As an experienced teacher, you know that students come to school with a wide range of experiences. For some children, the first day they step into your TK classroom will be the first time they ever spend an extended amount of time away from their families or primary caregivers. Others may have attended preschool and will know what to expect when they enter the classroom. Before the school journey begins, and during the first few days, you can use the following tips to ease the transition to TK for children and their families.
Countdown to TK: Engaging Families Before School Starts
- Talk to families or send postcards to them asking for information about the children’s favorite things to do, favorite foods, and strengths and challenges.
- Encourage families to talk about school with their children. These children’s books address some of the feelings that may come up for children as they transition to school.
- Arrange a picnic, “TK camp,” or other opportunities for families to come together before school starts.
- Ask parents of older kids who remember the challenges their children may have had with the first day of TK or kindergarten to come in and help out in the classroom.
- Assign additional staff, such as bilingual support staff, reading interventionists and special education teachers who may not yet have assignments, to be present in the classroom during the first days of school.
Easing the Transition to the Classroom: Welcoming Your New Lifetime Learners
- On the first day of school parents will likely be excited to share details about their child with you. These conversations are critical to learning how a child’s transition is coming along. Learning about your students’ home and life experiences beforehand will help with classroom management on the first day.
- If a child is having difficulty letting the parent go, share with the family that you know this is a sign of healthy attachment. Your goal as a teacher is ultimately to expand that positive connection to the classroom and school.
- Place simple, independent and engaging materials, such as playdough, puzzles, legos and other manipulatives, paper and crayons, out on tables so they are readily available for children who are ready to dive right into school activities on the first day. Materials should be inviting and relevant to children’s interests and culture.
- Music, group physical activities, puppets and food are all engaging ways to start establishing routines.
Keeping Children Engaged During the First Days and Weeks of TK
- Music allows children to wiggle and move, as well as introduces established group times. Select music that will be appealing to children from all backgrounds.
- Outdoor play is not only engaging and fun for young learners, but also builds a sense of camaraderie between children.
- Rather than reading directly from a book, use puppets to capture children’s attention during story time.
One of the great benefits of TK is that it offers children, and you as the teacher, the gift of time. This allows you to make room for flexibility in the structure of the daily schedule during the first days and weeks of school. Group time will help introduce the ideas of schedule and routine to children, but keep in mind that periods of time spent in groups will be shorter and less developed in the beginning. Teacher-directed work on the first day will likely be difficult, as will be reading time and anything that requires children to wait.
As you begin new activities, introduce the seeds of what will become staples in the children’s learning experience by acknowledging and articulating the steps involved in the activities. Engage children all along the continuum of pre-kindergarten experiences by building on what they like and know. Themes of coming to school, “all about me”, and friendship are natural pathways to relating with children’s experiences.
As your transitional kindergarteners begin to settle into the school experience, lesson planning and activities will be able to focus more on established routines. As you know, the first day of school is filled with energy and excitement in any grade. A room full of the youngest kindergarteners might be a brand new experience for you, too.
Ease the transition for both you and your students by remembering that many children may express healthy attachment to their family, beginning to build relationships with families prior to the first day of school, honoring the range of early childhood experiences present in the classroom and having quick access to activities for students all along the continuum.
Whit Hayslip is an Early Childhood Education Consultant and former Assistant Superintendent of Early Childhood Education, Los Angeles Unified School District. Elizabeth Magruder is an Early Childhood Education consultant and teacher.