In Part One of this article, Meredith Costain, author of ‘My First Day at School’, explains why she wrote this verse picture book and offers suggestions for use in the classroom.
Part Two of this article is a short reflection by Jane De Witt, Year 1/2 teacher about her students’ dramatisation of ‘My First Day at School’ for the book launch at her school.
Part Three, written by teacher librarian Ian McLean, explains how he used Meredith’s book, along with several similarly-themed titles, with Stage 3 students who created a digital slideshow to inform and entertain their future Kindergarten buddies.
The English K-10 syllabus (NSW syllabuses for the Australian Curriculum) rationale begins with the statement:
Language shapes our understanding of ourselves and our world. It is the primary means by which we relate to others and is central to the intellectual, social and emotional development of all students.
Kindergarten is the start of the journey: one in which students develop knowledge, understanding and skills when viewing, recognising and responding to a range of spoken, written and multimodal texts.
Part 1: Writing My First Day at School
Meredith Costain, a versatile writer whose work ranges from picture books through to poetry, novels and non-fiction, takes us on a journey of inspiration in the life of an author.
I decided to write about the first day at school because it is an event which can inspire many different reactions and emotions, from anxiety to excitement. I visited a few different schools on the day of their Kindergarten intake and sat quietly in the corner, scribbling notes as I observed the students’ and teachers’ – and parents’ – behaviour.
Once I had this goldmine of material, I set about shaping it into a set of poems (from the point of view of four different narrators) that form a narrative, beginning with the children arriving at school, and ending with them leaving. In the middle come the experiences that make up their day: meeting their teacher, making friends, learning new ways of doing things and making it to the toilet in time.
‘My First Day at School’ is a collection of poems that build up to tell a story, in the way that a verse novel does. Each poem in the book can also stand on its own as a poem, with (very simple) poetic devices such as similes and metaphors, alliteration and assonance, and onomatopoeia – a big word for a term that simply means words that sound like their meaning, such as crash and tinkle,rip and zip.
Michelle Mackintosh’s delightful and clever illustrations help ‘explain’many of these devices as they allow young readers to visualise what I am trying to get across with my language: a boy with ‘frog hands’, a girl whose mat is ‘like an island in a huge ocean’and another boy who is ‘as hungry as a lion’.
Playing with sounds and rhythms helps young children find out how language works – its spaces and patterns and beats. This is an important bridge to reading. We learn about words through our ears as much as our eyes, which is why it is so important to read out loud to children – poems and nursery rhymes as well as picture books – from an early age.
Unlike my previous book of poetry for children, ‘Doodledum Dancing’, all the poems are written in blank verse. Hopefully they will inspire students to write their own poems about a significant event in their lives.
Part 2: From page to stage
Janet De Witt, Year 1/2 teacher at Tivoli State School, Queensland, recounts the excitement of turning a picture book into a play at the book launch.
Costumes were in place, high-pitched voices hinted at stage nerves, last minute sound checks were carried out and proud parents took their seats to watch their children perform a dramatisation of the picture book ‘My First Day at School’at the StoryArts Festival Ipswich.
Speech and drama is a highly valued program at Tivoli State School, so it was with great excitement that we accepted the invitation from Meredith to help launch her new book.
Meredith sent us a script which consisted of a brief introduction to the main characters in the book, followed by a selection of poems that covered key elements of their day. These ranged from leaving teary parents behind at the classroom door to making new friends and having fun in the playground.
Four students, each representing one of the characters, acted as narrators, reading from the book on a rostrum at the side of the stage, while the rest of the class interpreted the action.
We set up blackboards and posters to make the stage area look like a classroom and used playground equipment as props. We added some appropriate music, a few crazy costumes and some ‘first day’ games to bring the words to life.
As an early childhood teacher, I found that the characters in the book rang true, creating an authenticity that the children understood and related to very well. The children in my class are still talking about the performance and looking forward to trying something like this again!
Part 3: Robbie Rules’ first day
Ian McLean, teacher librarian at Penrith Public School, NSW, shares teaching and learning opportunities for ‘My First Day at School’.
As the 2013 school year came racing to its end, there were several opportunities for the staff to evaluate programs and look ahead to the next year. We like to be responsive to the needs of staff and students, and to the wider community.
One of the successful programs at Penrith Public School has been our Kindergarten (Early Stage 1) Orientation program. In recent years, the school has also hosted a Play & Chat group, and now also a Transition to School group for local pre-school-aged children. The groups had made visits to the school library during Book Week, and were using a highly motivating passport activity, in which the children collected stamps to represent the parts of the school they had encountered, in preparation for their 2014 school year.
When I came across the new picture book by Meredith Costain and Michelle Macintosh, ‘My First Day at School, my mind was filled with possibilities for how it might support the above three programs. In addition, I imagined that our Stage 3 Kindergarten Orientation buddies might be able to contribute to the creation of an interactive resource that would be used by the wider community.
