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Tips & Activities for the First Days of the School Year


SDE presenter and teacher-favorite, Dr. Jean Feldman shares some of her time-tested favorite activities and songs to help jump-start the fun and learning of your early elementary classroom. Watch to discover practical and easy tips to help get your students comfortable with you and their classmates, and help them get ready for learning.

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I like you, there’s no doubt about it. I like you, there’s no doubt about it. I like you, there’s no doubt about it. You are my good friend. You know it’s often been said people don’t care how much you know until, they know how much you care, and it’s so true with those children starting school. This is a picture of me on my first day of kindergarten. It was one of the most exciting days of my life. And, this is a picture of my grandson K.J., a couple of years ago. I think his expression says it all. It’s fear, and joy, and excitement, and all of those things were all together. So, thank you for joining me for a few minutes, as I share some of the things I’ve gathered over my 40-plus years as a teacher. Things that will help you start your year in a positive way. Children love their names, and so I’m going to do a few name chants with you. One of them, I’m sure you know is, who ate the cookie from the cookie jar? And, you can get a little box of cookies, and eat them yourself, and then you can write the children’s names on cookies, and pull them out as you say the chant. I’ll do a few names. “Who ate the cookie from the cookie jar? Zander ate the cookie from the cookie jar.” “Who me?” “Yes you.” “Couldn’t be!” “Then who?” Now you can also make cookies out of cardboard, and write their name on the front, and put their photo on the back. And, with this one if you have a spatula, you can put them on the floor and they can flip them over, and they can read their friends names. You could even do this as a morning routine. As they sit in a circle, put their cookies on the floor and they can take turns flipping the cookies over. You can also use cookies made out of foam. Put their photograph on the top, and put magnetic tape on the back. They could find their cookie as they come to school, and put it up on the board. And, later on in the year, you could use this for question of the day. Where you would write a question, like do you wear, do you have pockets today? And, they could take their cookie and put it under yes, or under no. Here’s another chant with names it’s called Hicketty Picketty. “Hicketty piketty, bumblebee, who can say their name for me? Marcus, Marcus, clap it, Marc-us. Whisper it, Marcus. No sound. Hicketty picketty bumblebee, who can say their name for me? Sophia. Clap it, Sophia. Whisper it, Sophia. No sound.” And, you can see how good that is for phonological, and breaking words down into syllables a little bit later on. Here’s another chant, chant it’s shaky-shaky. “Jason, Jason, sick in bed. Called the doctor and the doctor said,” “Come on Jason, you’re not sick. All you need is an exercise trick. So, stand up, and shaky-shaky. Get down, and shaky-shaky. Turn around, and shaky-shaky. Sit down, and shaky-shaky.” And, as you use each child’s name in the chant, they can stand up and do the motions. I never force a child to participate. If you have a shy child, you might say would you like me to use your name? And, they can have a choice whether you use their name or not. Here are a few songs, and activities to help children feel special. This one, if you get an old box, and place a mirror inside the box, you can tell the children that the most amazing and incredible thing in the whole wide world is in the box, and then, you pass it around and wait until you see their little faces, when they see their picture in the mirror. Another song I like to do is where I would pull one child at a time, and have them sit in my lap, and I would put my arms around them as I sing. “Jimmy is important, important, important. Jimmy is important, to you, and to me. At work, and at play, he does his best each day. Jimmy is important to you, and to me. Jimmy I’m so glad you’re part of our classroom family.” All of these things we can do to talk about our team, or our family help children feel apart of the community you are trying to create. Now, this is one I remember from when I was in kindergarten. You get a picture frame, and you can put some fake jewels on it, and then you can use it like this. “I’m looking through my window. I’m looking through my window. I’m looking through my window and I see my friend Carlos.” And, then I would pass the mirror to Carlos, and Carlos could look through the window and call out a friend’s name. And, here’s my little red box. All you have to do is cover a box in red paper, and then you can take your name cards, and put them in there, and you can sing this song, “I wish I had a little red box to put my Raymond in. I’d take him out and go smooch, smooch, smooch, and put him back again. I wish I had a little red box to put my Lily in. I’d pull her out and go smooch, smooch, smooch, and put her back again.” Now if you didn’t want to take him out and go smooch, smooch, smooch, you could take him out and go hug, hug, hug. Or, you can take him out and go how do you do. Or, you could take him out and give him a high-five, lots of different ways. Name cards are something you definitely want to make to use at the beginning of the school year. You can use these for a lot of the songs that you sing, and you can use them for other activities. I found at the beginning of the year, if you use their photograph and you say who can read this word? They’ll say Lily, and then, you can say you are so smart! Kiss your brains, you just started kindergarten and you can already read! Before children read words, they read pictures. So, this is an empowering thing to do with them. You can use these when you’re dismissing them to go to learning centers. You can use these to dismiss them to wash their hands. You could use these for all sorts of different grouping activities. Now after they get really good at recognizing each other’s names, then you can make names with just, without the photograph, and just use their regular name. You can also use names as a springboard to