Back to School in 1st Grade

Hello there!
I always think I'm tired at the end of the school year...and then back to school season happens! Anybody else?

While the start of the school year can be a bit hectic, I want to share a few favorite activities and tools that help me get through those first days (plus set the tone for a successful year in first grade).

 Disclaimer- this post contains affiliate links which means that I earn a small amount when you make purchases (at no extra cost to you). However, my promise to you is that I am only sharing my honest opinions and I will never promote something I do not believe in.

Before we have math center routines fully established, it can be tricky to find an activity that my kids can do on their own. Every year we start by practicing counting skills along with number recognition. One of my favorite ways to do this is by creating Number Puzzles. I simply buy a bunch of 100 piece puzzles from Dollar Tree and number the pieces 1-100 with a permanent marker. You can write the numbers on the front or the back of the pieces but I prefer the front so they can see the image appear as they go. 

The most complicated part is finding the time to put them together first! I like to store each puzzle in a zipper pencil pouch for easy access. I also cut the main image off of the puzzle box and put it in the pouch so they know what they are working towards. 

Each day during arrival and math center time my kids build number sense skills by putting these puzzles together. I was surprised last year with how many of my students had never put a puzzle together before, so in addition to practicing counting, they are also increasing spatial awareness. 

Another tip is to get a few with less pieces so they can be completed quicker. Even my students who struggle with numbers get better at recognizing the order through this simple activity.  Most importantly, they LOVE the puzzles and are so engaged and focused when working on them.

Like many teachers, I work on building our classroom community with "getting to know you" activities and ice breakers. One challenge I always have is that so many of my kids come in not able to read yet...which means #thestruggleisreal when it comes to literacy activities.

My solution? Find Someone Who games with lots of visuals that even my sweet babies just beginning to read can complete with confidence! Even though we practice learning names from day 1, it never hurts to get them up and moving/chatting/sharing a bit more on those long first days back.  Plus, they are learning how to write and spell each other's name. Having my students learn about what they have in common with each other is a great way to build our sense of community. You could even tie in math and graph shared interests. 

I must have tried a million different ways to organize literacy rotations. I *think* I finally found something that helps.  I use Words Their Way for our spelling/word work, and Daily 5 as my framework for our literacy block. Based on assessment results I create 4-5 spelling groups, and 4-5 Guided Reading Groups using their reading levels. Since having two sets of groups can get a little hairy at first while they are learning so many different routines, having two types of themed names seems to help. I use ocean animal names for my Guided Reading Groups, and colors for their WTW groups. 

Because I have two sets of groups, I decided to make center clips to help them remember which groups they are in. I use Scotch Thermal Laminating Pouches and print/cut out little pieces of paper to put inside each clip card. I love these mini laminating sheets! (Side note, I also made student computer password cards and lunch number cards and laminated them too because they are so durable.) To save the step of laminating they also have Vertical Name Tag Holders that could work the same way. I also bought Badge Clips to attach them with. My students love to wear their clips and I often catch them with them on later in the day just because. It's the little things in first grade that excite us!
Getting young readers excited about books can be hit or miss. Either my kids are super interested in books and want to learn how to read, or they are intimidated and avoid it like the plague. 

One trick to add some excitement is with new reading tools for small groups. I have mini magnifying glasses (especially for word work time and searching for spelling patterns), timers, and reading trackers. I made some of the reading trackers out of popsicle sticks with google eyes on them. I also found drink stirrers and reading highlighter strips from Dollar Tree. My kids love them and they really helping with the one to one tracking!

Finally, I have to tell you about my new favorite discovery! The Occupational Therapist that works with many of my Autistic students originally brought in Mr. Fox, a weighted, lavender scented stuffed animal. Well, one of my kids bonded with him instantly (and so did I). The weight helped ground him and the scent was also calming. Not gonna lie, his EC teacher, Speech teacher, and myself have been caught sniffing the poor little fox a few times! 

I then went to Marshalls and found a special section with these Warm & Cosy friends for $13 each. You can also find them online on Amazon. At first I just bought the Frog and Sheep and tried them with a few of my other sensory/ADHD students. They were a huge hit! Now, I am up to about 10 of them including my new favorite, a unicorn. I think the weight of one sitting in their lap, along with the snuggly feel and scent  really is so beneficial. 

Well friends, that's about it for now! I hope you have an awesome start to your year in first grade :)

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