First Days of Pre-K

Many new teachers, or teachers new to Pre-K, ask how to begin the year.

How to survive the First Days of Pre-K!

The best advice I got as a new teacher was to forget about apples and themes and any “cutesy stuff” for the first few weeks of school, and focus on teaching them how to use the centers and the materials in the classroom. Lessons at the beginning of school should be basic: how to use glue, how to use scissors, how to use markers, how to use paint, how to line up, etc. Don’t assume that they know these things.

Before the First Day

Info Sheet

Info Sheet

As soon as I get my class list, I send out a small packet to the parents. The packet includes a letter to the parents introducing myself and my assistant with some brief information about our program and curriculum. It also includes a child info sheet. I ask the parents to bring these to school on orientation day, and remind them of the date and time. The packet also has a “First Day Fears” letter, explaining separation anxieties and some tips for a smooth transition to school. Here’s a link to a First Day Fears Letter from Ms. Bonthuis’ site.


At orientation, we have the children go in another room to watch a movie, while the teachers give a presentation to the parents. I try to keep it brief, so the children have time to come in and explore the classroom. I draw a map on the board for parents who don’t know our school’s arrival and dismissal procedures. I explain a little about the curriculum and briefly go over our handbook, then allow them time to ask questions. I have sign-up sheets on the tables for volunteer time and for parents to write how their child will get home (car, walk, daycare van, or extended day). I also pass out our daily folders and explain their purpose.

Daily Folders

The daily folders are used all year, and are brought to school every day. They are used as a communication tool between home and school. Parents are asked to send any notes to me or the school or any money in the folder, and I send any notes from me or the school to them. The child’s work is also sent home in the folder. The folders we use are plastic with clear covers on the front and back and clear pockets on the inside. I slip a decorated paper in the front pocket with the child’s name, school name, and grade. It also says “Please return daily” as a reminder to the parents. The back pocket has a monthly class calendar. The inside pockets have “return to school” written on the left side, and “keep at home” written on the right side. I put a copy of our handbook and our curriculum in the folder for orientation day, and have the parents take them home and return them the first day of school. The folders are from Nicky’s Folders. I’ve been using these for years, and they are very durable.

First Day of School Arrival

The first day of school is always very busy at arrival time because parents remember something they need to tell me or ask me, and the children want to wander around the room pulling things out. On the tables, I set out crayons and paper with the words “I drew this on the first day of school” printed on the bottom. I save these for their portfolios. I also put Legos on the table to keep the kids busy. My assistant helps steer the wanderers back to the table to help keep the first day chaos down to a minimum.

First Days of Pre-K

Center Time

It’s nice to have a wide variety of materials in the centers for the children to use, but this can be overwhelming at the first of the year. It’s better to have less to begin with, let them get used to the room and how things are set up, then bring more materials out a few at a time. I introduce most materials at small group time before I put them in the center. I don’t have closet space to put things away, so I actually do have lots of things on the shelves at the beginning of the year, it just isn’t all available. It’s also a good idea to keep everything in the same place all year because it is less confusing for the kids. You don’t want to rearrange things on your shelves too much because the kids will never understand how and where they should be put away.

I have my centers set up how I want them to be for the year, but I turn the shelves around facing the walls, and bag up or wrap up some of the items. I wrap or bag the materials at the end of each year. That way, they’re packed for the summer and ready for the beginning of the next school year (and dust free!) The first few weeks of school, I only have the blocks, housekeeping, art, and reading center available. I slowly add other centers.

I do a lesson for each center before the kids use it, and we go over each center’s rules every day for the first few weeks. The first day of school, I split the class in half. My assistant takes half to the housekeeping center and I take half to the block center (afterwards, we switch). We show them where everything goes, and we explain safety rules (such as not throwing blocks or throwing things from the loft). We take a few things down and put them away asking the children if they remember where they go. Then, each child is given one or more items from that center and the children take turns putting them away. There are times when we have to repeat this. If things get out of hand in a particular center (safety issues or clean up issues), I close that center for a day, and we review the rules before using it again.

Tips for each center:

  • HOUSEKEEPING: I don’t add dress-up clothes until September (2nd month of school for us).
  • BLOCKS: At the beginning, we only have the basic wooden blocks. I don’t add cars and trucks or animals until later.
  • ART: My art center has a lot of materials. The first few weeks, the only materials available are paper, markers, crayons, glue, and scissors. I wrap the other materials in butcher paper and write the contents on the package. When I feel the kids are ready for something new, we open a “present” (the kids love to open a new present).
  • WRITING: This is done basically the same way as art. The first week, only paper, markers, and pencils are available.
  • MATH and ABC: I put the manipulatives in 2-gallon ziplock bags and sit the bags down in the tubs. That way the kids can’t get into them and spread them all over the room before we’ve had a chance to go over the center rules. (This particular shelf is large and cannot be turned around.)
  • READING: I only have a few board books out in the beginning. More books are added later.
  • SCIENCE: This shelf is turned around backwards until we are ready for it.

