Are you wondering which beginning of the year preschool routines are a must? I am sharing the top ten routines and procedures that I have found useful for beginning the year in preschool. Preschool has some unique challenges that are not faced in other grades. Discover the “must-dos” for a successful year.
You can find lots of other activities and strategies to make your preschool year a bit easier in the free resource library.
Beginning of the school year
The beginning of the school year can be both exciting and overwhelming for teachers. This is especially true if you are a brand new teacher or you are changing grades. If you are brand new to teaching preschool, there are unique challenges that should be considered when planning your lessons for the beginning of the year.
Preschool classrooms are different from other grades in that students may have no experience with being in a structured atmosphere. Even if students had attended daycare, the expectation in a preschool classroom can be much higher. Some of the students have not been away from their homes in any sort of structured environment.
In order for your classroom to run like a well-oiled machine, you must spend time at the very beginning of the school year explicitly teaching procedures, routines, and expectations. This does not have to be overwhelming and these tips will help to guide your planning.
How to prepare for preschool beginning of the year lesson plans
The beginning of the year sets the foundation for the entire rest of the school year. If you can do just a few things at the beginning, it will dramatically alter the course for the remainder of the year. The introduction to routines and procedures can set your students up for a successful year.
Step one is to prepare yourself. It only takes the slightest change in your thought process to make this happen. Take the time to think through the routines and procedures you plan to use in your classroom. Now think about those same procedures and routines as though you have never heard of them. This is how you must teach them to your students. Take the time to create a step-by-step guide for yourself on what you want your students to know.
Learn from my mistakes
In my first year teaching Pre-K, I struggled with this very concept. Coming from student teaching in first grade, it had not occurred to me that these students had no idea what I meant when I said, “line up”. After 12 years in the classroom, I have developed strategies for teaching even the simplest task. That is what I will share with you to hopefully make your life a bit easier.
10 MUST TEACH beginning of the year preschool routines and procedures
Before I get to the list, I want you to understand that although I am numbering, these are not taught in a specific order. In fact, many of these procedures will be taught at the same time all throughout the first month of school. Then you will need to revisit the expectations throughout the year. It really takes until at least October for preschoolers to grasp the routines and procedures of your classroom. You will especially need to revisit your expectation following breaks to provide reminders.
Classroom Rules and Expectations
As I stated before, many of the students entering preschool have never been in a structured environment. This means that you need to spend time explaining the behavior expectations inside your classroom. I have found it very helpful to involve your students in creating the classroom rules with lots of direction. This allows the students to have ownership of the expectations inside the classroom.
I try to limit the number of rules and allow them to be broad. An example would be: Treat each other kindly. I also suggest having some method of explaining the volume within the classroom. There are certainly times when the students are free to be louder than others, ie. center time vs carpet time. Make your expectation clear at the beginning and have a way of showing the students when they are outside of the parameters.
A very important aspect of a preschool routine is having a set schedule. I recommend having a visual schedule that the students can manipulate. This schedule should have pictures that can be easily understood by children. I recommend having words, pictures, and time.
Although no schedule is ever set in stone you should try to stick as closely as possible to this schedule. Once the students become familiar with how the day flows, they will be able to relax knowing what will be coming next. This will help greatly with separation anxiety.
This may seem like an easy routine to teach but in truth, very few children know how to wash their hands correctly. Add in the stress of Covid fears and this routine has become even more important. Handwashing also takes a lot of time when done correctly for an entire classroom meaning this procedure can take a bit of your day to teach properly.
One important aspect is having a visual within easy view of the sink. Make sure this visual includes both words and pictures as well as each step of the handwashing procedure.
Some teachers have the students say the ABC’s or count in order to know how long they should wash. While this is effective in teaching the time necessary, it can also cause long lines of students waiting for their turn. Waiting can unfortunately create havoc in this age group.
