Classroom Management Social Emotional Learning

10 Amazing Back-to-School Activities: Make Memorable First Days

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Back-to-School Activities Elementary Students

Hey there, teachers! With the first day of school approaching, are you feeling a mix of nerves and excitement? Are you looking for some fun back-to-school activities?

Well, fear not, I have a treasure trove of super fun and engaging back-to-school activities ready for your 1st and 2nd graders! I have mentioned a few adaptations. These will be just right for everyone.

I love that these activities are also a perfect fit for getting your classroom management up and running. 

Let’s jump right in and make those first school days unforgettable for you and your students with these back-to-school activities!

alt="beige background with leaves in the corners and a garden like graphic on the ground. In the middle is a partially translucent picture of a circle of children's hands all helping to hold a seedling. The title of the image is back-to-school Activities, and text overlay reads "establish community and develop social emotional learning by gardening.
Start the school year with community building activities that also support social emotional learning.

1. Nature scavenger hunt: one of the great back-to-school activities


This first activity is best saved for when you are certain that your students are following classroom expectations.

Students are getting settled into routines once more, and this movement based activity is perfect as they settle in.

A nature scavenger hunt is perfect to get the school year started on the right note.

If neither of those checklists suit you, simply create a checklist with items like leaves, rocks, and flowers, and let the kiddos team up and hunt for them in the school garden or playground. 

For back-to-school activities in the schoolyard or in a near by forest, I have included worksheets in the comments below.

Better yet, do a quick brainstorm together of what they can be looking for.  Have them copy it from the board, and make their own checklist. 

Your students will love getting outside, and you’ll see their curiosity and excitement ignite.

alt="sage green background cream torn paper in the middle, lower third is covered with a picture of students on a scavenger hunt. The text reads, "Nature Scavenger Hunt, back-to-school." for back-to-school-activities.
Incorporate the Great Outdoors in your engaging back-to-school-activities! Children love to be outside, and starting off with such simple, differentiated, self-regulating activities is sure to please.

2. Back-to-school building bonanza

All 1st-grade architects and 2nd-grade builders love to construct. Challenge your students to build the highest, strongest, or even goofiest structure using popsicle sticks, tape, paper, glue or whatever comes to mind. 

This hands-on back to school activity is a great STEM activity and promotes problem-solving and team while it creates student engagement and motivation! 

You will be amazed at their creative ideas and you will get a snapshot of how they work collaboratively, use their social-emotional skills and honou classroom expectations.

Who knows? You might have some future engineers in your class!

3. Do experiments for out of doors back-to-school activities

Take your class outside for some engaging outdoor science experiments. 

Explore the water cycle by setting up an evaporation station or dig into the secrets of soil properties. 

Students love to see science concepts come to life before their eyes.  

Outside is the perfect place for hands-on learning, and your students will be buzzing with excitement about this back to school activity as they conduct their experiments. 

Establishing expectations is always essential before going outside, before group work, and before science experiments. 

This is a great opportunity for you to observe and affirm their choices.

4. Back-to-school gardening back-to-school activity

Are you interested in planting the seeds of knowledge and responsibility? Start a back to school fall garden, a classroom garden or a terrarium!

Let your students get their hands dirty as they plant and care for their own plants. Hands-on learning is an integral part of differentiation in a classroom, and it is also a fantastic way to teach self-regulating social-emotional  skills to your outdoorsy types.

Gardening teaches them about science and nature, and it creates a sense of ownership and patience as they watch their little green buddies grow! 

What a wonderful opportunity to teach them about sustainability and healthy eating habits with some simple crops like beans and radishes. 

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Start with the end in mind. Create engagement from day one, and use the time effectively to practice their social-emotional learning. Teach them about sustainability and healthy eating habits while they are having a blast!

5. Code your way to success

Coding is definitely a blast for 1st and 2nd graders? Introduce your students to the world of coding through interactive games and coding platforms specially designed just for their age group.

They navigate through fun challenges, developing some logical thinking, computational skills, and maybe even their growth mindset along the way. 

Coding prepares them for the digital age and it nurtures creativity and problem-solving abilities too! Problem-solving is an essential skill for developing a growth mindset.

6. Arts and crafts extravaganza for back-to-school fun

Invite your students to spend an afternoon making arts and crafts? 

Provide your students with materials like coloured paper, magazines, and fabric, and watch them get creative as they make collages.  Assign a theme or topic… or don’t.

Use this activity as an opportunity to really teach into how students will gather their supplies and transition into the activity. 

Enhance your classroom management as you use this activity to establish classroom routines and organization by clarifying expectations prior to getting started.

Then, simply affirm their choices.

This activity nurtures their artistic talents and encourages self-expression while boosting their fine motor skills. 

Have them share their creations. This turns this back-to-school activity into a fun community-building activity. 

7. Nature’s paintbrush – getting outside with back-to-school activities!

Time to take art class outside! Head out to the playground (or on a field trip) and take a nature walk with your little artists and collect leaves, flowers, and small branches. 

