Switching Grade Levels: Tips for a Smooth Transition at the Beginning of the Year

The beginning of a school year can be stressful enough, but when you change grade levels, it can add a whole new level of stress. 
Through the years I have moved from 1st to 3rd, 3rd to 1st, 1st to kindergarten and kindergarten to 1st grade. One time I moved from 3rd grade to 1st grade with half a day's notice before "meet the parents" and I had just finished setting up my classroom. With all of this experience switching grade levels, I have found a few tips to make these changes a little easier - for my students and me.

This summer I will be sharing these tips through a series of blog posts. Be sure to follow my blog and FB page so you won't miss out. These tips will be helpful to veteran and new teachers.
One of my favorite organizational hack is calendar numbers. These colorful little numbers can be used so many more things than a calendar. Assign each student a number. Use the calendar numbers to assign hooks to hang backpacks or coats. The best thing is you can use the same number year after year - big time saver when you are doing preparing your classroom for Back to School.

Numbers can also be taped to the floor to show students where to line up. If you have a theme like bugs or insects, you can use those to accent your theme.

Quick way to show students their schedule, center, or workstation. Laminate the number and add to a pocket chart along with your schedule.

Switching from first grade to kindergarten was the most challenging grade level switch that I made through the years. Even though other grade level changes involved greater age spans, students in those grades had experience in a school setting.

My first day of kindergarten was a rude awakening. I was overconfident because I had a number of years of experience and taught first grade the year before. My thinking was, "how much different can kindergarten be from first grade?" Famous last words as the saying goes. I had planned for the differences the summer before. Mistake . . . BIG mistake! I was visiting the other kindergarten teachers asking for advice after my first day - even though I was incredibly exhausted.

SURPRISE #1 My first big surprise was the number of kinder kids that not only could not write their name, but did not recognize their name either. I had spent HOURS writing their names over and over and over so everything in our room was labeled.

SURPRISE #2 Almost all of my students recognized numbers. They may not be able to recognize their name, but I could assign them a number. I added a number next to labels with their names. The small number of students that could not do this was a manageable amount so I could help them.

TEACHER TIP: Over the years, I found it was easier to use only numbers in the assigned places like cubbies, coat hooks, etc. When I wrote students names and numbers, there were always a name or two that I had to change after I met the parents and students. Some students go by their middle name or nickname. Using the numbers only saves time and hassle. Plus, I kept the numbers up year after year.
In the summer, students fine-motor skills do not get as much practice as they do during the school year.  Playdough is one of my favorite go-to ways to start the day at the beginning of a new school year.  Students love playdough which makes for an easier drop off transition with mom and dad.  Fewer tears is a plus!  Your class is engaged is an activity that is warming up their muscles and improving their handwriting so you can answer parents' questions or taking attendance.  
  • Do your parents stop by, email, or call about their child not liking school at the beginning of the school year?  
  • Do you have a student in tears after the first day or two of school?  
Many times the root of these situations is friendship.  It is very important at the beginning of the year that all of your students have someone to play with at recess.  You can do this different ways:
  • Have boy names in one bucket and 2 girls in another bucket. Draw 2 boy names out the bucket.  Those 2 will be recess buddies for the day.  Draw 2 girls out of the bucket.  They will be recess buddies for the day.  Continue until everyone has a buddy.  If you have an odd number, you will have a 3 Musketeer group.  Students can play with more than just the one buddy as long as the buddy is also included.
  • Choose one name out of the bucket and let that student choose a buddy.
  • You can choose larger groups.
  • Choose activities such as 4 square, tag, or other games - let students choose which activity they want to play at recess.
When your class comes in from recess, it is helpful to do a "check in" to see how recess went.  It may not be necessary to do it the entire year, but at least in the beginning to ensure everyone has someone to play with.

These ideas may seem time consuming when your schedule is hectic.  The amount of time you devote to your students developing healthy friendships and social skills will pay off throughout the year.

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