How to Build a Classroom Community Atmosphere

As the school year begins, we all want to make sure our students treat each other with respect and become a classroom community. In my classroom I refer to my students as "friends" so they always know that I treat them as a friend and they are to treat each other as friends.  I'm going to share with you some of the activities I do in my classroom to help student learn how to work together and learn what being a friend means.

Below is our "friendship web" that we do the first week of school. Before a student can throw the ball of yarn around the circle, they have to say the name of the kid they are throwing it to, along with something nice about them. This not only helps with learning names, but also helps build self esteem. My students loved doing this! One students wrote about this activity in her Kindergarten Memories book at the end of the year; that's how impactful this can be!

Another 1st week activity is our friendship puzzles. I split the class into 2 groups, give every kid a puzzle piece to decorate, then they have to work as a group to put it back together. We had a kid absent so they wanted to leave 1 piece blank so that student could decorate it another day.

At the beginning of the year, I go over some basic school rules. After a few weeks of school, we then revisit the rules and this time the students get to come up with the rules. Scary I know! However, they came up with SO many rules, I had to cut them off LOL! I like that their rules are in kid language and things that they really find important to make our classroom run smoother. We decided as a class if we should put the rule on the poster or not. #12 says don't lie (looks like he) Don't you love rule #10 :)

If you are looking for more activities to do to help build friendships in your classroom, check out my Building a Classroom Community bundle. It'll be a great start to your discussions on what make a friend, how to treat a friend, and meeting new friends. Below are a few pictures of what's included.

I don't like to tell me kids they are "bad", so if they don't do the right thing, I like to say they made a "poor choice".  As a whole group, we sort these cards into the 2 categories and discuss each card as to why it is a good/poor choice. We also discuss what to do if someone made a poor choice. 
Creating a family atmosphere is very important! Unfortunately sometimes our students spend more time with us and their classmates, than their own family. It's important that they feel welcome, comfortable, and loved. Grab this FREE worksheet so your students can interview each other and get to know one another better! This will be a great ice breaker for the first week of school!
FREE interview a friend worksheet

Practicing How to Write Letters and Numbers

I know working on writing letters and numbers over and over can get very boring, but hopefully these writing sheets will help your students not only learn how to write correctly, but stay engaged.
I teach how to correctly form letters and numbers from the very beginning of the year. When I introduce a letter for the first time, I show students how letters have different heights and we discuss why that is important. I whipped up these Alphabet Writing Sheets I could throw in centers for students to work on writing. I keep these worksheets in sheet protectors and in a binder to make it easy to keep everything together. Students can take the sheet protectors out if more than one kids wants to work on this at their center. 
Each letter has a green and red smiley face to show students where to start and stop when forming the number. The worksheets also have directional arrows to show students which way to go. 
Students can use wipe-off markers, pipe cleaners, Playdoh, Wikki Stix, or use race cars to "drive" around the number. 
 Of course the race cars are their favorite!
I have a D'Nealian version too! You can find them here.
Here are examples of the Number Writing Sheets that are used in the same way.
I have noticed having these tracing sheets have really helped students!
I love giving students a variety of tools to use when practicing with these worksheets to make it more hands-on. 
One more way we practice writing letters in my classroom is to use Dr. Jean's song "Letter Tales".  Dr. Jean has fantastic songs for learning and they are fun! You can find the "Letter Tales" song on her Just For Fun CD here (scroll almost to the bottom). This song is great because it sings about the letter and the sound, but sings it slow enough so students have time to write down the letters before it's time for the next letter. 
Help students learn how to write and form their numbers 1-20 correctly.
Help students learn how to write their alphabet letters with the proper handwriting skills as well as learning how to write numbers correctly.

8 Ways for Kindergarteners to Practice Their Names

Learning how to write your name is such a big deal when you're little. Many of us still have Kindergarten students coming to school that still don't know how to write their name or write it correctly. It drives me nuts when students come to me writing their name in all capital letters. Who teaches them how to write that like?? I know uppercase letters are easier to form, but that's not how to correctly write a name. I've even had students argue with me and tell me that's not their name when I show them what it should look like. 

Here's my proud Aunt moment :) Below is a card I got from my nephew when he just turned 3. He hasn't mastered the uppercase C, but he has the rest in lowercase and in a straight line. Children learn what we teach them, and I made sure my sister knew from and early age to show Colton how to write his name correctly! 
I work on name activities for the first few weeks of school. We talk about how to correctly form our letters and what a name should look like. I then have them rotate through some centers where they can get hands-on practice. 
Rainbow writing is such a easy way to practice names and they love it! I write their name on a piece of paper and they take turns using different colors of crayons to trace their name. Super simple, yet fun!
To incorporate fine motor skills and name practice, I use toothpicks. Each student gets a paper with their name on it. They then take a toothpick and poke holes through their name. This could be used for sight words, letters, numbers, etc. throughout the whole school year because the students have so much fun with it. 
Once they are done with their name, they can hold it up to the light and it kind of making it looks like their name is shining like stars.  
A few more name activities I use are student name puzzles and "The Plate Song". Each student gets a bag with their name on it and a puzzle inside. The name is on the front in case they still need help spelling their name. It's really interesting to see which students know how to put puzzles together and how they go about it. 
When we sing "The Plate Song," all the students form a circle on the rug. We then sing "The Plate Song" and I throw 2-3 plates on the ground. If a student recognizes his/her name, they get to pick up the plate. So simple, but they love it! The song is very catchy too, so after 2 times of singing by myself, most of the kids have already learned it. 

