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All across the country, kids are folding themselves into new outfits, packing new backpacks, and crossing their fingers that they’ll find a friend or two in their new classroom. Parents are checking bus schedules and teachers are planning their first few months of lessons. It’s the start of another year of school!
It’s an incredibly exciting time, filled with expectation, nervousness, and excitement. Classrooms are amazing places where learning and growing coexist and topics like science, history, and reading make impacts on growing brains that will last a lifetime.
Check out this Back-to-School Classroom Guide for tips on making a classroom an inviting place full of potential! (These tips work great for libraries and homeschools, too!)
The old saying goes, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” and in some ways the first week of school can set the tone for the rest of the year.
Some teachers like to start off the school year by making sure their kids know what to expect in terms of discipline and academics. Others want to make sure the students see them as a resource, not just for learning but for personal problems as well. Others use these first few days to get to know their students’ academic interests and abilities.
Whatever your needs, try these back-to-school activities for your classroom to get the year off to the right start!
Supplies for each group
The marshmallow challenge is a fun way to get kids collaborating and introduce them to a creative use of STEM learning. Assign children into groups of two or three and hand each group a set of supplies. They get 18 minutes to build the tallest structure possible that can hold the marshmallow on top.
It’s a tough challenge! Remind your students that success always requires lots of mistakes, so if at first they don’t succeed, they know what to do! Don’t forget to measure and take pictures of the results.
Check out the original Marshmallow Challenge here!
Supplies for each group
Poor Fred the worm is stuck on top of his over-turned boat, while his life preserver is under the boat! How can you save Fred without touching him, the boat, or the life preserver with your hands? All you can use is four paper clips. This activity will get brains working and students talking to each other! You can learn more about the activity and see pictures here.
Create the Tallest Cup Tower
Supplies for each group
Cup stacking is an old activity that has gained new popularity! There are even cup stacking competitions that measure how fast people can stack and unstack plastic cups. Try presenting your students with the challenge of creating the tallest structures. All it takes is a set of plastic cups! Have them work in groups so they can collaborate with each other and learn more about their new classmates. And remember—the crashing cups are part of the learning process!
Have your students help each other through a maze! Mark a 4-by-4 grid on the floor with masking tape or tape sheets of paper to the floor in a grid pattern. Tell your students where the starting block is. Have them take turns trying to get through the maze—every time they step on a wrong block, blow a whistle. Their turn is over and the next person tries to remember all the correct steps while not repeating the mistakes of past players. Have the group try and help each other remember where to go!
Toilet Paper Game
Introduce a roll of toilet paper into any classroom and you’ll immediately get some laughs. Have each child pull off several squares of toilet paper (just tell them to take as much as they need without telling them what they’ll need it for). During circle time, each child tells as many things about themselves as they have squares of toilet paper. If you have three squares, you tell the group three things about yourself. You can limit the sharing by categories (foods you like to eat, places you want to visit, favorite books/movies/video games) or leave it open ended and see what the kids come up with!
An extra activity for parents!
At open house or orientation, create QR codes for parents to scan that lead them to the forms they need, contact information, or places online where they can find more information. Post these QR codes around the room so parents can learn more about their kids’ classroom experience!
Morning meetings are terrific opportunities to connect with your students, have them connect with each other, and set the tone for a day of enthusiastic learning! That’s a lot of benefits packed into 15-30 minutes a day!
Morning meeting programs are flexible according to the classroom. If you have a lot of wigglers in your class, you might hold a 5- to 7-minute meeting, not long enough for kids to get distracted. If your kids enjoy a lively discussion and have the capacity to focus for an extended period of time, your meeting might run much longer. Maybe you’ll incorporate academics in your meeting, or simply stick to reflection and sharing. It’s up to you!
Do you need some morning meeting ideas to jumpstart your own schedule? Maybe you’re looking for ideas to refresh the morning meeting you’ve been holding for years. Here are some tips on making your morning meetings an enthusiastic start to the day!
Greeting time is a great chance to wake up your kids’ imaginations, too. Instead of a standard, “Hello, how are you this morning,” type of greeting, set up a fun template for kids to follow. Hand around an object, such as a roll of masking tape, and have each child make up a funny identity for the object. For example, “Hello, my name is Karen and this is my spaceship.” See if everyone can come up with their own idea!
Morning meeting time is a great chance to practice the rules, respect, and enthusiasm that should be a part of every classroom. And don’t forget to have fun!