talk about letters, and build other reading skills you can use throughout the year. Let’s just use Andy’s name, and let’s cheer it, “Give me an A, A. I’ve got an A. You’ve got an A. Give me an N. N. I’ve got an N. You’ve got an N. Give me a D. D. I’ve got a D. You’ve a D. Give me a Y. Y. I’ve got a Y. You’ve got a Y. What’s it spell? Andy! Say it again Andy! On more time! Andy!” Now I could write Andy’s name on the board, and use that to talk about karate writing. So, if I wrote a n d y on the board boys and girls, it has four letters, and it says somebody’s name. Whose name is that? Aren’t you smart? Yes, that’s Andy’s name, and we are going to do Andy’s name with karate writing. For letters that start at the top like that A, we’re going to punch up high, and for letters that start in the middle, like here, like N, we’re going to, we’re to punch here. And, for that Y, that letter that has a tail, we’re going to give a little kick. Let’s do Andy’s name in karate writing. A, N, D, Y, Andy. We can also use names to do syllables. We could clap out Andy’s syllables. An-dy. We could snap out Andy’s syllables. An-dy. We could jump Andy’s syllables. An-dy. We could wiggle Andy’s syllables. An-dy. And, we could go on all day making movements for the syllables in the children’s names. Now, you all know Batman. You could get a file folder, and make the shape of a bat, and in the file folder insert the children’s names. And then, use this for alliteration. Mmm mmm mmm mmm, Max. Ttt ttt ttt ttt, Tasha. Jjj jjj jjj jjj, Josie. They won’t realize your building a foundation for reading when you’re doing all these fun name activities. You can also make letter necklaces for their names. And so, all you have to do is get some string, and a circle, and write letter on their name, that their name starts with, and then they would wear this, and sing a song like this, “H is for Hillary, that’s good enough for me. H is for Hillary, that’s good enough for me. H is for Hillary, that’s good enough for me. Oh, Hillary, Hillary, Hillary starts with H.” Or, you could make some really, cool rapper necklaces. Let the children decorate a cardboard letter that their name starts with, with bling-bling, and they could wear these as you do different letter activities. One of my favorite ones is, “Yo, L, it’s your birthday. Let’s all read, like your birthday. Ull ull ull ull ull ull ull ull.” Another thing you can do with letters and children’s names is Unifix cubes. And, put little sticky dots on there, and they can put these together, and make their names. If, you had this in a center with a list of the children in the room, their pictures, their little names, and Unifix cubes, they could take these, and put them together, and make their different friends’ names. You can also make name puzzles. So, if you put their name on the front, and then wrote their name on a sentence strip, and if you cut between the letters, so it looks like a puzzle. When they put it together then they will have their name. I don’t have enough fingers for this, do I? And, you can have a self-check on the back. So, after they put it together they can check and make sure they did it the right way. Another thing that I like to do with children’s names, and this is another pre-reading activity, is to get an envelope, and cut off the left end. And then, put their sentence strip with their name in here, and have them give you a drum roll, and, I’m going to pull out one letter at a time. Let’s see who’s name this could be. Oh, there’s a letter K. Whose name could this be? Kuh kuh kuh, it could be Keith. It could be kuh kuh Karen. Yeah, could be Karen. Let’s see the next one. A. Could it be Keith? Nope, not Keith. Still could be Karen, couldn’t? Let’s look at the next letter. Oh, there’s an R. Smile at me if you think you know who’s name this is. It wasn’t Karen. I fooled you. It was Kareem, wasn’t it? There’s his name. And, you would pull out one letter at a time. And, this is something that children will do later on when they read, is look at one letter at a time and predict what the word might be. Now, if you take photographs of the children the first couple days of school and run off multiple, multiple copies of their photographs, you can use them for lots of different activities throughout the year. One thing you can do is, you make little people puppets with their pictures. And then, they can talk to their friends, and put on puppets shows, and sing songs, and work out problems. Another thing that you can do is put their picture on toilet paper rolls, and you’ve got some little puppet people, and these are great in the block center, for the characters that they can build, and create houses for. You can also use a lot of these photographic ideas for math activities. For example, what’s your favorite kind of pizza, pepperoni or cheese? And they would take their puppet, or the little toilet paper person, and put it by their favorite type of pizza. Estimate which one has more, which one has less. You can count to verify their guess. You can even tie in some of the inequality marks. This one, I have clothespins, with the children’s pictures on the clothespins. You could keep these in a little cookie tin. You can pull these out and use these for question activities. You could use these to send children to get their hands washed for lunch, and lots of different activities. A few other things to do with children’s names, you can make lotto cards. Where they would match up their picture and their names. You can also use these to play a concentration game, where you put them on the floor face down, and they pull them up, and try to match up names and pictures. I feel a little nostalgic talking about the beginning of the school year, because, I have so many fond memories of such an exciting time, and I just wish you the very best year ever. I think you have to remember that for some of the children this is going to be the best year of their life. It’s never going to get any better than it is with you. And so, I will close with a little song. “May there always be sunshine. May there always be blue skies. May there always be children. May there always be you. May there always be stories. May there always be music. May there always be teachers, as special as you.” Have the best year ever.

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