The beginning of the year in kindergarten is possibly the greatest example of how that grade is very different from every other grade level. Many schools use what is called a "staggered start" for their beginning kinders. There are several different ways staggered start is executed, but here are two popular methods with their pros and cons.
First, a quick explanation of staggered start: In the first two or three days of the school year calendar, incoming kindergartens are divided into small groups. If a school choses to do staggered start on the first two days, they divide the students into two halves, with each half reporting to school on one of the two first days. If the school chooses three days of staggered start, students are divided into thirds and each student only comes to school on one of the first three days.
The rising kindergarteners are divided into different classes before the beginning of the year. During the staggered start days, each teacher has a third of her class (if you have three staggered start days).
With this option, teachers are able to meet with the parents of that day's children. In the past, I have seen the kindergarten teaching assistants do activities with the students while the teacher meets with the parents each day. I have also experienced kindergarten classes switching block/special times (physical education, music, art, etc.) with other grade levels to give the teacher time to meet with the parents. This parent meeting time is when the teacher goes over the classroom handbook and answers any questions that the parents may have.
You get to know your students in small groups.
Students can learn many of the routines and procedures more easily, because with a small group you can practice the rules of the classroom several times.
You meet with parents in small groups, and this gives you a better chance to connect with each family.
The parent meeting can happen during the day, which helps ensure that most parents attend (as many families tend to bring a rising kindergartener to school on the first day).
By having only a few students during the staggered start days, you have time to do one of those really cute first day of school pictures that you saw on Pinterest!
Sorting the supply list items is much easier when you only have a portion of your class each day.
Unlike other grade levels, many times the rising kinders are only names and possibly a basic screening score. This can be hard when trying to balance classrooms with different academic levels of students and student behaviors.
The first three days of kindergarten can end up being tiring because you are saying and doing the same thing three days in a row. (Think Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day.)
Again, the students are divided into groups of halves or thirds and assigned a staggered start day. However, instead of being assigned a class, all kinders report to one classroom and all kindergarten teachers and teaching assistants are in that room for the day. It’s all hands on deck as the team navigates the students through the day. Each teacher takes a part of the day to “be the teacher” so that all students can see all the people on the grade level in that “teacher” role.
Since no student has been assigned to a specific teacher, the parent meeting occurs the evening of the last staggered start day.
Every teacher gets to know each student.
The team can pick a couple of assessments that they find important to administer during that first day so that when you divide the students you have more data points to reference.
You have a full day of observations to determine behavior needs, which helps when deciding which kids may do well together in a classroom and (more importantly), which students may need to be separated.
Dividing the students up at the end of each staggered start day means that each student gets special consideration in their placement.
Asking parents to return to school on the last staggered start day can mean that you have fewer parents at your parent meeting.
You have a whole classroom worth of parents at one time when going over your classroom handbook, which makes it difficult to answer individual questions.
Teachers can’t label anything with student names until the end of the last staggered start day. This means that most of the time between the students leaving on the last staggered start day and the beginning of the parent meeting, the teacher is very busy with labeling.
Individual teachers can’t review classroom rules in small groups, but must do it with their entire class on the first day after staggered start.
Classroom supply list items all come in on the same day.
By looking at the length of the lists of the pros and cons, it appears that I would recommend option one, but option two is actually my favorite way to begin the school year. The reason that I prefer option two is because when you look at the two options through the lens of the question, “What is best for students?” option two is more student-centered. Option two does create some challenges for teachers at the beginning of the year, but what I have experienced is that this option also creates more well-balanced classrooms.
I can’t wait to see you next week.