Now you have a couple of options. 

  1. When you get back-to-school give them paint and let their imaginations run wild as they use nature’s gifts as paintbrushes to create unique and textured masterpieces. 
  1. Give them a 3 x 5 piece of black construction paper, and have them create a picture with their collection. Place a frame around it, and take a photo of their creation. Later on, you can print off all of the photos (black and white is just fine 😉) and you have a fantastic bulletin board ready to go! 

A simple way to keep track of the photos is by taking the photo straight to a Google Doc on my phone, so I could type in their name to keep the photos straight.

Either of these hands-on nature-based art activities encourages creativity and develops an appreciation of the beauty of the natural world. 

Draw your students into a discussion about how they felt as they created their artwork. Elaborate upon those ideas and make this engaging back to school activity an opportunity for social-emotional learning.

8. Back-to-school team-building extravaganza

Create a sense of classroom community with back-to-school activities for students that are team-building activities. 

  1. Involve your students in fun challenges like the Tower of Cups. The goal is to work together to build the tallest tower using plastic cups. 
  1. Try the Human Knot. Have them form a circle and then attempt to untangle themselves without letting go of their hands. 

These fun back-to-school activities promote communication and problem-solving and create a positive and supportive class culture. 

When combined these work directly on growth mindset, social-emotional learning, and classroom community!

Not too shabby! 😄

9. Virtual adventures – explore the world from your classroom!

Try a virtual field trip as a back-to-school activity! Take your students to museums, national parks, historical sites, and even other countries while sitting in their desks.

They will love exploring these virtual wonders, and you will open their hearts and minds to other people, places and cultures. 

10. Back-to-school community building with collaborative projects

Assign your students to work in small groups on projects like creating a class newspaper, where each group contributes articles for different sections. 

As you discuss the activity(ies) you choose, refer back to classroom expectations and rules. Discuss how they decided they wanted to treat each other, and what might be the natural consequence of not treating each other that way.

Or start on a community project, such as creating a mural for a local park or organizing a fundraiser for a charitable cause. 

These projects not only develop academic and social skills but also instill a sense of community and responsibility in your students. 

Collaborative projects encourage teamwork and can develop peer support in your classroom. 

alt=" beige background, sage green background behind the header which reads, back to school activities elementary students, followed by list of 10 activities: nature scavenger hunt, building bonanza, outdoor experiments, gardening galore, code your way to success, arts and crafts extravangza, nature's paintbrush, team building extravaganza, virtual adventures, collaborative projects. On the very bottom is the Engaging Curiosity web address and logo. This pin is promoting fun back-to-school activities that are a great opportunity to review classroom expectations and rules.All fantastice back-to-school activities"
Are you intent on engaging your students from the first day of back-to-school? Any of these ideas will create engagement while starting with the end in mind.

My very first back-to-school activties in the classroom

Tensions were high, and I was awash in uncertainty.  What was today going to look like? Did I have enough for the kiddos to do? Were they the right back-to-school activities?

I only considered the first day because that was all I had planned. 

Because this was a brand new classroom my time had been focused on ordering supplies and speaking with the custodian about changes to the classroom. 

I realized that if I could just feel completely ready for the first day, I could then plan the second day. Slowly and over time I would get a little bit further ahead.

My first day back-to-school as a classroom teacher sped by. 

Inside the Back-to-School Activities Resource

Drum roll please !!! (If you haven’t asked for a drum roll in the classroom, you are missing out on some fun. Try it, I dare you to.)

But I digress. 😉

Inside this resource you will find:

  • your first ice-breaker activity
  • story recommendations with group activities to accompany them
  • a choice of partner cards that I hope you will use for years to come to assign random partners
  • a lesson plan to get classroom expectations established
  • a handwashing lesson plan 
  •  a community-building activity
  • a couple of other bits and bobs.

Although I am retired now, establishing my classroom and watching my students grow and thrive was the absolute best part of teaching. I created this resource with the hope that it will help others to get started on a similar journey.

alt="sage green background with an unfocused picture of flowers in the midsection.The heading reads, "Back to School Essentials" For Day one, back-to-school activities with a similar caption on the icon below it. The icon is promoting a classroom resource designed to support a teacher getting a strong start to classroom management for the school year. The image also contains the web address for Engaging Curiosity."
This classroom resource has been created with my all time best first day activities. Start the school year the way you intend to go on, with engagement, high standards and calm. Press here for more details.

The Adventure Begins with Back to School Activities! 😁

As you step into this year as an elementary school teacher, remember that the first days of school are about building connections and setting the tone for the year ahead. 

Head outside, unleash creativity through art, or by embarking on a real  or virtual field trip, will bring smiles, laughter and a greater sense of community to your classroom.

Breathe deep, embrace your joy of teaching, and let the fun and excitement of these back-to-school activities spark your students’ lifelong love for learning. 

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