In many schools, you’ll find a plethora of colorful bulletin boards meant to inspire learning. Whether they’re themed for an upcoming holiday, meant to introduce students to a new academic concept, or are simply reflective of the character of the classroom, bulletin boards can be a way to connect with kids on a smart, entertaining level.
Bulletin boards also serve an important purpose by reaching out to kids who are in the most danger of being overlooked. You know the ones—they’re quiet, shy, well behaved, not any trouble, and they can easily ride the tide of classroom relationships without ever finding themselves beached at the teacher’s desk. Bulletin boards reach out to kids who might be introverted and in need of a little stimulation. Perhaps they’ll spot something on the board that is especially meaningful and realize that their teacher is a kindred soul they can trust.
Teachers might start the year full of bulletin board ideas, but as the months go on, we could all use a little creative help. Here are some bulletin ideas that are sure to make your classroom shine!
The Happy Wall
This bulletin board requires participation of students. Have every child write (or draw, for a younger class) several things that make them happy. They can use whatever colors, fonts, frames, and other decorations they like. Mount every word on a black background for a colorful wall of happy thoughts!
Great Mistakes in Science and Engineering
We celebrate lots of successful discoveries and experiments, but what about the oops moments? Those are just as important as the hurray moments! Help your kids discover that science and technology move forward whenever we make mistakes by posting a board of scientists and their downfalls that have resulted in great new inventions and knowledge. For example, if Alexander Fleming had been more careful with the cleanliness of his lab bench, penicillin might never have been found. And if Spencer Silver had succeeded in making a stronger glue instead of a weaker glue, we wouldn’t have Post-it notes! Speaking of Post-it notes…
Using three Post-it notes for each child, have them write down the answers to these questions:
Stick all answers to a bulletin board so students can try and guess who answered what!
Great First Lines from Books
“There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.” S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Make a bulletin board filled with great first lines of children’s literature! Try to choose lines from books your students might want to read, and be sure to have those books on hand in your classroom or at the school library, because it’s hard to read just one line!
Math + Bulletin Board = Extra Practice (Fun!)
Invite your kids to keep math in the front of their minds by posting a new problem on your math bulletin board each week. Students can write what they think is the answer on Post-it notes and stick them up there. At the end of the week, you can figure the problem out together!
One thing on the minds of every teacher is classroom management. You can’t teach a classroom full of unruly kids who aren’t listening to your words! How do you handle disruptive behavior in your elementary and middle school classrooms?
Here are some tips for classroom management that will help establish a pattern of respect and listening with your students without losing your temper, getting discouraged, or embarrassing anyone.
School days are busy days—there’s lots to fit into those 7 to 8 hours you have with your students! Don’t forget to remind your kids to take time to breathe.
It’s easy to forget about the restorative benefits of deep breathing and other relaxation techniques, but when used at the right time in the right way, these practices can go a long way to creating a healthy, balanced atmosphere where there’s room for learning, patience, kindness, and individual growth. And it’s not just your students who need to remember to breathe!
Think about your own day. Do you rush through every task, your mind several steps ahead looking forward to the next things? The next lesson, the next errand, the next meeting? It’s exhausting, isn’t it? We know that taking breaks from work and family to exercise, meditate, sit for a little while in nature, and enjoy a cup of tea are crucial to remaining healthy and happy. The better we take care of our brains, the better we can meet our obligations with a good attitude and capability. It’s no different for kids!
A five-minute break for relaxation, meditation, or yoga can do wonders for a classroom of kids, whether they’re in kindergarten learning about letter sounds or in high school learning how to dissect a cow’s eyeball. Here are some tips for your classroom!
During the course of a school year, teachers and librarians are likely to be with their students during some of the toughest moments. Whether a kid is socially anxious, overwhelmingly nervous about school work, working to manage emotions such as anger, or just needs the occasional calm-down, it’s the adults in the room who need to know how to help.
While there are students who have issues that would benefit from professional attention, many kids will appreciate simple calming techniques that are easy to teach and practice in the classroom. Let’s face it, we could all use more meditation, more breathing, more stretching, and more awareness in our lives!
By working alongside your students in a group effort to be calmer in the face of conflict, uncertainty, and a lack of confidence, you not only teach them excellent tools for engaging with the world, you also teach them that it’s a lifelong learning process, that you are still working with the same tools on the same issues. This is wonderful for them to see! You’ll help them avoid feelings of failure and defeat when they don’t “achieve” a calm frame of mind right away. They’ll use the skills they practice in your classroom or library to be healthier and happier far into the future.
Here are some terrific methods for getting kids to feel less anxious about their work, their home, their friendships, and themselves.