Time was of the essence to complete a digital project in the short amount of school term left to us, and the following outcomes would be addressed.
- communicates effectively for a variety of audiences and purposes using increasingly challenging topics, idea, issues and language forms and features (EN3-1A)
- thinks imaginative, creatively, interpretively and critically about information and ideas and identifies connections between texts when responding to and composing texts (EN3-7C).
The Stage 3 students were already familiar with the brainstorming, ‘Circle Time’discussions (2007), storyboarding, joint construction of text, and the uploading of images to create a digital story into PhotoPeach(McLean, 2010; 2011), and we quickly had more than enough material to create an effective product. I essentially repeated the same sequence of activities for the three Stage 3 classes, plus a Stage 2 class that came to the library for an unexpected catch-up lesson.
Webprint, a section of the interactive activities on the Department’s Digital Citizenship website, informed our brainstorming of cyber safety considerations. For example, we discussed:
- our school’s (and individual student’s) digital footprints
- only uploading collaborative, jointly-constructed texts
- no faces of students to appear online without permission notes (and the time factor that may impede such a strategy)
- the need for teacher previewing and continually monitoring the Leave a comment section of PhotoPeach, with the option of turning off external comments.
The students were absorbed by the richness of Costain’s gently humorous and insightful text, and by Macintosh’s quirky and distinctive illustrations. Their interest was no doubt enhanced due to their recent experiences as buddies to the future Kindergarten students during Orientation, and they knew their potential audience’s needs and expectations.
We also looked at a range of their own favourite first day at schooland naughty childthemed picture books, including Dreadful David(1984) by Sally Odgers and Craig Smith, and David Goes to School(1999) by David Shannon. Some of these books had been shown to the Stage 3 students during their own first few days in Kindergarten, and they still remembered the impact, if not the specifics of each story.
Planning the storyboards
The groups’ general consensus was that the digital slideshow should be humorous and informative, and address shoelaces and hats, school rules, embarrassing parents, a range of typical indoor and outdoor activities, and the importance of learning to read. It was identified by the Stage 3 buddies that many Early Stage 1 students are usually not fazed by so-called boys’ toys and girls’ toys, and that young students often become fixated on certain activities, such as I want to wear this hat forever! A few students were keen to feature running home to Mummy, as they recalled their own attempts to do so in the early weeks of their schooling.
Groups went out into the playground with a child puppet, Robbie Rules, borrowed from a Stage 1 classroom. Robbie wears a miniature Penrith Public School uniform, and is a regular ambassador for the school’s rules and core values. The students suggested scenes that would illustrate the needs of our list of activities. Time was eluding us to create more formal storyboards, and students populated the frames without faces being shown.
Our completed digital slideshow, ‘Robbie Rules: My first day at school’, has been uploaded to PhotoPeach, and positive audience responses have begun to flow.
References and further reading
Ahlberg, J. & Ahlberg, A. 1988, Starting school, Viking Kestrel, London, UK.
Amos, J. & Atkins, A. 2002, Going to school, (My first time), Funtastic Publishing, Vic.
Costain, M. Meredith Costain, accessed 14 January 2018.
Costain, M. & Allen, P. 2006, Doodledum dancing, (Picture Puffins), Penguin Books Australia.
Costain, M. & Macinosh, M. 2013, My first day at school, Windy Hollow Books, Vic.
Daddo, A. & Bentley, J. 2013, First day, ABC Books, Sydney, NSW.
Digital citizenship, 2011, NSW Department of Education & Communities, accessed 14 January 2018.
Board of Studies NSW 2012, English 7-10 syllabus, (NSW syllabuses for the Australian curriculum), accessed 14 January 2018.
Godwin, J. & Walker, A. 2013, Starting school, (Picture Puffins), Penguin Books Australia.
McGhee, A. & Bliss, H. 2003, Countdown to kindergarten, Koala Books, NSW.
McLean, I. 2007, ‘Circle time: maximising opportunities for talking and listening at Penrith Public School’, Scan, vol. 26, no. 4, pp. 47.
McLean, I. 2011, ‘iInquire … iLearn … iCreate … iShare: Stage 1 students create digital stories’, Scan, vol. 30, no. 2, pp. 4-5.
McLean, I. 2011, ‘IanMcLean’, PhotoPeach: fresh slideshows to go!, accessed 14 January 2018.
McLean, I. 2013, ‘Robbie Rules: My first day at school’, PhotoPeach: fresh slideshows to go!,accessed 14 January 2018.
Odgers, S. & Smith, C. 1984, Dreadful David, Omnibus, Adelaide, SA.
Shannon, D. 1999, David goes to school, (Blue Sky), Scholastic, New York, USA.
Keywords: picture books; kindergarten; drama; storyboard; slideshow; digital citizenship
How to cite this article: Costain, M., De Witt, J. & McLean, I. 2014, ‘Kindergarten: First day’ Scan 33(1)