Teaching pre-kindergarten is an incredibly important task. After all, you’re helping your students build a foundation—academically, socially, and emotionally—that will set them up for success throughout their school years. Whether you’re welcoming your first batch of 4-year-olds or you’re a seasoned veteran, here are more than 50 ideas, tricks, and tips for pre-K teachers to help you make the experience the best it can be.
Getting Your Classroom Ready
1. Choose an appealing classroom theme.
Image source: Schoolgirl Style
We love this sunshine-themed classroom from blogger Melanie Ralbusky. Check out more sunshine classroom ideas here.
2. Consider laminating your books
Books in a pre-K classroom are loved … much loved. Here are tips for pre-K teachers to keep your books from falling apart (or at least slow the process down).
“Take out the staples of the books and then laminate them.” —Samantha L.
“Use the wide packing tape to cover and reinforce books.” —Cheryl M.
3. Build collections of books on one topic
Even though they’re pre-readers, pre-K kids like to look at books on the same topic like this selection of books about dinosaurs. Organize your books by genre or topic to teach pre-K kids how to learn from book collections.
4. Set up sensory tables
Early childhood teachers know that hands-on learning is essential. Sensory play encourages open-ended thinking, language development, and collaboration, and it builds fine motor skills. Sensory materials are magically both engaging and calming. Here are our favorite sensory table ideas!
5. Gather reading buddies
Image source: Rowan Tree Preschool
Pre-kindergartners are learning how to read, and that includes “reading” to their favorite toys. Encourage kids to read aloud and practice what they know about reading with a stash of reading buddies (stuffed animals, dolls, and other toys) in the book corner.
6. Cover your easel
Image source: PreKinders
Cover your easel with wrapping paper and clear vinyl to create a surface that is easy to clean and fits into your classroom better than a bare wood frame.
7. Stock up on board games
Whether they incorporate cards, dice, boards, spinners—or even an adorable cardboard monster and an oversized spoon—games have a host of benefits for young children. Check out our favorite games for the pre-K set.
8. Stock up on educational toys
When choosing toys and games for preschoolers, less is definitely more. Simple, durable, and open-ended materials that invite kiddos to imagine, explore, create, and stretch their developing language and reasoning skills are the way to go. Check out our top toys and games for preschool.
The First Days of School
9. Let parents stay on the first day
Kids whose parents stayed a few minutes and offered them words of encouragement did better when their parents left. (Check out more tips for pre-K separation anxiety at Pre-K Pages.)
10. Stay crystal-clear with parent communication
This may be a parent’s first experience with school, so be clear with your expectations. Include information about the “schedule of the day, snacks, discipline, how to get in touch, and what to do if they get scared, have a tantrum, or are hurt” in your newsletter. —Kelly J.
Check out these parent communication mistakes, plus tips on how to fix them.
11. Use mascots
Give your classroom some additional energy with creative mascots at each center. “I teach pre-K and my classroom theme is superheroes. Each center has a ‘mascot’ and the Hulk and She-Hulk are the mascots for the dramatic play center because they change and are dramatic.” —Ariel E.
12. Make time for morning meetings
It’s a great way to reinforce calendar and core skills and build community. Watch how this pre-K teacher leads morning meetings in her classroom. Plus check out these welcome songs you can use to kick off your morning meetings.
13. Teach pre-K students pencil grip
Reteaching fine motor skills is hard! Teach pre-K students proper pencil grip from the get-go, and future teachers will thank you. (Check out these tips for pre-K pencil grip from OT Mom.) Plus check out our favorite pencil grips.
14. Teach them how to use scissors
Image source: Sight and Sound Reading
Holding and using scissors are key ready-for-kindergarten skills that the kinder teachers in your building will thank you for later. Try teaching pre-K students the “friendly shark trick.“
15. Use clothespins
Image source: 1 Plus 1 Plus 1 Equals 1
Clothespins strengthen kids’ pincher grasp, which helps them hold pencils and scissors. They also strengthen academic skills, like this activity that has students placing a clothespin at the appropriate number on each card.
16. Use buttons
Try some of these button activities to help kids build fine motor skills, work on math, make cute crafts, and much more.