Lesson Plans

As mentioned, our first activities and lessons center on learning about the classroom, school procedures, and how to use basic materials. These lessons last as long as needed. There is no set end time for beginning school lessons. See the School Unit page for my beginning school activities and lessons. You can also read about our day in Pre-K and see our schedule.

Printable Awards

First Day of Pre-K Award #1 (Blackline)

First Day of Pre-K Award #2 (Blackline)

First Day of Pre-K Award #3 (Color)


More pages on this site:



  1. Micheyl says

    You are amazing! This is my first year teaching pre-k (well first year teaching ever) and although it is going well, I know it could be way better and I could be much more organized. I cannot wait to implement so much of what I just read on your website. I’m actually excited about it! Thank you so much!! Wish I had seen this last summer! :-)

  2. Luisa says

    First time as a Pre K 3 Teacher and 8 years as an Teacher Assistant. Great info and would like to know more…

  3. Rose Walker says

    My goodness I have been a teacher for quite a few years your method is wonderful I believe if you give children to much it will over stimulate them they can only handle a little of a time and it can be anything, I only put out a few things until they learn to appreciate what they have ! I grew up with little of everything and learned to appreciate what I have I taught my daughter the same parents are to easy so they give in to there children we need to help our parents our children will do great I give my parents homework in my class to bring interaction at home from projects to S.A’s and if I have a problem child I send them home it is not the teacher responsibility to correct the child but the parent too! we went to school to teach no to correct my parents are great at the end of the school year they truly appreciate what I did to make the family closer.

  4. apol says

    Thank you for this helpful idea. It’s my first year teaching Kinder (from being a high school teacher before) so I’m a bit worried about my teaching methods. But thank you for this because I got new ideas that i know can help me a lot through out the school year . Godbless Teacher Karen Cox. Don’t stop helping other teachers like us! :)

  5. Mischa says

    Hi Karen,
    I absolutely love your website! Thank you for sharing your awesomeness!

    Can you tell me where you purchase your daily folders? I have been using binders, and I would like to try something less bulky.

    Thank you,
    Mischa Owen

  6. Jennifer says

    Do you have another link to the First Day Fears Letter? I tried the link above and it does not work. It would be very helpful! Thank you.

  7. ahlam says

    Millions of thanx. I am opening my kg this September. I get whatever I need from you.
    May God alone reward you all the best.
    Thanx again

  8. Jasmine says

    I will be a first year pre-k teacher this coming August. This really helped, as I was trying to figure out exactly what to do the first few weeks of school. Thank you for sharing :)

  9. Elsa Fowler says

    Just read First Days of Pre-K. Been teaching Pre-K for 10 years now. Started year 1 saying I was ONLY going to teach Pre-K for 1 year-that’s it! And now I cannot see myself teaching any other grade & loving it as I do Pre-K! Your article echos my style & my approach to things. You know what you’re talking about!

    • says

      Thanks, Elsa! Like you, I thought I would teach Pre-K for only 1 year… and then I was going to get out as fast as I could. :) But I love Pre-K!

  10. Laura says

    I am moving from 2nd grade to preschool (very excited!) and your site has calmed my nerves so much! This post on it’s own has made me feel better about the first few days, I can’t wait to explore more of your blog. Thank you so much for sharing!

  11. Alyssa says

    Hey Karen! This is my first year teaching pre-k and you have some awesome ideas and plans that seem like its gonna make my first experience alot easier. I do have a question, for your schedule what exactly is large group and small group? what do you do in each and whats the difference in them and benefits of each?

    • says

      Hi Alyssa, welcome to Pre-K! Large group is also known as circle time. This is when you work with the whole class on the carpet doing things like story time, music and movement, playing whole group learning games, things like that. Small group is when you work with a group of about 6-8 children to teach a hands-on lesson — it could be art, literacy, math, science, fine motor. At small group, you are able to differentiate lessons for the children in your group, and children get more individual attention that way. I have more small group info here:

  12. Sarah says

    I absolutely love these tips. This will be my first year teaching two year-olds (is that counted as pre-K too? I live in Italy) and I am very nervous but at the same time very excited and I can’t wait to meet my tiny students. Your help has given me a fountain of confidence. Just one question: do you think these ideas/tips/plans are appropriate for two year-olds or is there a big difference and would I have to make a big adaptation of everything?
    They are 2-2.5 year-olds. Thank you so much.

