I recently ran into the family of a child I taught in preschool two years ago, and my jaw nearly dropped to the floor. The shy, 4 four-year-old I once knew had blossomed into a tall, chatty, and confident 6-year-old who was excited about the upcoming first day of first grade.
I was excited for her, too, and so were her parents. After all, first grade is a huge academic step. During this important year, children go from early-reader books to more advanced fare like Frog and Toad Are Friends or even Ivy & Bean. They learn to write different types of texts, such as opinion pieces and narratives, affirms Scholastic. They sharpen their addition and subtraction skills and learn how to count by tens. In science class, they might study light, sound, electricity, or other topics, recording their observations as they go.
With all that learning to do, teachers have their work cut out for them. The week before school starts, they're back in the classroom, organizing their shelves, setting up their display boards, and perhaps decorating their doors with a fun "Welcome Back" theme. (A teacher supply store in mid-to-late August is as packed with shoppers as a Walmart at Christmas.)
Here, from the teachers themselves, is an insider look at how that first day of first grade goes down.
The Kids Will Ease Into the Day
Put to rest any fears you have about your child being subjected to a pop quiz or a history lecture the minute they walk in the door. These are still young children, and they need some time to settle in. On that first day, it's common for first-grade teachers to give the class a simple activity to do after they come in and put their backpacks away. They might be asked to draw a self-portrait, or play with pattern block mats.
They'll Learn (and Re-Learn) Rules
A room full of 6-year-olds can get rowdy pretty quickly (as you know if you've ever been inside a Chuck E. Cheese). To keep the class civilized, the teacher will spend a good portion of that first day — and possibly the second and third days, as well — explaining and practicing procedures such as coming to the meeting rug quietly, lining up for the bathroom and cafeteria, and walking to the dismissal area. By first grade, children are already used to these routines, but they still need a few practice runs to get the wiggles and giggles out of their system.
Patience is another virtue a teacher has to reinforce from the start. "They have to understand that there is only one teacher," says a teacher friend of mine who's a veteran at teaching first grade. "I can't help everyone at the same time, so learning how to wait is important."
They'll Organize Their Supplies
Some elementary schools ask that children bring in all their school supplies on the first day; others request that kids bring them in gradually over the course of the first week. Whichever policy your school has, it's a good idea to send your child in with at least a couple of notebooks, folders, and a set of pencils and crayons. To make things easier on both your child and their teacher, have the supplies labeled in advance. If you really want to earn brownie points, sharpen the pencils, too!
They'll Get to Know Each Other
The teacher will probably play an icebreaker game to help the class become comfortable as a group, even if most of them already know one another from kindergarten. Teacher Anna Brantley explained on her blog that she plays a game called "Grab a Question." She has a bucket full of paper slips with questions such as "What is your favorite food?" or "How many people are in your family?" Each student in turn picks a slip and answers the question.
They May Not Stay in the Same Room All Day
First-graders usually stay in a central homeroom for most of their subjects, but for certain classes, such as art and PE, they'll go as a group to the designated classroom. Part of the first-day routine will include a walk to the rooms the children will need to know, and an introduction to the teachers they'll have.
They'll Hear a Favorite Story
Even though this isn't their first experience in the classroom, first-graders are still subject to the back-to-school jitters. Knowing this, your child's teacher may read one or two books on the subject, such as The Kissing Hand, How Do Dinosaurs Go to School?, or First Grade, Here I Come! The library corner will be stocked with other books about the first-day experience.
They'll Do (a Little) Work
To get into the swing of learning, first-graders are often given a couple of simple tasks during the day. In the morning, the teacher might have the class practice independent reading for 10 minutes, encouraging them to do a picture walk first, then look for sight words that they know. In the afternoon, they might have a math activity, such as writing out numbers or creating a class chart on "How Did You Get to School Today?"
You'll Learn the Dismissal Routine
At pick-up time, an elementary schoolyard is a mass of eager, shouting kids and an equally big mass of parents and grandparents trying to find their child. Your child's school will have a specific protocol for dismissal; for example, in my daughter's school, each class lines up in a designated spot on the yard, and the parents stand behind a line and wait for the teacher to send each child over in turn. Following the routine will make the teacher's job easier and ensure that your child comes back to you safe and happy.