3 Ways to Kick off the New School Year on a Fun Note

A pre-K teacher in Texas shares her tactics for making those first few days a positive experience for students and parents.

By Erica Bristor

Remember being a little kid, running around with friends, playing tag, and finger-painting? As teachers, we remember these moments filled with learning opportunities and lessons to share, and it’s important that we give children a way to remember what may be the most important year of their life — their first year in school! But instead of just taking a photo on their first day, what if you had an entire collection of photos and videos, all in one place, that really captured them having fun learning?

As a pre-K teacher, I’ve fallen in love with the practice of teaching in a way that inspires children to get up and moving: dancing, singing, and socializing with their peers. When students are physically active, their brains are too, and we all know little kids aren’t meant to sit still. Here are three ways I make my classroom a fun place to learn.

Make lessons playful.
Throughout my lessons, I incorporate singing and dancing by using active learning that motivates children and piques their interest. Studies show that passive learning can be challenging, especially for young minds, and especially when they’re asked to sit and learn by having someone talk to them, rather than being actively engaged. In my classroom, some students love to write books, cards, and letters, so they head over to the work station, or maybe they want to do hands-on activities, such as paint or use clay.

For young learners, a new routine like going to school each day can be really hard to adjust to. Even having their parents drop them off at an unfamiliar place, with unknown faces, can be a little traumatizing. But once they start to get to know other students, learn together, and have fun doing it, it’s time for me to capture that moment and share it not only with them, but with their parents, too. I can also use these photos and videos as a learning tool to share with other educators to show them what my approach to learning looks like.

Using a communication app like Bloomz I can easily go up to a student painting a picture or writing a letter, snap a photo with my phone or personal device, and say, “Wow, Ryan! You’re doing super on that. I can’t wait to send this to your family!” My students know I love sharing with their parents, and now every time they’re working on a project, they’ll call my name and ask to come take a picture. This way, both of us get in the habit of positive reinforcement.

Instead of punishing bad behavior, encourage the good.
I like to teach my students to intrinsically want to do well and behave with good manners and respect for others, as opposed to punishing them for doing something wrong. Skills such as sharing, taking turns, and managing frustration begin to develop at ages 3-5. Instead of saying, “You didn’t do this right,” I talk to students about what went wrong, but always try to tell them what they did well, too! Maybe they didn’t follow the directions of an assignment, but they’re on the right path. These moments are so important to leverage (and capture) as learning moments that will help them get it right next time.

Stay connected not just with students, but with their parents, too.
By capturing and sharing moments when they’re doing well, I can establish a positive relationship right from the beginning by rewarding my students for turning in an assignment on time and allowing their parents to see that in real time. Families have told me how connected they feel to their child’s day. Questions like, “How was your day at school?” now have so much more depth with the photos and videos I send them on the app. I’ve gotten such positive feedback about how engaged I keep the families. They just want to know about their child and about their day, and technology makes the process so much easier.

Erica Bristor was previously a pre-K teacher at Aldine ISD and now teaches at Spring Branch ISD in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @EricaBristor.

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