Activities for the first day of school


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The first day of school has always held a special meaning. I actually begin to get excited as soon as I see stores putting out the school supplies. There is nothing like a box of new crayons to get me thinking about activities for the first day of school.

As both a homeschool mom and a classroom teacher, I know how special the first day can be, no matter the grade. The beginning of the school year varies greatly from an August start to those that begin after Labor Day. Homeschoolers sometimes school year-round!

Regardless of when you go back – I have some activities for the first day of school to make it memorable! 

First day of school traditions- at home

These traditions are for EVERYONE they are not specific to “homeschooling”, they just take place at home 🙂

Back to School Fairy

Image shows 3 piles of school supplies left from the "back to school fairy" . There are notebooks, glue sticks, correction tape dispensers, post it notes and an animal back pack clip for each child.

Everything from new crayons to flash drives – The Back to School Fairy is the Santa Claus of September. She does not discriminate – so just because this was a tradition in our homeschooling household- by all means, give her a call and I know she will visit any family at back to school time!

The Back to School Fairy makes sure all your School Supply needs are met. As my kids got older and supply needs decreased, our Fairy adjusted and began to bring SNACKS! No one needs a hungry high schooler in the house! Take a Peek at what she brought us over the years in THIS POST.

Special Back to School Breakfast

You can make the first day extra special no matter the “type” of school your children attend. Prepare a special breakfast for your family according to their definition of special. It can be home-cooked or drive-through! Even a fun cereal like “Alphabits” can make the first-day fun! You can rotate what you do every few years or keep it the same! 

Back to School Pictures

Taking a picture is one of my all-time favorite activities for the first day of school. The morning of the first day can be frantic – you are after all *just* getting back into the routine – so rather than RUSH the pictures, plan to take them AFTER school. If you Homeschool, you can take them anytime during your day, even in cute pajamas.

If you have time and a willing participant, a picture at school, with the teacher is something I know the TEACHER will treasure.

Teacher with student on the first day of school posing for a picture.
Here I am on the first day of school with one of my fourth graders. I was ALWAYS honored to pose with my students and made a special effort to be available outside on the first day!

For many years I took our back-to-school picture with the kids using their fingers to indicate what grade they were in. This -WAS- clever until they ran out of fingers in 10th grade! We often took our first-day photo while on our field trip (see below) so I didn’t want to be bothered with the cute signs. (Who am I kidding, you know I would have just forgotten them!)

Three children sitting in front of a grassy area.  The boy to the left is holding 1 finger to indicate he is in 1st grade. The girl in the middle is holding 2 fingers to indicate she is in 2nd grade and the girl on the right is holding 3 fingers to indicate she is in 3rd grade.
2009, the first year I used fingers to show what grade the kids were in. Douglas 1st Grade, Megan 2nd Grade, and Lauren 3rd Grade.
Three children sitting in front of a pond on a bench. The boy to the left is holding 4 fingers to indicate he is in 4th grade. The girl in the middle is holding 5 fingers (her whole hand) to indicate she is in 5th grade and the girl on the right is holding 3 fingers in each hand to indicate she is in 6th grade.
2012 (6th grade, 5th grade, and 4th grade)

At any rate – I’m now in “camp-use-a-sign”!Unless you want to hold up toes as well, the finger idea backfires! I have a hard time identifying what grade each child is in once high school hit…

Change of Grade Day Picture 2019. From Left to Right: Lauren Senior, Megan Junior, and Douglas Freshman.

As my back-to-school gift to you, a complete set of “FIRST DAY/ LAST DAY” photo signs is available in the Homeschool Holiday FREEBIES section of the store!

Visit the Happy Hive store for your first day of school signs!

Activities for the first day of (home) school

Take a Field Trip!

We loved to begin our first day with a field trip! This tradition started when my youngest was in first grade. Each child had their first day of kindergarten at home. We then used the Labor Day Holiday to our advantage because Daddy was home. Labor Day became our first day of school and we had our own “bus driver”. This made going on a family field trip that much more of a grand adventure. 

You can plan your first day any day that is convenient for YOUR family – even a weekend if that’s what works!

The furthest we ever went was a 4.5-hour drive (each way) to Sequoia National Forest.  We did adjust our first day that particular year!

As homeschoolers sometimes we forget the fun things associated with GOING to school. Sometimes we “walked” to school each morning. The kids even put on their backpacks. We just took a simple walk around the block and came back to start our day. It was a pleasant walk with time for looking at bugs, floating leaves down the water in the gutter, and even racing each other if so inspired. The way I saw it, we were getting exercise, I used it as an opportunity to pick up the previous day’s mail from the mailbox at the end of the street and the kids got to “walk to school”.

Three young children walking down the driveway with their backpacks heading off to school.
2007 Preschool, Kindergarten, First Grade. They wanted to “walk” to school. So we went around the block. A wonderful opportunity to begin our day in nature!

Another novelty school-related item is a “packed lunched”. We had a great time the night before making lunches and packing them into themed lunch boxed and storing them in the refrigerator. Then at lunchtime the next day we got out our lunches and ate outside (weather permitting) or inside at the table! They always got “recess” after eating!

Another school-related activity for the first day of school to do is hand out promotion certificates. For us, we called the first day of school “Change of Grade Day”. Our choice was to conduct school year-round, this was the first day of the next grade. Getting a certificate to make the occasion made it special.

You can read more Change of Grade Day adventures for 2019 or even 2018 and see how our traditions ebb and flow over the years!

