What to Do on the First Day of School

I'll never forget my first-ever first day of school as a teacher in my own classroom.

I'd had three excellent practicum placements as a teacher candidate, worked full-time for 8 months of the following school year (beginning in November), and did a whole lot of substitute work the year after that.

But none of those experiences really prepared me for that first day in front of my own class, and as the day approached, all I could think was "What do I do on the first day of school?".

Photo of school supplies on chalkboard background with text, "What to Do on the First Day of School."

Keep in mind, this is before Facebook groups and social media sharing. #showingmyage

I figured it out, just like you would, but since I want to save you the worry I experienced, I'm going to share some ideas with you in this post.

These ideas are based on my own primary classroom, and may not be right for everyone. Pick and choose what would work for you.

A Warm Welcome

When I am setting up my classroom, I ensure all my students' spaces are labeled. Their desks have a name tag, and each coat hook and mailbox is marked as well.

Photo of printable name tags.

Before the school day begins, I have a simple activity ready on my students' desks. I prefer to make it something hands-on and without any written instructions. Keep in mind that some of your students will arrive unable to read your activity's instructions.

Last year, I gave each of my students two mini containers of Play-Doh and asked them to make something that represented themselves or something they did on their summer vacation. This was accessible to everyone, regardless of ability.

Photo of Play-Doh creations.
They loved it, of course! This fantastic set came from Costco and only cost me $18 CAD - that's far less than $1 per student, and there are always lots left over to use as incentives throughout the year!

Photo of Play-Doh package.

After students have had 10 or 15 minutes to create, I have them introduce themselves and share what they made with the rest of their table group. (My students sit in groups of 4 or 5.)

Teach Entry Routines

Now that everyone is settled in, I take some time to visit the entry routines that I'd like followed each day. This is a great time to do this because entry is fresh on everyone's mind.

In my classroom, students leave their outdoor shoes neatly against the wall in the hallway. (Since I teach in Canada, students have two sets of footwear - one for inside and one for outside. We get lots of messy, muddy, and snowy weather over the school year!)

Next, they enter the classroom, and do the following:

  • empty backpack,
  • hand in agenda and notices,
  • put communication bag into mailbox,
  • put lunch bag in our shared basket space,
  • get started on morning work.

Photo of student mailboxes

I always demonstrate precisely what I'm looking for here because I want it done correctly right from the beginning, and I know that many reminders will be needed before this is running smoothly.

Icebreaker Activity

Next, I switch gears entirely and head into a fun icebreaker activity. I love getting my students moving around at this time, so I created this "Getting to Know You Scoot" game. I place the cards all around the classroom and have my students move to a new partner at a new card location each time they rotate.

Photo of Getting to Know You Scoot game

This set of scoot cards gives discussion prompts for students to use to get to know each other a little better, and a recording sheet is included.

Teach Snack and Recess Routines

Time flies when you're having fun, so this usually brings us reasonably close to our first recess break. We always take about 15 minutes before the break to have a healthy snack, and on the first day of school I stop what we're doing a little earlier so that I can explain what I expect:

  • Wash hands at the classroom sink or in the restroom.
  • Choose a healthy snack item.
  • Procedures to recycle or dispose of packaging, and where, afterward.
  • Dress for outdoors (change shoes) and where to line up until the bell rings.

Teach Respectful Behavior Routines

After a well-deserved morning break, I bring my students to the gathering area where we spend some time brainstorming and discussing respectful behavior. 

Basically, my classroom rules are all related to respect - respect for self, respect for others, respect for property, and belongings.

My students are always very engaged during this discussion because they KNOW what is expected.

Some of the expectations and routines I cover during this time are:

  • How to sit respectfully on the carpet.
  • How to sit respectfully at your desk.
  • Raise your hand to speak.
  • How I will get students' attention.
Photo of "Our Attention Signals" anchor chart
  • How to move respectfully through the hallways.
  • How to look after table supplies.
Photo of student supply baskets

I always pace this conversation based on my students. If they look like they are beginning to lose focus, I stop and give them a brain break.

