The smell of new planners, pencils, and composition books is in the air — it’s almost time to start a new school year! But with about 50 million k-12 students across the U.S. getting ready to head back to the classroom, it’s all too easy to let that first day back to school feel a little hectic or thrown together.
To make the most of the upcoming school year, though, it’s best for teachers, parents, and students to plan ahead. Taking the time to plan for the first day of school means fewer headaches for teachers, fewer morning battles with sleepy students for parents, and a positive attitude for students who are ready and eager to learn. Here’s how to ensure a first day back to school is a success:
Preparing for the first day of a new school year actually starts when the previous school year ends. Parents who encourage their children to stay busy and productive during their summers off are giving them a big leg up come back-to-school time. That’s because many students struggle with the transition from free-for-all summers to the structure of the classroom environment when school starts again. Parents can help their students add structure to their summers by enrolling them in summer sports teams, sleepaway camps, or summer reading programs. Older children and teens can also explore volunteering opportunities and summer jobs, which have the added bonus of looking good on a college resume.
Keeping kids busy is only part of the summer prep equation. Students must be emotionally prepared to return to school as well. To help their children prepare emotionally, parents should exhibit enthusiasm about the start of school and encourage their children to talk to them about any concerns they may have. If a child is starting school at a new location, parents can quell his or her anxiety by doing a “test run” a few days before school starts, visiting the school itself and locating the student’s classrooms. This can significantly reduce first-day jitters.
Fully prepared teachers can also make the transition back to school easier — both for themselves and their anxious students. For a stellar first day, teachers should consider having ready:
To keep the week or so leading up to school less hectic, teachers can start planning their classroom layouts and decorations any time during the summer. But be wary of over-preparing for the first day. Students will surely be rowdy and talkative as they catch up with old friends and make new ones on the first day back. Give students time to re-acclimate themselves to the school setting by preparing a light, fun, and welcoming first day.
One thing that both teachers and students should do before school starts is re-adjust to a regular sleeping schedule. The 7, 6, or even 5 am wake-up call on the first day of school will go a lot smoother if you’re prepared. If you or your child’s sleep schedule has been inconsistent all summer, start readjusting by first determining how much sleep is required based on age (younger children and adults need less sleep than teenagers, for example). Then, gradually start waking up and going to sleep earlier. If you start re-adjusting a month or so out from school, waking up 15 minutes earlier each day should do the trick. Remember to also adjust your nighttime activity so you’re not interacting with a lot of artificial light — like the glow of the T.V. — right before bed, which can affect sleep cycles. Getting a good night’s rest is linked to both healthy brain function and emotional well-being, which are a must for a good start to school.
When it comes to preparing a classroom for the first day of school, teachers don’t need to reinvent the wheel; there are plenty of resources they can turn to for assistance. Here are four online resources that can ease the burden of back-to-school planning for educators:
A first-day-of-school checklist that covers preparation musts related to the classroom, student/parent communication, and instruction
A list of interactive learning games designed to get students to cooperate with one another, perfect for a first-day icebreaker
A guide to creating and organizing an enticing classroom library
A collection of the 50 best apps for teaching and learning, curated by Teachthought
Teachers should also look to their schools for first-day support; craft supplies and lesson plan support may be available. And if teachers plan on using multimedia in the classroom on the first day of school — like the T.V. or projector — they should work with the school’s I.T. team to ensure everything’s in place and arrive early to test out the technology as well. A little planning can go a long way in ensuring teachers make strong, enthusiastic impressions on their students on the first day of school.