A way to prevent excessive wait time is to have the students form a “handwashing train”. Each student will come to the sink, wet their hands, and get their soap. Once they have the soap on their hands they will get on the “train”. The train goes around the room with each student washing as they go. Once they get back to the end of the line, it is time to rinse and get their paper towel for drying.
While this method wouldn’t work for classrooms that use a hallway bathroom and sink, it works great for classes with the sink in the actual classroom.
Carpet time is a whole new experience for most preschoolers. They have very little experience with sitting and listening, especially if they are expected to sit in a specific way such as criss-cross applesauce.
Modeling your expectations is huge for teaching this procedure. Make sure that you are not only telling them and showing them what you want but that you are also explaining the reasoning for it. Students are much more likely to sit on their bottom rather than their knees when they understand that being on their knees is preventing others from being able to see the teacher or the book.
Although I understand the reasoning for having students sit criss-cross applesauce, I don’t really understand the purpose. There is no reason why students can’t sit another way as long as they are not blocking someone’s view. I suggest offering a few sitting poses to allow the students some choice. Some options may be mermaid, mountain, or criss-cross. There is also no reason why a student who “needs” to be on their knees can’t be allowed to do so. Just have that student sit in the back so they are not bothering others.
As always, you are free to do as you wish in your own classroom, but please think through the reasons why you are doing so. Is it just because you have seen other teachers do it or is it really best for your students?
This may have been my biggest struggle as a new teacher. Why couldn’t they just walk in a line? It seems so simple. And it is when you understand what a line is. But preschoolers do not have this knowledge.
We all want to get to the playground, not spend time getting students in a line. It would be so much easier to just go already and skip this, but it is by far one of the most important lessons at the beginning of the school year. If you don’t take the time in the beginning, I promise you will kick yourself for the entire school year.
So, how do we teach line walking? Well, my first attempt was to have them place their hands on the shoulders of the person in front of them. What a mess! A circus of falling, stepping on feet, putting shoes back on, and tears. Both from the children and the adults.
After more than a decade, the best tactic I have found is showing videos of trains, snakes, and parades. We watch short clips of the movements and talk about how a line should always move as one. No matter which direction the front goes the rest should follow. By the way, this is also a great time to throw in how we are all one as a class and we do everything together. No one is left behind.
Then we practice, practice, practice in the classroom. I make a big deal about trying to trick them by going in all different directions and looping back around. Once they can be a snake or parade in the classroom you can safely take those students for a walk anywhere. And they will make sure that they all get there as one.
Are you even a preschool teacher if you haven’t had a child walk out of the bathroom with their pants down? Or yell at you from the bathroom to come to wipe their butt? If you are a brand new teacher, prepare yourself. It will happen.
Let’s face it, children this age still run around their homes half-dressed. Taking the time in the restroom to actually finish, wipe, and pull their pants up is HARD. Especially when they want to hurry back into the room with their friends. Then they have to wash their hands, all while their friends are still playing. That’s a lot to ask for these little ones.
As with many of the other procedures, visuals are very important. If you have a restroom in your classroom, I highly recommend adding a visual to the inside of the door or somewhere the student can see it when they are actually using the restroom. Maybe even behind the toilet for the boys.
Explicitly teaching the steps of waiting in your turn, knocking on the door, flushing, and going to the sink for handwashing is very important. Many of these students have never had specific lessons in the routine of using the bathroom. This is super important in having the classroom run smoothly.
Centers are a brand new idea for most preschoolers. At home, they play when and where they want and many are not expected to clean up when finished. Having centers work correctly in your classroom requires direct instruction on the expected procedures.
Some teachers start the year with very few items on the shelves and teach how to use each item as they add to the center. I have chosen to go another route. I have my centers fully stocked on the first day of school. I find it important to teach the students from the very beginning that there is a time for playing and a time for listening. So, I begin teaching that expectation from day one. Students are allowed to choose what they play within the area beginning with only two things. Once they have learned the expectations and clean-up procedures, they are allowed to choose more items.
