Wipe Those Tears Away! How to Keep Kids Feeling Safe on the First Day of Preschool

It’s the first day of Pre-K. Kids are crying. Parents won’t leave. Everyone is feeling the first-day jitters, including yourself!

What do you do?

Don’t panic. I’ve got you covered.

The first day, and really, the first week, of school will be an adventure every year. You’re getting a feel for the kids. They’re getting a feel for you. It’s a rollercoaster of excitement and nervousness.

And if this is your first year teaching, you’ve never experienced anything like this. Sure, maybe you’ve been a student teacher. Maybe you’ve watched other teachers open the year. But this is the first time you are are building a culture from scratch.

What an opportunity!

Even if you’ve done this before, even if you’ve started the year many times, it’s never the same. The kids. The personalities. The parents. They’re all different.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to the first week of school. You have to tinker with the activities, routines, and crafts that help children fall in love with school. That being said, there are basic principles. And if you stick to them, you will set your kids and yourself up for an incredible year of fun and learning. Want to know what they are?


#1. Feeling > Thinking

The first week of school isn’t about learning content. Honestly, it isn’t about learning much of anything. It’s all about feeling good about school. Feeling good about learning.

And of course, feeling good about YOU!

Don’t take my word for it though.  Listen to one of the most famous social-scientists to ever live, Abraham Maslow.

The creator of “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” realized that all humans (no matter their age) have fundamental needs that must be met. He laid these out in a pyramid, with the most foundational needs at the bottom. In order to move up the pyramid towards self-actualization (a fancy term for making your dreams come true), people need to satisfy the needs that exist below.

And what are the most fundamental of those needs? See for yourself!

Image result for maslow's hierarchy of needs

So, how does this apply to the classroom?

Great question.

In a perfect world (although this isn’t always the case), the Physiological Needs will already be met. In the case that they are not, lunch time, snack time, and nap time should convey right away to students that these needs are taken care of.

Next up — security and safety. Kids are leaving their families and caregivers for the first time. They are in an unfamiliar place with new people. They aren’t the center of one adult’s attention. They have to share that attention with many other kids, who all are looking for the same sense of security.

Before we can get to the higher levels of creativity and thinking, kids need to feel safe and secure. Have you ever tried to teach a screaming, crying student throwing a tantrum? Not fun. Also, not possible. So how do we make kids feel safe and secure after they’ve been abandoned by their parents to fend for themselves a new, scary place with new, scary people?

Don’t worry. It’s not as terrifying as it sounds. Here are some example of ways to make your classroom feel safe on that first day.

Family Photos

Ask for parents and guardians to bring in family photos. This is a simple fix that lots of teachers adopt. Frame the photos and be sure to display them at eye-level so kids can see and interact with the pictures. Not only will this boost their comfort, kids will start to associate the classroom with their family. By the end of the first week, school will become a home-away-from-home.

Want another trick? Ask parents to record an audio message with soothing words. Now, you can play the parent’s voice back with words of love and comfort. Watch students’ eyes light up and their tears fade away.

Here are some examples:

Having students bring in their family pictures and displaying them in class at the students' level. #Reggio"This is a picture of our classroom family wall – a dedicated spot in the room that holds photographs of the children and their families (and pictures of my family and our ECE’s family too!). As the photos have been brought in we have taken time each day during our sharing circle for the children to introduce and talk about their families. We’ve learned about brothers and sisters, moms and dads, grandmas, papas, opas, and bubbis (and even a few family pets!)." The Curious Kindergarten ≈≈

Framed (or clothespinned) on the wall, perfect height for kids!
WOW!! This would be so great to create for Creating the School Family Board! I love this extra large house that contains photographs of students and their families.

Family pictures spread out throughout the home.displaying family pictures in preschool classroom - Google Search MoreHonoring Children's Identities and their Families

Family TreesClassroom Cozy Area!

Family pictures in the Safe Space.

For the clothes line in our room!

Hanging family photos on shower hooks.

displaying family pictures in preschool classroom - Google Search

Save money on frames and shelves by creating your own out of construction paper.

A simple preschool display depicting families around the world and different types of families

Put family photos in the dramatic play center with a great message written above.

Resultado de imagen de collage photos heart

Family photos arranged in the shape of a heart.Family photos from Only About Children's Facebook page

Make your own large Scrabble pieces to label your Family Photo wall.

Now, these family photos could have the opposite effect too. The kids may trigger another round of tears. You can try to ease those fears by explaining that parents will be back at the end of the day. But that type of logic may not register for a number of reasons, some developmental and some emotional. In the case that the family photos don’t make kids feel safe, there are always other options. If you combine all of these strategies, I can almost guarantee that you won’t have a single crier by the end of your first week of school.

Tomorrow’s post will break these down even further.

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