Some students spend summer awaiting the start of school like an SEC football fan longing to hear the introduction for that first CBS 3:30 game. These students love the return to school and all it brings. Others would love a few more days, weeks, or months added to their break. Unfortunately, some students may have experienced a difficult summer, and this can contribute to an overall uneasiness when thinking of a return to school. It may, however, heighten their excitement and serve as a welcomed distraction.

Whatever the case may be, there’s no avoiding the impact the first few days of school can have on a student.

This is my eighth year teaching—my fifth year teaching fifth grade students. If there’s one example of figurative language they have a fantastic handle on, it’s hyperbole. Hearing ‘this is the best day ever’ can mean it’s pizza day in the cafeteria or maybe five minutes of extra recess, yet I never tire of hearing students share their excitement when it comes to any school-related experience.

The first few days of school offer plenty of opportunities to set the stage for a great year and contribute to genuine excitement. Below are just a few ways my team and I have tried to add intrigue, pique curiosity, and capitalize on the momentum of a fresh start:

Summer correspondence that links to the first few days…

  • Rusty Writing Note: One way to reach out to students during the final weeks of summer is by writing a note that connects to the classroom. As a language arts teacher, I send a letter with all sorts of punctuation and usage errors. I’ve done this for a few years, and the kids seem to really enjoy it, although I’ve had a few parents say it made them nervous before they reached the part about ‘finding my mistakes.’ I ask students to make any necessary corrections, bring the note back with them, and then we spend a little time as a class polishing my rusty writing on the first day of school.  
  • Dear Summer Reader: Our school recently adopted a new approach to summer reading for our fourth and fifth grade students. Students select a few books from a ‘book tasting’ toward the end of the school year. When they return to school after the summer break, a faculty member will lead a particular book group. I like to send a letter to my summer reading group as one of the characters in their book. I’ll include a few pictures that correspond with their book selection, and we’ll sort them in order of their importance or sequence within the story.

First few mornings…

  • Music: One of my team teachers recently started blaring music in the hallway on the first day of school. I love seeing the students’ reactions. At first they’re caught off guard, and then they can’t help but smile. It’s a great way to help them relax, and it sends the message that we’re okay if you have fun at school, too!
  • Doughnuts: Whether it’s a doughnut or something else, who wouldn’t love to see a treat waiting for them when they make it to class? Once our students open their lockers for the first time, they’ll find a note full of encouragement and doughnut puns. The end of the note lets them know they have a sweet treat waiting for them in the classroom. Everyone kneads a good pun!  
  • Team Challenges: We’ve used a few team building exercises over the course of the first days of school for a couple years now. They can be tough, and it’s always interesting to see how students interact with one another. Inevitably, these challenges lead to some quality discussion on the importance of working together, listening to others’ ideas, and hopefully the feeling of accomplishment when a goal is reached together.

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