The first days of Infants
You are getting prepared for your new infant class in September. You have your displays done, your resources ready and even your outfit planned. But what do you actually do when the children come in? What should you do to help settle them? To help them have a good impression of the school? Here are a few ideas to help you plan your first day!
Below is a rough plan for the first day of school. For many schools, infants will only attend school for a shorter day for the first week or so hence why my suggestions are only for a half-day. Some teachers will be familiar with the children coming in (from pre-school visits, induction days, having older siblings in the school etc) or some may be starting from never having met any of the children before. Regardless of how familiar/unfamiliar you are with the children coming into your class, I hope you find the suggestions useful!
I always have name stickers ready for the children as they arrive at school. I stick them on their jumper/t-shirt where they can be clearly seen. This is not only helpful for me, but for other members of staff and older children in the school too. The children will naturally feel more relaxed if the adults know who they are, or appear to anyway. I also wear a sticker myself, with my name on it. The parents may not know my name (if we haven’t met) or they may have forgotten it (the induction day was a very long time ago!). It is also a nice ice breaker for introducing yourself to the children.
There isn’t much formality to the first few days of school so I try to make the classroom one big invitation to play by having toys out on the tables, Lego on the carpet area etc. The children are more likely to be drawn to the toys and the other children and you will have less of a struggle separating them from their parents.
Hopefully, all the children will have arrived and it is time to, politely, ask the parents to leave. If you have a parent who seems reluctant to leave it can be helpful to talk to their child, with them in earshot, about them leaving such as ‘I bet you can’t wait to see all the exciting things we have planned and you can tell mummy all about it when she picks you up’ or ‘Let’s give mammy a big hug and tell her we will see her really soon’. It is very common to have children who are upset on the first few mornings. The key, while it might seem like the hardest and cruellest thing to do, is to get the parent out of your class. Be sure to give both the parent and the child plenty of positive encouragement – ‘Jonny will be ly happy but if he’s not we will call you, ‘Mammy will be back after our playtime and you can tell her about all your new friends’ etc. From plenty of experience, the longer mum or dad stays in your room, the more hysterical the child (and possibly the parent) will get. I found this poem a few years ago and have loved it ever since. I give it to parents every year and it can also be a nice way to gently get them to leave – pop the poem in an envelope and simply say ‘here is something nice to read in the car’.
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As soon as mum or dad is gone, distraction is the key. Distract them by introducing them to another child, showing them something in the classroom or inviting them to play with a toy. They will stop crying and be perfectly fine.
Once all the parents have left I will usually get the children to come to the carpet area and I will chat to them about myself. I will have a bag of items from home to show them and to help them get to know me and become comfortable in my care. The items in your bag are totally up to you – it depends on how much personal information you want to give your class. I usually have my ‘favourite teddy bear’ (who will become our class bear as he will love being in school with us so much!), a picture of my dogs – they always love this, pictures of my children and my house. You could put in something of your favourite colour, a picture from your holiday, your favourite book (you could use this as your first story session), a picture of your favourite hobby, your favourite tv programme or movie, a medal you have won etc. I’ve always found this session helps the children relax into school as they begin to feel familiar in their surroundings.
While I have the children on the carpet area I will talk to them about the classroom and where various things are that may be of interest to them -the toilets, where their coats are kept, the bags, toys, library, roleplay area etc. You may or may not want to discuss some basic class rules at this stage too, or you may choose to leave that until a later time. I find that it’s always helpful to cover them as early as possible so everyone starts on the same page and expectations and boundaries are clear.
Rules don’t have to be negative and scary and I always refer to them as classroom promises rather than rules! It is recommended that it’s best to come up with your rules/promises in conjunction with the class. They will have a better understanding of them as they can be discussed and reasoned in partnership with the children. For infants especially, you will need to do a certain amount of scaffolding when forming the promises. I generally lead my class to, generally, the following promises:
We will be kind to our friends
We will keep our hands to ourselves
We will sit nicely
We raise our hands to speak
We listen carefully when someone is speaking
If you like our class promises, you can download them from our online store.
This may be the time where you might like to discuss or practice some classroom routines such as lining up, coming to the carpet, pushing our chair in etc. I like to practice lining up at this point as I will bring the children on a walking tour of the school. We will visit each of the other classes and see some key areas such as the playground, where we line up with the bell rings etc. This tour will usually take us up to our break time. While the children are eating their snacks the children from the senior end (5th/6th class) will come in and I will pair the infants up with an older student. Their buddy will look after them in the playground for the first week or so and can be useful for other things such as school assemblies, church services, sports day etc.
After their first play in the playground, I generally let the play continue in the classroom. I will use this time to move around the classroom and speak to the children. I will get them to introduce themselves in the small groups which they naturally create. This can be a good time to collect some information, some basic oral language assessment etc and it may be handy to have something to record some notes on with you. I will take a picture of each child as I move around too. The main purpose of this is for each child’s assessment file, but I will also use the pictures for an ‘Our First Day At School’ display which I will make after the children go home and have ready for when they come to school tomorrow.
As we will be going home soon, it is important to get the children to tidy up their toys. This can simply be putting the toys into the boxes on the tables, but it is important to set the expectation that this is the job of the children each day, and not yours. Once we have tidied up I will generally get the children to come to the carpet, encouraging them to remember the routine from earlier in the morning and I will read them a story. I like to read some sort of a ‘starting school’ theme book such as ‘Cliffords First Day At School’ and I will get the children to tell me something positive about their first day at school. You may like to record these and you could print them as statements under the display I mentioned earlier. I think it’s important to ensure that they leave with something positive fresh in their minds as they are going out to their parents who will, no doubt, be eager to hear all about the day’s adventures.
I am always very careful when dismissing the children. It is very important to ensure that each child goes with the right adult. Take your time to get to know the parent’s faces. It will take a while to match each adult with the right child, but this is very important. Be sure to start this practise from day one! I never let a child leave the classroom/the home line until they are called by me (when I see their adult).
So you have survived the first day – congratulations! Now what?
It’s over to you! You will repeat today and will gradually aim to put more structure on your days as each day goes by. You will quickly get to know your class, and all the little personalities in it and will get a feel for how best to steer them into the routines that you want for your classroom. Enjoy them and have fun!
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