Back To School Ideas & Freebies!!!

It's "Time To Go Back" Tuesday!

Let's celebrate!

Today I'm talking all about my back to school favorites.  Tried and true ideas and activities that have helped me start my year off on the right foot.  If you're anything like me, you love to mix it up and try new things from year to year.  Maybe not everything, but some new things can be fun :)  I'm hoping this little list of favorites gives you some new ideas to try out this year or tuck in your pocket for the future!

Here's my favorite piece of encouragement for the new school year......


I think one of my most favorite back to school events is Meet the Teacher night.  There's SO much anticipation going into a new school year and that night is always such a great ice breaker for both myself and the kids.  SO much preparation goes into making that night a smooth one for me, but I always want to make sure my families have fun and leave excited for the new school year.  One idea I incorporated a few years ago came from my dear friend, Sarah Cooley (First Grader, At Last!).  READY CONFETTI!!! My most FAVORITE back to school tradition :)

Speaking of Meet the Teacher, these are my favorite student gifts.  Just print and hot glue the bouncy balls into the empty space :)  You can get the balls at Hobby Lobby or Michael's!  Easy peasy!  I like to leave these in my kids' mailboxes and have them find their boxes and grab their gifts before heading home that night.  Such fun!

You can download these...FREE...HERE!

While we're talking about Meet the Teacher, let me tell you about my favorite way to organize the night.  STATIONS!!!  I printed out these station signs to make the night easy to manage and free me up to answer any questions my parents might have.  They're editable and you can grab them FREE HERE.

My most favorite back to school keepsake is our first day of school self portrait.  Of course, anything with a handprint always ranks right up there on top, but there's just something about a hand-drawn picture that makes my heart flutter.  I have both of my boys saved from each year they've been in school.  As a mom, it's amazing to compare their growth and attention to detail over the years.  As a teacher, I LOVE being able to show my kids a side-by-side comparison of their first day/last week pictures.  I love to hear them say, "I DIDN'T DRAW THAT!!!" (referring to their first day self portrait).  It's so much fun to watch them beam with pride at how far they've come through the year.

Speaking of keepsake, these portraits go into their portfolios.  Their portfolios are binders with clear pockets on the cover.  I like to take a pic of them on the first day after reading the book, You're Finally Here!, in front of this little bulletin board.  I place the pic in the front of the portfolio and during the last week of school I follow up with a pic of them in front of the same bulletin board holding a sign that says, "SEE YA! I'm GOING TO _____ GRADE!"

Another keepsake I love are TIME CAPSULES!!!!  I help my kids fill out the printable, stamp their itty handprint in ink, and then measure them top to bottom with a piece of yarn. Once the yarn is cut, I roll up the printables & handprint and then tie it all up with the measurement string.  You can grab the printable HERE.

Back in 2011, my ridiculously creative friend, Abby, posted all about her Jitter Juice activity and after reading about it I rushed out to get my own copy.  It has since become my most FAVORITE back to school activity....for both me and my kids!!!  My very own two boys LOVE this activity, too!  In fact, they BEG for me to make it for them at home because "we're just SO nervous!"  They don't know I have them figured out...they will seize any opportunity to drink something other than water and milk!!!  Ha!!!

After getting out our jitters, we get to know each other through ice breakers!  Because it would be impossible to let every student have a turn in one sitting, I break these up throughout the course of the first week and alternate between activities .  They LOVE these!!!!

We like to sing a lot, too.  Probably too much, LOL!!!  I made up this fun back to school song that we sing and learn the first week.  I write it out on sentence strips and we use it to practice directionality, one-to-one correspondence, etc.  SInce they memorize it so well after singing it a million times, this becomes a perfect pocket chart/reading activity for the kids to do independently.  I also print out a copy for each student and then put them in their poetry folders.

I strongly believe in the importance of establishing a risk free environment in your classroom as soon as the school year starts.  So many times we have kids in our classroom who just don't feel comfortable taking risks.  I was always...and still am...that kid.  And I absolutely hate that my oldest is the same way!  He just doesn't want to be wrong...he's a tiny little perfectionist.  Gah!  But he comes by it honest.  Bless.  Keeping all that in mind, I really want to give ALL of my kids the support they need to take risks.  Even if it means making mistakes myself...just to show them we ALL err from time to time and it's A-OK to make mistakes!!  
I introduce my kids to "Miss Take" at the beginning of the year and this is my most favorite back to school lesson.  It's so powerful!  

Some of my most favorite activities for "morning work" are my exploration activities.  Fine motor is so important and a skill that is BEYOND lacking in our kids (thank you, handheld devices).  Having our kids engage in fine motor activities frees me up to greet any new students I might get as well as put out those first week fires that always happen at the beginning of the day :)

I strongly believe in starting out the year establishing routines and procedures.  Setting those expectations is crucial for a well managed school year.  I'd rather take two weeks focusing on nothing but routines and procedures than spend the entire year doing nothing but redirecting.  These are two of my favorite books for introducing our rules.

A couple of years ago I asked my Facebook readers for their favorite back to school ideas/tips/tricks.  These are my favorite!!!  Such GREAT and practical ideas.  Makes me wonder why I went so long without thinking about this on my own, lol!!  

