Friday, August 15, 2008

Montessori Classroom Activity Ideas for the First Day of School

NAMC montessori first day of school activities

I woke up in a panic in the middle of the night. School starts in three weeks! What am I going to do that first week of school? I've been a teacher for most of my life, and a Montessori teacher for the last four years. And every year, I get the same nervous jitters. What will my class be like this year? How will my new non-Montessori students acclimatize and normalize? How will I remember all the new names? What can I do that first week to make sure everyone has the same expectations and knows the ‘rules’? What work can I put out so everyone has something to do? How can I make sure that we have a positive week and everyone feels safe and welcome?

The first day back to school can be a time of mixed emotions for both experienced Montessori students and those who are unfamiliar with the Montessori method and classroom. Here are some ideas to help break the ice and bridge the gap between summer, home, and school.

Montessori Classroom: Activity Ideas for the First Day of School

For Early Childhood (Ages 3—6)

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

This is a wonderful book to read to children who might be nervous about starting school. It’s about a raccoon whose mother helps him remember that she loves him and is thinking about him even when he’s not with her. After reading it, have the children make a handprint on paper with paint. While it’s drying, they can draw a portrait of their families to adhere to the bottom or back of the hand. Or make sugar cookies together and use a hand-shaped cookie cutter to make “Kissing Hand” cookies.

Sing a song

Help learn names and welcome students by singing this “Hello” song:

Hello Song

(Tune: Frere Jacques)

Hello, _____, hello, _____
How are you? How are you?
We're so glad to have you,
We're so glad to have you,
Here at school, here at school.

Create a “School” Book

Take a picture of all the children in your class as well as all the adults in the school. Have pre-printed pages that read “My name is __________" at the bottom. Laminate the pages and create a book to read to the class. Have it in the class library for all the children to read.

For Elementary (Ages 6—12)

Roll Call

While seated in circle, roll a ball (a playground-size ball for lower elementary, a tennis ball for upper elementary) to one child at a time, while saying “I am happy to see (child's name)”. The child rolls it back to the teacher. Continue until everyone's name is said. When that is complete, then pass the ball around the circle to each child, with the entire class saying the name of the child holding the ball.

Variation: Start by telling the students something about yourself. Then roll a ball of yarn to a student without letting go of the end of the yarn. The student who gets the ball of yarn tells his or her name and something good about himself or herself. Then the student rolls the yarn to somebody else, holding on to the strand of yarn. Soon students have created a giant web.

The Giving Tree

Read aloud Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree and involve students in a discussion of the types of gifts the tree gave the boy; none of the gifts cost a thing. Then talk about the types of cost-free "gifts" the students can contribute to the class. Prepare a bulletin board that has the silhouette of a tree trunk and branches. Give each student a cutout apple. Have students write on their apples the things they can "give" to the class. Put the apples on the tree. This bulletin board makes a nice display for an open house.

My name is ----, and if I were an animal I'd be a ----, because...

I tell my students: "My name is Miss Michelle, and if I were an animal, I'd be a whale," I say, "because I love swimming and floating and being free". The teacher has the challenge of repeating the name of the child and his/her animal, plus all those who have gone before. The children then have the opportunity to draw their animal. Older students may also write out their statement.

Name Poem

An acrostic poem uses the letters of the word for the first letter of each line. Have the children write an acrostic poem using their first name. Using a digital camera, take a photo of each child. Print and use the photo as part of the illustration for the poem.

Time Capsule

Turn empty potato chip cans or paper towel tubes into miniature time capsules. Ask each child to create their own time capsule that includes such items as a handwriting sample, a hand tracing, a self portrait, and so on. Be sure to date each work. At the end of the school year, compare samples from the beginning of the year with new samples. Add new material for each year of the three year cycle. It’s fun to see how much the students have grown over the course of three years.

Of course, with any age, it’s important to review the basics, such as:

  • Pushing in a chair when you leave the table
  • Sitting in a circle
  • How to walk around rugs and work
  • Rug rolling
  • Different levels of voices
  • Stopping when the bell rings (or a signal is given)

There are so many wonderful and creative ways to begin a new Montessori school year. What are some lessons and activities that you do with your Montessori students? I’d love to hear your ideas!

Michelle Irinyi — NAMC Tutor & Graduate

As much as possible, NAMC’s web blog reflects the Montessori curriculum as provided in its teacher training programs. We realize and respect that Montessori schools are unique and may vary their schedules and offerings in accordance with the needs of their individual communities. We hope that our readers will find our articles useful and inspiring as a contribution to the global Montessori community.
© North American Montessori Center - originally posted in its entirety at Montessori Teacher Training on Friday, August 15, 2008.


  1. It is such a relief to share our fear of the first day on blog. I guess no matter how veteran we are in this field, first day of school will always be the most nervous day for us teachers, and students.

    I always make sure that rules are introduced on the very first day of school.
    I also keep all the shelves of each Montessori area closed, except the creative one. I only open each area one day at a time and that is after they have been introduced to it.
    I guess the other part of dealing with very young children is the crying/separation part.

  2. Rani,
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings on the first day of school. What are some of the techniques you use to comfort those children experiencing separation anxiety?

  3. Action songs and tell small stories

  4. Hello, I share your anxiety as well. I was searching for activities and found this gem. You get in the circle, hand the students a sticky note, or small piece of paper. They each write one thing they cannot do. Then, collect the notes, put in a container and hide them somewhere in the classroom, until the end of the year. Instead of "I can't", we say "not yet". The goal is to teach the children to have a growth mind set.

  5. Hello, I share your anxiety as well. I was searching for activities and found this gem. You get in the circle, hand the students a sticky note, or small piece of paper. They each write one thing they cannot do. Then, collect the notes, put in a container and hide them somewhere in the classroom, until the end of the year. Instead of "I can't", we say "not yet". The goal is to teach the children to have a growth mind set.


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