Movement Break

My absolute favorite resource for brain breaks is GoNoodle! From energizing dances and party songs to calming yoga and mindfulness activities, GoNoodle has everything you could ever want! And if you upgrade to GoNoodle Plus (which I highly recommend!), you'll have the capability to customize many of the activities!

Photo of students participating in GoNoodle activities

Classroom Scavenger Hunt

I love to allow my students to explore their new classroom next. Depending on how our routine discussion goes, this may happen before or after the lunch break.

I provide them with a classroom scavenger hunt page, allow them to choose a partner, and let them roam!

You could place school words around the room for the students to record, or simply have students explain where they located the item on the list.

You can grab an editable Classroom Scavenger Hunt activity right here in my Freebie Library! Just enter your info below to access this freebie and more!

Image of free classroom scavenger hunt

Character Education

Character education is next on my list. In my classroom, we grow a Heart Garden. For me, the idea of tending something alive and growing is far more tangible than filling an imaginary bucket. But that's just me.

I always begin with three small plants. We talk about how to care for them so that they will live, and how we can make them thrive.

I then use the plants as an analogy to people. What will grow our self-esteem, our Heart Garden? What will make it wilt? These are the things that become our Heart Garden guidelines.

Photo of "How Can We Grow a Heart Garden" anchor chart

Photo of starting Heart Garden display

Over the first weeks of school, we experiment with these plants. One is put in the dark closet and not watered, one is given a bit of water and placed in the window, and the third is given water, sunlight, and daily attention. 

We compare the plants to see how the different treatment impacts their growth, and again compare this to how we treat others.

Part of our Heart Garden routine also includes recognition of classmates for things they do to grow our Heart Garden. This is done by filling out a Heart Garden note that then gets placed on our classroom tree.

It is so inspiring to watch this grow over the school year.

Photo of Heart Garden progression
You can read more about the Heart Garden in this blog post:

"The Heart Garden: Character Education With Heart"

Dismissal Routines

Having a clear set of procedures for your dismissal time is critical for ending your school day in a calm, organized way. This could vary significantly from one school to the next, but this is how I manage.

At the end of our school day, all students are dismissed at the same time. There is no staggering of bus students, and car pick-up students, etc., so we all perform the routines at the same time.

In my classroom, it looks like this:

  • Bring mailbox to your desk and empty ALL contents directly into your Communication Bag.
Photo of communication bag
(Grab the editable labels for these bags in my Freebie Library!)

  • Retrieve your backpack and lunch bag and pack at your desk.
  • Stack your chair.
  • Tidy up - check the floor around your table group, your supply basket, or any shared space in the classroom.
  • Thank a classmate for something nice they did or help they gave you.
  • Wait quietly behind your desk to be dismissed to the hallway.

This is a lot to remember, so I have each step displayed on a chart beside the classroom door. This gives the students something to refer to instead of asking me for help, and it is always a huge hit with Guest Teachers who can keep normal routines going when I am away.

Photo of dismissal procedures chart

I always dismiss my students to the hallway one group at a time as I check the cleanliness of their space. If you expect the room to be tidied, do not allow your students to leave until it HAS been! It is critical that you follow through on the expectations you have for your students if you want them to become routine!

We did it!! The first day of school is in the books, and you've survived!

I would LOVE to hear about some of the special things that YOU do on the first day of school. Scroll down to the comments section and leave me a message.

You might also be interested in this blog post about encouraging independence in your classroom:

"How to Encourage Independence in Your Classroom"

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Photo of school supplies on chalkboard background with text, "What to Do on the First Day of School."


  1. I have a teacher candidate starting with my class this year. Your clear way of explaining why you do what you do will help him/her to understand. Thanks.

    1. I'm so glad, Emily! Thanks so much for visiting and taking the time to leave me a comment! :)


  2. Thank you so much for your great details and explanations! I'm moving to grade 3 after years in Kindergarten and this is giving me a lot to think about and prepare to start off the first day in a positive way.

    1. You are very welcome, Shawna! Enjoy your new class!



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