good for the beginning of the year as well as children can reflect on fun times they have had at the beach and fair! Click here for the FREE Summer Question of the Day and The Fall Question of the Day!
I have found that question of the day opens communication at circle time, enhances counting and graphing as well as gives them opportunities to learn vocabulary words such as more and less.
4. Teach and Model Social Skills and Routines At Circle
Problem solve with the children and discuss any problems that arose during the day. One common problem that seems to happen with young children which can cause frustration is the idea that the chair that they are in is their chair even when they may go across the room to play with Mr. Potato Head. So we often have to teach and model for the children that when they get up unless it is to pick up a table toy that has fallen that chair is open to other boys and girls to sit in. This can then be discussed the next day if a solution has not been met.
As the year goes on you may find that some children have difficulty with emotions and may feel angry and need help verbalizing. Or you may find that lining up is particularly difficult for children so you can discuss this and take opportunities to model the skill that is needed during that time.
5. Delegate Helper of the Day or an Individual Job Chart This is very common but I feel it is such an important piece because it enables children to have autonomy and feel they are contributing and are an important part of the classroom. Having a plant helper, door holder, and janitor children can learn important life skills at a time when they are wanting to do things on their own.
Some of my favorite books I currently us for morning meeting compliment the Feeling Buddies series as well.