Whether you're a first year teacher or a veteran, those first few minutes of a new school year can be a whirlwind! I wrote a post a while back with some other ideas for those first few minutes, including things like Play-Doh and puzzles, which you can read here

I know that sometimes your best laid plans of exciting hands-on fun can sometimes go off the rails real fast. One or two kids having a really hard time separating from their grown-ups, last minute new students, weird weather, talkative parents, late busses - they can all throw your fairy tale first day for a loop. I've been teaching for 28 years and there have been very few of those fairy tale experiences. That doesn't mean I've stopped trying though! But what I've learned to do is have a back up plan. Good old fashioned paper-pencil-crayon tasks that the kids can handle all by themselves or with the collaboration of their new friends. So for this, I created Welcome Back Packs for second and third grade, and now that I'm teaching first grade, I had to create one that I can use. I'm still deciding how I feel about teaching first, but after three years, I feel a lot more comfortable creating materials for my little firsties. Not gonna lie, I like being able to say "firsties".  I never really found a cute nickname for my second graders. (Gotta take those small victories wherever you find them. lol)  Link to Second Grade, Link to Third Grade.

So these packs are designed for the average kid to be able to handle without a lot of instruction or assistance from the teacher. That way when you are talking to parents and dealing with upset kids, collecting supplies, the rest of the class isn't just sitting and becoming restless or wandering the room. Each student will find a pack on their desk and a note on the board welcomes them and lets them know they can work on any page while we're getting settled.  The second and third grade packs have a lot of activities designed around the words two and three, to amp up the excitement of a new grade. 

Now for first grade, it's a whole different ballgame. Incoming first graders are basically Kindergarteners and it's WILD how different they all are. So for first grade I made differentiated versions of some of the pages. So, for example I wouldn't print out both of these pages, I'd choose the one that seems like the best fit for my incoming students. We're able to see some data on our kids before the first day. If that's not the case for you, I'd say go with the "easier" version and maybe make a few copies of the harder version and have them handy to give to kids who show the need for a challenge. Link to First Grade.

Same with these age pages. I consulted friends in Kindergarten and my first grade friends and got very mixed answers. If you think your kids can handle the forms of numbers mixed up choose that page, if not, then the page with the numbers in order may be better. 

You know, back to that "fairy tale" hands on  magical moment of collaboration and hands-on engagement from the first moment of the first day - some kids find that overwhelming. Lots of kids find comfort in the familiar task of sitting down and coloring, practicing their name, finding success in easy math tasks. This doesn't mean that I won't move those kids into the more collaborative tasks, but we're talking about the first moment that these little kids walk into a new environment with new people for the first time. It can be scary! Having something they know how to do gives them comfort in purpose. 

I always have some instrumental music on in the background when the kids enter the room for the first day. Usually they start working quietly and then they start chatting with new friends and a nice little happy hum starts to take over the classroom. This gives me some time to individually welcome each child, help them put their supplies away, handle tasks like attendance and urgent messages. We have to tag each kid according to their dismissal and figure out lunches and all that fun stuff. And these simple little packs help me do all that. Seems too good to be true, but it totally is my first day lifeline. Once everything gets settled, we usually gather on the carpet for a book and a fun introduction and the first day goes on as planned. I can walk through what a first day looks like in my room if anyone would like to hear about that.  So then what happens to the packet? Well, we put them in our cubbies or seat sacks and it becomes my lifeline for the next few days. Any time a situation arises that needs my attention, or we have a weird few minutes, a potty accident, or a special gets cancelled, or a lesson goes downhill fast, we can pull out our Welcome Back Pack and work a bit with our friends. 

What do I do with it after it's finished?  I flip through it with a student when they tell me they're done. It gives me that very first snapshot of a few things: effort, handwriting, following directions, basic math, coloring, and neatness. If everything seems on level with no glaring concerns, I let the kids choose a sticker for it and they take it home. I do not grade every single page or even make a mark on the paper. Now, if I see something concerning I will keep the pack, write some notes on stickies when I have a moment and then take a picture of the pages before removing the stickie notes and letting that child also choose a sticker and take home their work. Notes are very minimal, such as "handwriting - fine motor?". Just a way for me to make a note to keep an eye on any potential challenges. I don't put all my faith in this packet, it's just a very superficial first glimpse. 

However you start your first day, I hope it's amazing and only gets better from there!

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