    • says

      Hi Sarah, The children I work with are 4-5 years old. I’ve never worked with 2’s so I don’t feel I can really give you that advice. I’m sure you will find many things here on my site that you can use with 2-year-olds or adapt. Typically, Pre-K refers to the 4-year-old age group and younger children are in Preschool. I also recommend Sheryl’s site for 2’s and 3’s: Congrats on your new job!

  13. Deanne Colley says

    I have been in Pre-k for 25 years and this is very similar to how I ran my room. By spending the first of the year teaching these routines you instill a sense of security with children. Knowing expectations and starting slow is good for students and teachers as they get to know one another. It is also the beginning of a self-directed classroom. Take the time at the beginning of the year and you will have a great year!

  14. Alia says

    Hello. I am a 4 year education student and I will be interning in a pre-k classroom in the fall. I have been trying to figure out how to plan for it. This website has been super helpful so far and I plan to be referring to it often throughout the year. Thank you for creating this blog ๐Ÿ˜€

  15. Angela says

    This is my second year teaching prek, I want to do take home folders but they never made it back last year. How can I have the take home folders and make sure that all of them make it back to me?

    • says

      On the front of each folder I have in bold letters “Please return folder daily.” I send out a note when the folders first go home telling parents the importance of the daily folders (they are used for communication, money sent to school, we do not check back packs, we only check the folders, etc.) Talk to the children about them. If a child doesn’t bring theirs, I ask them why, and talk to them more about the importance of bringing the folder every day. Call the parents on the phone, if necessary. You have to make your expectations known to both parents and children.

  16. Violeta says

    Great!! Thanks for sharing! Very useful information. I am more scared than the children about the first day pre-k!
    Violeta, kindergarten teacher.

  17. Stacie says

    Thank you so much for posting all of this information! I am a first year teacher and am feeling slightly overwhelmed about how to begin. This will be so helpful to me as I prepare for the first day and the first few weeks! Thanks again!

  18. Hambss says

    Hi :) I’m a P. Nsy teacher and these are really nice tips for orientation weeks.
    i would be very nice of you if you could tell me activities for keeping the students busy in the first days of school because every child only cries. So i want activities to keep them busy.

  19. Consuelo Velez says

    Karen you are so creative! thank you so much for posting great ideas! Even though I work with 2 to 3 year old children, I found a lot of material that I can adapt for them to use. These make my job so much easier and I look forward to use them during the school year. You got a new fan.

  20. Jules says

    Wow. This makes so much sense to me. I used to be a high school teacher and now have two little ones – so I’ve just started to take an interest in early childhood learning. I hope that when they start preschool (here, in Dubai) they have a teacher who is half as thoughtful, considerate and professional as you!

  21. Margarita Garcia says

    Hi Karen, It’s a pleasure for me to be subscribed to your amazing weekly newsletter. I just completed a Master degree program in Bilingual Early Childhood Special Education. For the moment I was chose to be one of the assistant teacher for the Prekindergarten classroom for the school that I work for. I feel so much confidence and support because all your wonderful ideas and suggestions. Definitely I will share with the lead teacher your site in order to have a happy and successfully school year in our upcoming new project PREK FOR ALL here at our Public School in New York City, thank you so much..I love you your blessed ministry helping us to educate our future.

    Warm wishes,

    Margarita Garcia

  22. Ariana says

    Hi Karen,

    I love your site ! You have supplied so much helpful information here!

    I have a lesson plan interview tomorrow and am slightly nervous ! I have not had experience teaching pre-k in a traditional classroom . I have always worked at either day camps or as a full time sitter with pre-k aged children. I have a B.A in Communicatons. Before transitioning to education I worked in entertainment and mass media.

    The director has a lot of faith in my ability to lead and I have a pretty solid lesson plan but I’m still shaking in my boots a bit.

    It will only be a class of about 9 kids and only the teacher and assistant teacher will be watching.

    Any tips for keeping calm during my lesson plan and talking to the director about mentorship programs if hired?



  23. Abigail says

    I am a first year teacher, with no experience in Pre-k and I am so grateful to your blog. I was so stressed out a couple weeks ago, but after reading all of your first-day posts I feel so much more in control! I just hope it lasts when the kids get here :)

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