The Plate Song
tune: If You're Happy And You Know It

If your name is on a plate pick it up, (clap clap)
if your name is on a plate pick it up, (clap clap)
if your name is on a plate, then you're doing really great,
if your name is on a plate pick it up!

Lastly, I incorporate sorting into our name unit. This way I can work on names during reading, writing, and math! I just created this new FREEBIE for you to use your first few weeks of school. It has many activities included to help students recognize their name, as well as their peer's names. Students can work on counting letters, clapping syllables, and sorting! I write student names on flashcards and use pictures of each student for different sorting activities. At the beginning of the year, you may just have students play memory with their friend's pictures, but later in the school year, they could match the picture to a name. These activities could easily be put in a center tub or pocket chart. 

How to Prepare for the Upcoming School Year & Meet the Teacher Night

It's that time again, where teachers frantically try to remember how their room was set-up last year, what needs to be ready for meet your teacher night, and what in the world to teach the first week of school. Are you feeling that stress s...l...o...w...l...y creeping up? This post is going to help give you some ideas to get you back in the groove of school.

Getting Your Room Set-up

I always LOVED getting my room set-up for the new school year. I seem to always change the layout of my room each year, thinking of better ways to make it more spacious or "homey". Since the students are at school for so many hours, I think it is important to make the classroom inviting. I use polka dots with a pop of bright colors to decorate my classroom. If you check out my Classroom Ideas page, you'll see many ways to organize and set-up your classroom. 
When thinking about the first few days of school, some of the things I find most important are classroom management and knowing the student's transportation for the day. I'm always so scared I'm going to lose a kid or send them home the wrong way (please tell me I'm not the only one). :) At our Meet Your Teacher Night, I make parents fill out the transportation sheet (provided by our school) right then and there. I want to know in advance how their child will go home the 1st day of school, and everyday after that. I use these forms to keep track of transportation.

I then use ribbon and clothespins to show where each student will go at the end of the day. I have this right by my door so I can see it before we leave for the day. If I get any changes in transportation, I move the student's clothespin AND attach the note to there clothespin. As you can see I put their bus # on the clothespin. It's so easy to quickly move a clothespin to the new dismissal for the day. 

Classroom management can be the hardest thing to get perfected, but it is the most important part of a successful classroom. There are many classroom management techniques out there, so you'll have to find what works best for you. I have done the stoplight system, classroom economy, and clip chart. I personally like the clip chart because it is positive and I'm not spending money on prizes the students may only play with for an hour. 

I created my clip chart in Word and uploaded it to Vistaprint (always looks for coupons with this site). I ordered the small banner and it has held up for over 4 years. I did try to laminate it this past year to see if it would make it sturdier, but it just peeled off.  The way I use my clip chart is for students to start on green each day. They can move up or down depending on their choices. If they get on pink, they get to put a jewel on their clothespin. Yes, even the boys get excited for this! Once both sides of their clothespin is full, students can either take it home or put it on the "Clip Chart Hall of Fame" poster.  This has worked great in my room. The whole class gets SO excited when someone gets on pink. My students are really good about not making fun of anyone that may be on a not so good color, but encourage them to make better choices so they can move back up. I love seeing them support each other!!!
At the end of the day I color every child's folder to let the parents know what color their child ended up on. The parents then sign off each night. Having this form is great to keep a record of a child's behavior or if you start to notice a change in behavior. I only write comments if their child went below green for any reason.  You can find the clip chart above and these parent forms here

Getting Ready for Meet Your Teacher/Open House

Now that you have your room ready to go, it's time to think about what all you want to tell parents about your rules, procedures, expectations, schedule, etc. I have created an editable packet to help you get ready for Back to School. This bundle has many forms, a class handbook, and a PowerPoint that can be used at your open house.

When parents walk into my room for Open House (Kindergarten does it before school starts), they find their child's seat and daily folder. In the picture below, you'll see my classroom handbook, hand print labels, and a money/notes label. These are all included in the Meet The Teacher bundle.  My parents have commented on how much they love the money/notes pouch. They never have to worry about money or notes getting lost anymore. It is a bit pricey to buy a set of pencil pouches for an entire class each year, but I think it is well worth it!! I like to use a pouch with a clear window so I can quickly see if there is a note or money inside. You can find ones similar to mine on Amazon here
Depending on the time, they can start to look through the folder and fill out forms. I color code the forms that need to be returned to school. Doing this makes it much easier to sort the forms. 
Once all the parents arrive, I go through a PowerPoint that shows our schedule, rules, attendance/dismissal procedures, etc. Having this PowerPoint helps me remember what I want to say and keeps me from rambling and getting scatter brained. :)
Another part of my open house, is to have parents sign up for their parent-teacher conference during my open house. I do this so that the parents have plenty of time to take off work. I have 3 dates for them to choose from & put all of them on one clipboard. I then have small reminder notes that they can fill out and take with them. We have students bring their own snack, but many of you have parents donate snack, so I created a snack-up form as well that I would put next to my conference sign-up.
Also included in the packet above is a field trip checklist, lunch count checklist, and 3 different dismissal forms (1st day, everyday dismissal, & emergency dismissal). All of these open in PowerPoint so you can type in your student's names. 
Good luck with your school year! Thanks for reading my first blog post!!! :)

Disclosure: There are Amazon affiliate links induced in the post.