Transitioning to First Grade: How Teachers Pave the Way

Posted by Kathy Dabkowski, Kristy Patton and Katherine Stafford on September 7, 2018 at 1:04 PM

The transition from kindergarten to first grade can make parents and students feel excited and a little nervous about leaving “early childhood” and becoming a “big kid.”  At Sanford School, teachers think about helping students do three things to ensure that students all transition smoothly: seeing a familiar face, feeling comfortable in the space, and getting used to the pace.

Seeing a Familiar Facesanford_school_transition-047857-edited

Students often feel less anxious about going to a new classroom when they know a little bit about the new teacher that they’ll have. To help with this, kindergartners have recess along with the first and second grades so that teachers can start to connect with the students they’ll have in a year or two. In addition, faculty members who teach “specials” like art, music, and technology constantly remind students that even though the homeroom teachers change, the specials teachers will remain the same, so they can plan to see many familiar faces the following year. To help drive home this point, the specials teachers always participate in greeting during morning drop off the first week of school so that students going into a new grade can see teachers that they had the previous year.


Feeling Comfortable in the Space

Another way to help the new school year start smoothly is by ensuring that students spend a little time in the classroom before the first day. Sanford’s Warrior Welcome gives students and their parents time to explore the classroom the day before school starts. Students can meet the teacher, talk with friends, and do a classroom scavenger hunt to prepare them for the beginning of the new year. The first-grade teachers also take students on a tour of the Lower School on the first day of class to make sure everyone knows how to get to important places like the nurse’s office and library. In addition to letting students explore the physical building, teachers make sure that the classroom feels like a welcoming space.  Students’ names and photos are all around the room, on cubbies, binders, classroom job lists and more, so that students can look around and see that the classroom belongs to them.

Getting Used to the Pace

The final piece of the transition puzzle is getting students used to the routine of first grade, which includes more movement between homeroom and specials, as well as greater levels of independence. To address this, the first-grade teachers start each day by going over the posted schedule—which is labeled with both digital and analog clock faces—so that students know what is going to happen when. Students receive reminders when a transition is approaching so that it’s never a surprise when it’s time to move to a new subject. During independent center time, teachers set timers so that the students can see the amount of time left that they have to finish the task at that station. By making the expectations clear, teachers set up their students for a successful move into first grade.

Starting off The School Year Right

Change can be difficult for young children, especially when students move from the early childhood grade of kindergarten to the “big kid” world of first grade. At Sanford, we help ease the transition by focusing on teacher relationships, thoughtfully introducing students to their new classroom spaces, and supporting children in organizing their time for each part of the day.  We hope that this approach leads to a school year that starts off on the right foot and makes students look forward to the fun that will come in future grades!

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Kathy Dabkowski loves getting to know the whole child, and she's been working with Sanford  families for 32 years. She  is a graduate of the University of Delaware as well as Widener University, and her favorite part of teaching is being able to creatively adapt to the needs of different children. Fun fact about Kathy: One of her most cherished memories is of spending two weeks in Africa on safari!

Kristy Patton  attended Wilmington University for her undergraduate and graduate training, and she has been teaching PreK-first grade at Sanford for 14 years.  Early childhood is her passion--she loves the excitement that young children bring to the classroom every day. Kristy also enjoys being able to work with students across grade levels and watch them grow from learning early literacy skills to reading independently. Fun fact about Kristy: This year she was particularly interested in helping students make the transition from Kindergarten because her own son is now in the first grade!

Katherine Stafford completed her undergraduate and graduate studies at the University of Delaware. She started working with children as a riding instructor, and actually started her Sanford career managing the riding program and stables that were once housed on campus! Katherine later moved into the classroom and has spent the last 35 years teaching PreK, Kindergarten, and first grade. Katherine has presented at the ISTE National Technology Conference, and she enjoys attending conferences around language arts, math, and technology. Fun fact about Katherine:  Between her two children she has been a Sanford parent for the past 28 years!


Topics: Education, Academics, Parenting Tips

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