By Andrew Hawk
I hope all of you have been enjoying a relaxing summer. Before I had children of my own, I used to think summers passed more slowly than the rest of the year. There was always less to do when school was out. Now, each day seems to go faster than the one before, regardless of the season.
This summer was one of the most needed summers in recent history, in my opinion. After more than two years of teaching and learning during a global pandemic, educators and students alike were exhausted. Rest and relaxation were the interventions that everyone needed. While we’ve now had some time to relax, this summer has flown by, and it is almost time to welcome students back to school. Here are some ideas I hope you will try to create an enthusiastic start to the year!
1. Decorate the School
If you choose this idea, be sure to go all out and make passersby wonder if it is someone’s birthday. Fill balloons with helium. Hang streamers in the hallways. Decorate windows with erasable markers. Rent one of those inflatable tube people (I think they’re called sky dancers) that businesses set by the road to attract attention. Creating a party atmosphere will get students excited to be back at school.
2. Organize a Pep Rally
You might think of pep rallies as something for middle and high school students only, usually relating to school sports. But pep rallies are a great way to show and create school spirit, and you can have one at any grade level. Most students are always up for shouting and singing school songs. Kick off the year with a welcome-back pep rally.
3. Greet Students in the Hallways
This is already a given at many schools. Students are happier to be back if staff are also visible and happy. Have all school personnel take to the hallways on the first day of school, with smiles and greetings at the ready. Invite custodians, the school resource officer, school board members, the superintendent, and whoever else works at the school. The more people there to help welcome students back, the better. This is a fast and easy way to start the year on a positive note.
4. Host an Open House
The open house is a school tradition in many places and was one of the many activities that were interrupted by the pandemic. In Indiana, we are now able to resume this event. Having the chance to come in and see their new classrooms and desks and meet their new teachers and classmates can help students with first-day jitters and make the transition to a new school year a bit easier.
5. Hold a Special Breakfast
This event can be done in a few different ways. You might choose to organize smaller breakfasts by grade level or class or have one big breakfast event for the entire school. It has been my experience that students are excited to see their principal serving food. So break out the chef’s hat and tongs!
6. Play Getting-to-Know-You Games
This idea is more for an individual class than an entire school. Getting-to-know-you games are a great icebreaker activity for the first day of school and can help build classroom community. There are literally hundreds of options to choose from. When I was a classroom teacher, my personal favorite involved passing out small candies like M&M’s or Skittles and asking students to answer different questions based on the color of the candies. A quick online search can help you find the perfect game for your class, or you can make up your own.
7. Do a Fun Writing Prompt
When I was a classroom teacher, I liked to end the year by having students write letters to the future class telling them what to expect. On the first day of school, I would pass the letters out and have students take turns reading them. I would then have the new class write a letter back to the previous year’s students. If you prefer something a little more traditional, you can always fall back on the tried-and-true, “What do you hope to learn this year?”
8. Head Outdoors
Having class outside is a special welcome-back event that most students enjoy. Weather permitting, plan to take a short lesson or an interactive read-aloud outdoors on the first day of school.
9. Do a Team-Building Activity
Unlike their adult counterparts, students are almost always excited by a team-building activity. These activities are easily paired with STEM or project-based learning activities. A classic is the “Build a Tower” activity. I have completed this as a participant and as an instructor, and I can confidently say that it is timeless. If you are not familiar with this activity, participants are split into teams and given various supplies you likely already have on hand. Teams are tasked with building a tower using the supplies. At the end of the activity, the team with the tallest tower wins. This is another area where a quick online search can produce lots of results. Find the perfect activity for you!
Enjoy the rest of your summer, everyone!
For more resources to help kids of all ages handle the ups, downs, ins, and outs of heading back to school, check out our collection of back-to-school books.
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with his wife and two daughters.
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