It’s back to school season! That means teachers everywhere are planning their schedules and their routines, right down to the moment that kids enter the room. Have you considered using a “soft start” instead of traditional morning work for your classroom morning routine? Below are some things to think about as you make your decision. (When you finish, check out answers to frequently asked questions about soft starts in this blog post.)
Why do a “soft start?”
Think of your own work life. Do you like to settle in first or rush straight to a meeting? You probably like the chance to greet co-workers, take off your coat, and use the bathroom before digging in to the intense work of your day. In other words, you prefer a soft start to your work day.
A soft start for students mimics the way you likely prefer to start your day – with a chance to settle in before beginning work. Even with a soft start, kids still complete classroom morning routines (emptying backpacks, etc.) But when they finish, they have a handful of activities to choose from, rather than a worksheet. Kids are able to chat with friends during all of the activities. This strengthens the sense of community in your room and empowers your students with making their own choices.
The new social distancing guidelines have many of us worried about what our classroom routines will look like this year. Find ways to adapt your soft start for social distancing guidelines in this post.
What can a “soft start” include?
The activities you choose can match the materials in your room and the personalities of your students. The important thing is that students are able to start the day with a choice of quiet activities. This gentle start allows students to interact with peers as they get ready for the day.
Possible soft start activities can include:
- books (reading alone or with a friend)
- play dough (I use Magic Play Dough on the first day for a soft star)
- games (sometimes favorite math games like Subitizing War (see below); sometimes quick commercial games, like Hi Ho Cherry-O)
- coloring pages
- water color paints
- Legos or other blocks
- paper and tape for creating “stuff”
Subitizing War is a popular morning choice. Click the photo to see this game in my store.
Kids love to write in the mornings – and I love reading their work!
As you start the year, you may provide only 2-3 choices. As the year goes on, your may add or change the choices. You might swap activities for variety. Or you may chance to activities that reflect your students’ preferences. For instance, with a class that loves to draw, you might add markers, colored pencils and water color paints to the soft start choices.
How does a “soft start” work?
First, you will want to decide which morning tasks will still be expected of students. You always put your purse and jacket away, then check your e-mail in the morning. Students will also need to be responsible for getting themselves ready for the day. You can see an example of a sample classroom morning routine in this post.
Next, choose 2-3 activities to initially include in your soft start. You will want to spend a bit of time teaching students how to carefully use these activities. Model how to use the materials and allow students to practice. Then students can choose an activity when their morning routines are finished.
As an example, you might start with Magic Play Dough as your students arrive on the first day of school. Later that day you demonstrate how to use crayons and paper, then allow students to practice drawing.
On day 2, students will complete their morning routines, then they choose either playing with the play dough or drawing a picture.
In the coming days, you will also demonstrate and practice how to use books from the classroom library – and how to put them back correctly. Once your students understand how to use the classroom library, you can make that a third choice for your soft start.
How does a soft start help the teacher?
Of course you want to make choices based on what’s best for your students, but there are also benefits to the teacher with a soft start.
Unlike morning work pages, the activities for a soft start can be completed independently by all students. (You will, of course, have to monitor behavior and intervene as issues arise from time to time, but students will be mostly independent during this time.) This independence will allow you to personally check in with children as they arrive, or talk to a parent who needs to share some urgent information with you.
Also, the materials for a soft start are already part of your classroom. You won’t need to spend time at the copy machine getting morning work ready each day. Less time at the copier is always a good thing!
Finally, your students will have natural opportunities to build independence and problem-solving skills (ex: what to do when there aren’t enough sets of watercolor paints). They will also begin their day feeling less rushed and stressed. That will impact the overall tone of your room, which will make teaching more enjoyable and rewarding!
Give it a try!
If you have not already tried a soft start to your school day, think about how you could make it work in your school. There are so many benefits to both students and teachers.
Want to know more about soft starts? Check out answers to frequently asked questions about this morning routine in this blog post.
If you do use a soft start, pleas shares of your favorite activities in the comments below. Don’t forget to pin this post to refer to later!
Check out more tips and tricks for morning routines in these posts: