That first day of class, you will encounter as many reactions to starting school as you will children. As a teacher of preschoolers, you need to be prepared for anything!

Some children will be new to a classroom. They may enter with curiosity and check out every corner. Others may hang back shyly, and those suffering the most from separation anxieties may cling to their trusted adult. Occasionally, one will set up a howl. At the same time, you will have children who are accustomed to a group setting. They may come in cheerfully and calmly and begin to socialize right away. And then you will have a few ‘movers and shakers’, the children with boundless energy. These children can be quiet people, but more often, their natural enthusiasm brings its own noise!

At the beginning of the first day, you will be greeting children and parents, putting names to faces, even collecting fees and late registration forms. Set up the classroom so children can quickly find something that interests, channels or comforts them while you are busy.

• For the anxious child, invite the parent to explore the room with the child. Suggest they look around and choose what activity the child will do after the parent leaves. Perhaps they could begin a drawing that can be finished only after the parent leaves so the finished product will be a surprise for the parent.

• Drawing and coloring are soothing activities for some children. Steer the shyer children there first. They will drift onto other activities as they become comfortable. Have plenty of crayons or markers and paper so this ‘station’ looks inviting.

• If a child really clings and the tears are about to fall, ask the parent and child to go to the doll corner, where there are dolls and teddies that need comforting. Encourage the child to are for the doll or stuffed animal, all during class if necessary.

Some teachers have a policy of letting parents of very anxious children stay (if possible) for the class time. Other teachers take the ‘rip the bandage off fast’ approach and ask parents to leave quickly. Both methods work some of the time! If you choose to have parents leave quickly, it would be very helpful if you have another adult or a teen helper to attend to a crying child.  

• Puzzles, books, and imaginary playthings (e.g. the doll corner) offer plenty for the confident children.

• As for the active children, remember they love big actions, but encouraging jumping or running as class is beginning will make it very hard for them to settle down. Instead, set out a length of newsprint paper on the floor along with big crayons. Challenge them to make a giant picture. If you have a chalkboard, sidewalk chalk may lead them to making big motion with their arms to make large drawings. Playing with large trucks and hauling blocks, is big play too. (If your class time lasts longer than an hour, provide some movement activities for the whole class. Act out a story that requires jumping up, lying down, and waving arms, sing action songs, or find a secluded hallway where you can lead them in jumping, hopping, skipping, etc.)

• Have a clear plan for how class will officially start once all the children have arrived. If you begin with a group time, have any remaining parents join the group with their shy children so the children join the group. Separate the active children from each other. Start with a song that most children will be familiar with.

• Look into each of those little faces. Over the course of the year, you will be privy to the wonder, creativity and spirituality of these children. Consider yourself blessed.

• And always remember: the Holy Spirit is just a prayer away!

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