Choose a homeschool teacher name

I honestly have never met another family that did this but I highly recommend having a “teacher name” and not being “Mom”. Hear me out…

Homeschooling is SPECIAL – and I cherish more than anything on earth the time I spent with my children. (Just as I cherish the 180 days I spent with each class I was privileged to be a teacher for.) But I wanted MOTHERING to be mothering, and TEACHING to be teaching. Since I WAS a teacher I also couldn’t see my own children calling me Mrs. Gandara all-day, So we came up with a fun name, just for school time: Mrs. Crabtree.

In the beginning, Mom went out the front door, knocked, and Mrs. Crabtree came in. When school was finished for the day – Mrs. Crabtree said goodbye, and Mom appeared. This separation isn’t as complicated as it seems. When the kids got asked what grade they were in and who their teacher was, They had an answer! They could say: “We are homeschooled”, or they could reply in a more “school-style”.

Read this post for more on choosing a Homeschool Teacher Name: WHAT DO THE KIDS CALL YOU WHEN YOU HOMESHOOL?

Activities for the first day of school – in a classroom

Setting the tone in your classroom

As hard as it is to believe – the first day of school sets the tone for the entire year. First impressions matter. Activities for the first day of school in the classroom can make a big impact.

On the first day, I had my students leave everything they brought with them outside. Absolutely EVERYTHING. They entered the room and were handed a stick with a number. They found a desk with a matching number and sat at that seat. On the desk was their first assignment, and a pencil. As I handed them the pencil I greeted them warmly and told them to get to work on their assignment. If they had questions, I advised them to skip to something they could do, I would be able to help in just a minute. 

When all the sticks were distributed I walked the room and again greeted each child, looking at what they had accomplished (even if it was to put their name on the paper!) I complimented them, called them by name, and TOUCHED them on the head or shoulder. I bent over to be close so only they could hear the compliment. If they had a question, they could ask. 

I continued around the room like this until I had met with each child 3 times at least. 

I collected their assignment, complete or not, and praised them all for their hard work, quietness, and dedication. 

This activity establishes without “lecturing” that the expectation is to come in and get right to work, that as the teacher I am available to help, and finally best work is expected and praised. 

At this point depending on scheduling, etc I could either fit in a story or begin to deal with backpacks and supplies.

The Brag Board

Before the day was over I made sure I had the students hang an item on their BRAG BOARD. This year-long bulletin board was created with colored construction or scrapbook paper and binder clips. Each student had an area to hang their work. 

Some ideas for an activity to whip up on the first day are: 

Self Portrait

Writing Sample

About Me Worksheet

Here is a sample of our student brag board. It’s also easy to see what work is missing!

Gifts for the first day of school

Another way I loved to make the first-day special was with a small gift. Due to food allergies, my favorite gift was glow bracelets. I gave them to the kids at the end of the day as a good bye – in an envelope or pocket that said “fourth grade is your year to shine”  – the great thing is glow sticks are appealing to all age levels. 

Pencils and other school supplies also make great gifts for the first day.

Name Plates for Desks

It is so very popular to have students come in and find their names already on their desks. I did this for YEARS too – because I LOVE MY NAME. It’s so special to have a place of your own.

But the thing is – there is always a student (or two) that enrolls on the first day and they are NOT on my list. So when they come to class, no MATTER HOW WELCOMING I am – they don’t have a “special spot” if I use name tags on that first day…. instead I have an instant art project day 1 or 2 depending on time and kids make their own tri-fold nameplate so I can see it from further away!

Read a loud activities

You can communicate so much about the type of teacher you are, and the classroom environment you will have using literature (even in the upper grades).

Plan to incorporate a “holiday atmosphere” inspired by Homeschool Holiday. Be sure to include an activity on the first day/week. Check the WHAT IS TODAY’S HOLIDAY? section of the website and see if you can coordinate a resource with the week you return to school.

Communicate to your students that everyone learns differently with the book, JUNKYARD WONDERS by Patricia Polacco.

Throw Kindness like confetti is a popular motto – and is always a GREAT character trait to encourage that first week. My favorite way is by using the “wrinkled heart” activity that coordinates perfectly with the book Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes. You can read all about it (and other easy language choices parents and educators can make) HERE .

Visit the Happy Hive Shop to download your copy of the activity!

Of course, literature makes EXCELLENT mentor text too and are the perfect teaching tools for those important first-week concepts. I love to use THE KISSING HAND to show students how they are thinking about their reading without even realizing it.

I put post-it notes of my *thinking* onto the pages of the book, scanned them, and turned them into a presentation I use with my class. . You can use any book for this, I simply like the fact the main character is going to school for the first time, so it has a “back to school” theme.

First day of School Pictures – In the Classroom

Another sure-fire way to make your students feel special is to take their pictures on the First day of school. This can be EXTREMELY time-consuming but is quite worth it in my opinion. I created a special area in my room just for picture taking. It had a banner and streamers. I used it ALL YEAR. The students held a special sign I made just for our class- I called it the Super Saint Training Academy, but holding one of the signs from my FREE PRINTABLE PACK works great too! My best tip for this activity for the first day of school is to get a volunteer to help you!

Student on the first day of school posing in front of colorful bulletin board.
Nothing says WELCOME to class like a special FIRST DAY photoshoot!

Thanks for stopping by Happy Hive Homeschooling to get ideas for the first day of school.

Would you like to peek into some other “back to school” fun with the Happy Hive?

GBA Opens for the 2008-2009 School Year

Change of Grade Day 2009

The Back to School Fairy Visits Again!

Another School Year – Change of Grade Day 2018

Change of Grade Day – 2019

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Christy of Happy Hive Homeschooling giving readers information how to celebrate the holiday of the day, as well as efficiently run their own happy hive!

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