17. Have a clear, predictable schedule
Image source: Fun-a-Day
Your day, and year, will go smoothly if your pre-K students know what to expect. Check out this schedule from Fun-a-Day that includes “sign in” and lots of center time.
18. Use a master copy binder
Image source: Orange Polka Dots
This is one of our favorite tips for pre-K teachers. Instead of filing the worksheets and papers you use every year (or copying and recopying them for kids who need extra practice), file them in a master copy binder. It takes up less space and keeps your most-used worksheets close at hand.
19. Make templates
For each activity you create, make a cardboard template (use an old cereal box for the cardboard), so you have a sturdy model for the next time around.
20. Label, label, label
Image source: The Elementary Helper
According to teacher Cinthya Quintana, labels in the pre-K classroom make life easier—clean up is quicker, students don’t need to ask where materials are located, and they help save lots of time in the course of the day. In addition, labels give visual clues that help with language development and encourage responsibility and independence. For more, read How-To Guide: Labeling in Early Childhood and the Primary Grades.
21. Color-code everything
Image source: Teaching Special Thinkers
For maximum organization in your classroom, try color coding. Special ed teacher Gabrielle recommends using colors to differentiate student schedules, data, station materials, and more. For more advice, visit Teaching Special Thinkers.
22. Organize the end of the year
How you organize your materials before heading out for summer vacation will influence your next school year. Store games and activities by month or theme so they’re easy to find and ready to go when you need them. We’ve compiled some great packing-up tips here.
Classroom Management Tips
23. Start the day right
One of the best ways to manage your class is having a good entry procedure. Standing tall at the door, greeting each child, and having clear expectations for what kids do when they’re in your classroom (put their backpack and coat in their cubbies, choose a book, sit at their seat) is one way to start the morning.
24. Try Conscious Discipline
“I am a huge fan of Conscious Discipline by Dr. Becky Bailey. It helps teach children social and emotional skills they will use the rest of their life.” —Erin K.
25. Teach a story-time transition
Image source: Lessons by Sandy
“Hands go up, hands go down”—when teaching pre-K, help students stop and transition to story time (or substitute other rug activities for story time to use this chant throughout the day). Find the poster at Teachers Pay Teachers.
26. Make calendar time active
Pre-kindergartners need to move (a lot). So one of our biggest tips for pre-K is to let them wiggle! Incorporate movement into your daily routine, like calendar time. Michelle M. recommends having students jump for each day of the month they count or have gestures to show the weather (for example, rain movements if it’s raining).
27. Use the two-minute rule
Plan lessons that match your students’ attention spans. “Remember, you’ve got two minutes, then move. Pre-K students can’t be expected to sit and listen for long.” —Laura C.
28. Consider an emotion buddy
Use this trick for one student or your entire class: “Have a stuffed animal, Anger Bear, that can be a student’s best friend to talk to when she gets mad. They can cry to it, talk to it, and let it all out.” —Sarah F.
29. It’s one of those tips for pre-K we can’t say enough: MOVE!
Whether they’re spraying letters with a water bottle, doing letter hopscotch, or doing a letter relay, it’s important to integrate movement when teaching and practicing letters. Here are more fun ways to get your students moving.
30. Teach conflict-resolution skills
Preschoolers are not too young to learn about solving conflicts peacefully. The experts at NAEYC suggest keeping your coaching age appropriate. Little ones will need a lot of guidance as they identify their feelings and think about ways to make things better.
Curriculum Tips and Tricks
31. Plan fine motor practice
Pre-kindergartners will need to hit the ground running in kindergarten, and that includes using scissors. Use these free grass and snake cutting sheets for practice. Plus check out these pre-writing activities to help students build fine motor skills.
32. It’s never too early for writing
Image source: Tickled Pink in Primary
Pre-K students aren’t too young to start writing. We love this “Best Part of Me” idea that has students write basic sentences.
33. Start journals
Start your pre-K students on a journaling routine with blank books that you make by stapling white paper together. Set time each day for students to write and draw in their journals.
34. Use hands-on alphabet activities
Go on a scavenger hunt, play with shaving cream, and much more. These alphabet activities are perfect for your class.
35. Sneak in the learning with games
“I like playing ‘I have, who has’ games. I take their picture on the first day of school and create an ‘I have who has’ game with their photos. It’s a great way for them to learn names, plus I use their picture for everything.” —Lisa G.
