Starting Math On The First Day(s) Of School!

                                Math on the first day of school
     The first days of school are so jam-packed with back-to-school, getting-to-know-you, and housekeeping activities, it can be a real challenge getting into actual curriculum. As a new teacher, I struggled to find the optimum time to begin that first lesson: the one I believed should be delivered by me, at the front of the room, to students sitting in desks, to be followed with a paper and pencil activity.
     Over the years, I learned that there are dozens of ways to "do math" that are fun and engaging, and that involve students, not just as learners, but as collaborators and critical thinkers. Choose from some of the suggestions below and you'll find yourself rocking some math from Day 1!


     I always looked so forward to reading Math Curse by Jon Scieszka on the first day of school each year. I love the humor and the way math concepts are introduced. Kids love coming to the carpet and having a book read to them. It's a warm, fuzzy way to ease into the new year. It's also a good chance to teach some of those all-important classroom procedures. Check out my post about routines and procedures here. You could begin a longer math-oriented book, such as The Lemonade War by Jacqueline Davis or The Toothpaste Millionaire by Jean Merrill. Other good choices are any of the Sir Cumference books, Grandfather Tang's Story, or How Much Is A Million?

Math Games

     What a great way to develop a positive attitude toward math, strengthen concepts, and practice skills! There are so many commercial math games, such as Mathopoly, Sum Swamp, and Equate that teach math skills and concepts. Connect Four and good old checkers are always winners. Teachers can also fill their math tool kit with games like Contig (a super way to build number sense!) and Race to 100. Don't want to take the time for a full-fledged board or card game? Try "Where's The Math In The Date?", a quick game that only uses a few digits. Learn how to play it here.

Journal Prompts

     A favorite first day math activity is to make a list of "Ways I Used Math Today Before School". As students share, they'll find that "checking to see if it's time to leave home", "pouring a bowl of cereal", and "tying two shoe laces" are all ways of using math. Other engaging prompts include: "How I Feel About Math" and "People who are good at math...".

Gather Data

     Asking a group question and having students answer it in different ways is a great segue into many math concepts, as well as social topics. The pictures below show a sampling of ways to do that.

Math About Me Project

     The "Math About Me" project has become popular recently. It can be as simple as a pre-made paper template on which students share significant numbers. It can also be more of a curation project where students bring in objects that reflect the numbers in their lives.

Math Craft

     Crafts may be more than many want to approach during the first days of school. For those who do want to build that into their new year, consider paper-folding or mosaic pictures.

Math Jokes

     Jokes are always a winning component of a happy classroom. Any joke is great, but it can be fun to spend a few weeks focused on math, science, or another specific topic. I once had a hallway bulletin board to which we attached math jokes and riddles for several weeks. The whole school appreciate it!

Math Puzzles

     It's always a good idea to get kids' hands on their math. Consider spending some time with math puzzles, such as tangrams, cross-number puzzles, or sudoku.


     Combine math and art with a color-by-code or color-by-number activity. Kids will get some solid math practice in while they touch the artsy side of their brain with coloring.

     These are only a few ways to incorporate math into the first day(s) of school. I'd love to hear how you do it!
Pat McFadyen
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