If you only allow a certain number of students in a center at one time, make sure you have a visual representation of this. Some teachers use a center sign that has compartments or velcro for the student to put their picture or name. There are various ways to do this but make certain you clearly state your expectations.
Rest time can be a struggle, however, it doesn’t have to be. If you set your expectation at the very beginning of the year, it can be a restful time both for the students and the teacher.
Depending on the rules of your school, students may be allowed to have quiet activities on their mat after a specific amount of time. While I would never recommend forcing a child to sleep, I do suggest not letting the students know this is an option too early in the school year.
If the students realize that if they can just stay awake for a short time, they will be allowed to play quietly on their mat, I can assure you that you will have a class of non-sleepers.
At the beginning of the year, you don’t know which students are sleepers and which are not. It may take a few weeks for you to truly see which students are just not going to sleep. Perhaps, they have quite an early bedtime or they have just outgrown the need for a midday rest.
At the beginning of the year, I tell my students that even if they don’t want to sleep they need to remain on their mat and let their friends sleep. Pay close attention to how fast students normally go to sleep or if they don’t sleep. Once you have a feel for how each student rests, you can make adjustments to mat placements so that students who do not sleep are in an area where they are not easily seen by other students. This will allow you to give those students who don’t sleep quiet activities without having the entire class wanting to stay awake and join in.
Teaching proper use of the supplies in the classroom is something that I have seen many new teachers overlook. I understand. It’s easy to expect that students in preschool know how to use a pencil and crayons. They likely know how to use them but the question to ask is, “Do the students know how to use the materials appropriately in the classroom?” This is the reason why you need to specifically teach and model appropriate use.
In my classroom, I spend the first several weeks of small group lessons specifically teaching material use. We start with the simplest materials such as pencils and markers. For example, with markers, I would explain how to remove the cap and put it on the end, the amount of pressure to apply, not hit the marker on the paper, and how to replace the cap and “listen for the click” to ensure it is closed.
Once you have taught the correct use of supplies, it is easy to reference the lesson when you see students not using the materials appropriately. It is very difficult to tell students they are misusing an item if you haven’t explained the correct use.
I left this procedure for last but it is truly THE most important. Lack of teaching this procedure can affect much more than having a loud classroom or ruining some markers. This procedure is about the safety of the students in your care.
Having a consistent routine for when the students enter and leave the classroom helps keep everyone safe and employed. How would any of us feel if a child got lost on our watch?
Morning arrival and dismissal can look very different depending on how the students arrive and leave your classroom.
Some aspects to consider are:
- Does the parent bring the student to the classroom?
- Does another staff member bring the student to the classroom?
- Does the student arrive via bus?
- Do the students leave the classroom and wait for pick up in another area?
- Do the students go to the same waiting area or separate areas?
Depending on how your school does arrival and dismissal these answers can differ greatly. The main consideration when planning this routine is that your students know the expectation. It is very important that they understand they must wait for instruction.
This is very difficult for young children. They have been away from their parents or guardians for the entire day. It is logical that upon seeing their parents, they are going to want to run to them. It is SO important for you to implicitly teach them to wait for your signal before doing so. This keeps everyone safe and accounted for during dismissal.
Preschool Routines & Procedures Printable Checklist
I am including a printable checklist to help you remember these routines. You can keep this on hand for the first few weeks as a reminder. Click HERE for a link to the printable PDF file.
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Want to know more?
- Structure & Routines for a Pre-K Classroom
- First Days of Pre-K
- How to be a Great Teacher in the Internet Age
- Classroom Management with Friendship
Share you tips and experiences
Hopefully, this helps you get your ideas in order regarding the procedures that are important for teaching at the beginning of the school year. We all have different methods and tips for making this difficult time a bit easier. I would love for you to share your tips and tricks. Comments below or join us on Facebook to share even more.