Also, check out our favorite preschool math games.
36. Organize your instruction around themes
When you structure your lessons thematically, you provide your kids with more “hooks” for learning. Check out this blog by Fun-a-Day for some great ideas.
37. Begin teaching shapes
Learning shapes is one of the earliest concepts we teach kids. Shapes ready them for geometry in the years ahead, but it’s also an important skill for learning how to write and draw. Get started with these activities.
38. Count the days of school and celebrate when you reach 100!
There are so many different fun ways to celebrate the 100th day of school. We’ve got a whole collection of activities for you!
39. Use music for everything
“Music is needed and is a good way to transition. Find a welcome song and an afternoon song (can be the same tune with different words) to start and close your day. It makes a world of difference.” —Anne H.
40. Don’t shy away from science
Image source: Gift of Curiosity
Students start learning science basics from the first day of school. Check out this geography lesson for one way to teach pre-K kids about land, water, and air. Plus check out this list of fun and simple preschool science experiments.
41. Use Mr. Potato Head to teach the five senses
Source: Fun With Firsties
It’s funny and memorable—Mr. Potato Head is a great way to emphasize the five senses. Check out these other activities to teach the senses too.
42. Sing letter sounds
Switch out the first letter of silly songs, like “The Wheels on the Bus,” to reinforce letter sounds and help students hear how words change when you change the first letter.
43. Watch alphabet videos
These alphabet videos help teach and reinforce the letters and their sounds in fun and engaging ways. Kids will beg to watch them again and again!
44. Play pretend
Image source: Empowered Parents
The importance of play can’t be understated for pre-K children. Pretend play develops language, creativity, and social skills while helping kids figure out their world. Check out our teacher picks for dress-up and pretend play!
45. Use books to teach social skills
From apologizing to managing feelings to building friendships, social skills are an important part of teaching pre-K. Start social-skills lessons with books that kids can read again on their own later. Check out our big list of SEL books for kids.
46. Teach name recognition
Image source: Teach Me
One big accomplishment for pre-kinders is recognizing their names. Here are plenty of clever name activities, including Play-Doh and sensory bin ideas.
47. Build an abacus
Image source: The Imagination Tree
When your students are learning to count and add, turn a giant cardboard box into a life-size abacus for kids to work on.
48. Try different unit themes from A to Z
The best way to plan pre-kindergarten lessons may be by theme. From ABCs to ACTs has a list of themes that are alphabetized, including airplanes, carrots, and mittens.
49. Try rainbow retelling
Image source: Growing Book by Book
As kids learn how to retell stories, give them rainbow retelling bracelets. When students move the red bead, they name the characters, orange for the setting, yellow for the problem, and so on.
50. Create math tubs
Centers are a great way to differentiate math work. The teacher blogger at Hubbard’s Cupboard puts math materials—counters, cubes, links, and more—in tubs for students to use during math work.
51. Map the classroom
Image source: The Primary Pack
Create a map of your classroom to start a unit on geography and teach basic map skills. Check out these other mapping activities.
Take Care of You
52. Connect with a community of educators outside of your own school
Teaching is hard! Join our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook group and connect with other teachers to talk about challenges and triumphs and ask questions.
53. Keep a “sub tub” on hand for those days when you just can’t make it into school
Image source: Supply Me
Fill it with all the lessons and activities your sub will need in case you have an unexpected absence.
54. Practice self-care strategies
Here’s why teachers need to put on their own oxygen masks first. Plus, check out some of these self-care tips for pre-K teachers.
55. Make time for fun!
One of the most important tips for pre-K is that fun is mandatory! Instead of just supervising, join in on the silliness now and then. A good belly laugh with your little ones is the best mood booster on the planet.
56. Celebrate your successes
When you compare beginning-of-the-year preschoolers with preschoolers at the end of the year, you realize just how much progress is made in one school year. Celebrate your successes along the way—you are making an impact!
57. Do … nothing.
When your kids are at lunch or recess or with specials teachers, it’s OK to stop and breathe for a few minutes. Find a quiet spot, close your eyes, and let your nervous system reset before you tackle the next part of your day.
What are your best tips for pre-K teachers and classrooms? Share in the comments to be included in an upcoming post!
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