And I think these ideas are proof that the best resources we have are right in our own backyard...the teachers on our campus!!!!   Utilize those resources and don't be too shy to ask your fellow teachers for ideas.  Brainstorming with your colleagues can lead to some really AMAZING ideas...two heads are always better than one!  Sometimes I think we hesitate to ask for help or admit we don't have good ideas because we don't want to seem incompetent or incapable.  Y'all...that couldn't be farther from the truth.  We're not idea machines!!!  I personally think team/staff collaboration makes us better teachers.  But that's just my two cents ;) 

SO let's continue the birthday celebration!   Here's today's SALE-ABRATION!!!!
Just click the pic!!!

When it comes to back to school resources, here are a few of my favorites.  
This printable packet for Kindergarten is played on repeat for a good portion of the first month and a half of school.  They're very basic activities that ease my new-to-school learners into our daily routine.  I can often identify my kids who struggle with fine motor skills right off the bat, so I'll even take several of these activities and use them for one-on-one intervention (tracing/cutting/etc.) and reinforcement.  

This printable packet for 1st Grade is great for the first few weeks back to school.  Morning work, centers...great or independent practice and review and gives me another opportunity to assess their skills.  I even use some of these activities as a B.O.Y portfolio piece.  

Here are the literacy & math anchor charts and printables that help me start my year.  The anchor charts will be displayed all year and the kids LOVE using them as a resource!  The printables in the ABC packet are a lifesaver at the beginning of the year for my Kinder kids or struggling first graders.  They really help me to assess understanding and provide intervention if needed.

Of course, I talked a little bit about these number anchor charts yesterday, but I need to mention them today too because they're a huge part of my back to school planning.  Not only are the number charts handy, but the printables and activities included really help guide my planning for those first few weeks of the school year.

These back to school math & literacy centers {with I Can cards} were the perfect way to start the year last year!  My kids loved them and I love that they're already prepped & ready to go for another year.  These were perfect for my Kinder kids and we used them for quite a while during the first couple months of school, but they were also an excellent resource for my 1st graders.  I loved adding these activities to their literacy & math tubs for the first couple weeks of school because they were easy enough for my kids to do independently while learning the expectations and routine of my center rotations.  Plus, they were a great way for me to observe and assess understanding and mastery so I could better plan my instruction.

Of course, the first few weeks are nothing short of crazy.  I'm always need a little something "extra", so I have a little survival stash of activities to help with that! 

My first graders LOVED doing these at the beginning of the year!  I even included a few in my little survival stash of goodies!  They were a HIT!

I know our fine motor skills will need some practice, so these letter booklets are usually introduced during the 2nd week of school with my Kindergartners and the first week of school with my first graders.

Our alphabet notebooks are one of my favorites and these swing into action the 2nd week of school.  Perfect for back to school learning and reinforcement!!

These are my two most favorite units to start off the new school year....

Say My Name!  Lots of hands-on, engaging name activities!!  I LOVE working with names!!! After all, their names are the most important word in their vocabulary :)  If you take a look back at my Yearlong Planning and Pacing Calendars for both K & 1, you'll see that NAMES take up two weeks of my theme planning.  I use all of the activities from this resource to plan those two weeks of instruction.  

Right after we learn about names, we learn about colors!  You'll see the COLOR theme in my Yearlong Planning and Pacing Calendars, too.  In Kindergarten, color words are my theme for 2 straight weeks.  In 1st grade, I only reserve one week for a color theme and do a "color of the day" type planning instead.  All of my activities for this theme come from this resource and they guide my instruction for those 2 weeks (in K) and color days (in 1st).  Sounds a little crazy, but there's a definite method to the madness!!

You can find these back to school resources...and more!! my store and they're all 20% OFF today ONLY!  


  1. I love, love, love these resources, but they are not on sale in your store. Is their a code that I need to enter?


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  2. Thank you so much for sharing all these fabulous things! When I downloaded the welcome back station signs they opened as pdf instead of into a app like ppt that would allow editing. Any ideas? ~ Caroline

    1. The PDF is editable :) Just click in the text areas to get started :) Blessings!

  3. Hi Cara, I also love your resources and appreciate the hard work you do and the fact that you don't mind sharing quite a bit of it for free! I wanted to check out your Time Capsule but for some reason it doesn't open up at all. Is there a way you can help me? My email is Thanks a ton!

  4. Cara, your stations idea for Meet the Teacher night is brilliant! But again once I click on the link - nothing opens up for some reason. Would you please email me the file and time capsule as well? Thank you in advance! Marina

  5. I love all of your ideas; I tried clicking on the links, and they took me to a blank page. Would you please send me information on all?
    Thank you,

  6. WoW! What great ideas! I love your back to school information forms however, when I click on the link it takes me to a blank page. Could you please email me the information or let me know how to correct this error.
    Thank you

  7. Cara- I attended the SDE conference this year and LOVED all of your sessions. One of the many things I took away was your use of positive reinforcement without a fancy behavior system. Can you explain or give me more ideas on how to manage this and how to introduce this type of thinking to parents and administration? It's something that has weighed on me the past few years. Thanks so much!!