What is the process you follow for setting up your classroom? What are your priorities, your values, your beliefs, about classroom setup, decor, and organization? (Feel free to share photos! We love photos!)
Photos work for me. In fact, I took a few , or a dozen, on the last day of school in hopes of tackling a new and improved room arrangement. I’m a visual learner and need to see my space allowing time for possibilities to develop in my mind. This particular challenge has simmered since school got out in June and provides me the perfect opportunity to face it and figure out my classroom setup. Of course I expect to do some tweaking of things once the students arrive and good intentions are put to the test.
This year brings about an exciting change for our classroom. I was awarded five computers through a district 5 +1 technology grant and I need to find space for them. The addition caused me to really take stock of how to arrange the classroom to fit the computers in without giving up too much. I also want to place them where they would be easily accessible with classroom next door for collaboration purposes.
Even though kindergarteners are the smallest people in the building, we still need lots of space to move and learn. And by the way, just so you know, I have the most incredible classroom in the entire building. It was truly designed with kindergarteners in mind. It’s huge! It has its own bathrooms, storage closet, and coat area which means no lockers in the hallways to contend with. With great access to the outdoor areas and the furthest away from everything, I get plenty of exercise each day walking to and from specials, my mailbox, and the office or work room.
Even before school let out for the summer I began mulling things over in my mind, considering all the possibilities. I knew I had to come up with space, so I went in on the weekends and stayed late a few evenings. Well, more than a few, but if you are a teacher you understand completely. I purged. And I purged. And I purged some more! Gone were the bulletin board sets I had spent hours coloring, cutting, and laminating as a young teacher but hadn’t actually put up in at least 13 years. Gone were the games that spilled out of the cupboards in hopes that they might get used someday but never did. Gone were the broken dishes and dingy play food in the housekeeping area. One can only take them home every summer and throw them in the tub with bleach so many times. I will continue to do that for our beloved Legos though. Leogs never get dingy or broken. I ordered new housekeeping items for the housekeeping area.
After the great trash bash took place I could see things taking shape and imagined where things might go. My next big decision was to eliminate one huge piece of furniture and it came down to the couch in the class library or the piano. Hmmm….let’s see…possibilities of lice or music? Couch out. Piano stays even if I find myself using it less and Symbaloo more. I knew I could come up with a kid size, comfy alternative for the class library and not have to deal with the cumbersome couch taking up more than its share of space. In all the hustle and bustle of staff and classroom changes occurring in the building, the beloved couch found a new home. I remember the good fortune I had the year I simply posted a sign during Open House in my empty class library requesting an old second-hand couch only to discover a parent happened to work in a furniture store and was able to donate a brand new one. That is when I learned to just ask. You never know what will happen. That was 14 years ago. I guess it was time for that couch to move on even though we have snuggled and shared many stories together and occasionally allowed a child to take a much-needed nap.
After the final bell, the hugs, tears, and goodbyes I started moving things around, stepping back, pondering, moving things, stepping back, pondering. The results are all the photos included in this post along with my thoughts and intentions for each area. Have a look.
Priorities: My priorities moving forward are to provide space for a mini computer lab, remove tall obstacles which create perfect places for those special students to discover and claim for their own, and to define areas for specific purposes such as large group, quiet areas, access to outlets, and functions. The number one priority however is to create a place where we love being together and where learning can happen. A place we can call ours. We are a class family and we will spend enormous amounts of time together in it, especially during those long Wisconsin winters of indoor recess. Thank goodness for GoNoodle and Cosmic Kids Yoga!
Values: Above all, learning. The classroom must honor what it is to be a five or six-year-old child. It must provide opportunities for curious learners in every area. It should offer a secure, safe, consistent place where my students are confident to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them.
Beliefs: If the classroom is bright, cheerful, organized and owned by the students it’s a great space. We call it our classroom for a reason. We all have a responsibility to respect and care for it. Of course that takes a lot of routine setting and modeling expectations and reteaching when necessary.
Decor: I always worry about how bare the room looks at Open House for parent and student first impressions, but come back a month later and there will be plenty of evidence to show the learning going on inside our classroom. I stopped with the cute, manufactured thematic stuff years ago when I realized the student work is the real deal for display. When you create the space together it’s much more meaningful. There has been much debate over this topic lately and I for one couldn’t be happier with the less is more philosophy. Honestly, I just don’t have the money it takes to make my room pretty, cute, coordinated and thematic. So this year, it’s a repainted Author’s chair and milk crates with hand-me-down chair pads for the class library to replace the couch.
Organization: I like to think I am organized, but as the school year rolls along, I tend to stuff things here and there particularly right before parent teacher conferences to give the illusion that I’m organized and tidy. It all finds its place back to its spot eventually. Summer is my time for sorting, boxing, filing, repairing, creating, and visiting the dollar store for yet more plastic bins and baskets. Each new year an opportunity to reorganize things.
I know you are thinking, is that really a template? Yes! It’s a bit over the top, but I do make templates for all the furniture items in my classroom so that I can rearrange and get a feel for things before I actually move things around. Beside planning for computers and the Wonder Wall in the “New Areas” I am thrilled to have four student tables this year as opposed to five last year. I will have less than twenty students (at the time of this post anyway) for the first time in 12 years. That’s one less table full of students folks. I was also able to eliminate a four drawer file cabinet after my keep it, donate it, or trash it session.
This small group instruction area is midway alongside the wall in order to see all areas of the room while I am busy working with students. On each side are shelves containing math and literacy supplies for easy access. The top part of the chalkboard gets covered up with our Daily Five I-charts. I use the bottom occasionally during Guided Reading, but mainly rely on whiteboards. painted baking sheets with magnetic letters, and Magna Doodles right on the table for quick responses during teaching. Does anybody else still have a chalkboard?
This area changes throughout the course of the school year as determined by students’ interests. Having a familiar pretend area for the beginning of the year is perfect, but changes to become many other dramatic play areas such as a grocery store, restaurant, animal hospital, construction site, post office, or zoo to name a few.
This counter fulfills numerous functions throughout the year but is home to paper choices, pencil sharpener, staplers, and paper cutter. I try my best to keep it uncluttered but somehow it always ends up as the place to set everything I intend to get to. When it’s time to cook, paint, glitter or hot glue it’s a great work space at just the right height for little ones. The sink is handy to the messes we make.
These cubbies house all our word work manipulative and our literacy center bins. Check out the awesome coat area back there. It provides daily opportunities for practicing responsibility to care for our own things.
In this photo all five sets of trapezoid tables are clustered together in advance of summer cleaning, but it has me thinking about possibly keeping them as one big unit while we build classroom community rather than have them separated in sets. I guess I will determine that once I see my final number. I am hopeful it will remain 20 or less by the time school begins.
This year I plan to have the table pulled out and away from the Word Wall to fit 1-2 additional chairs. There never seems to be enough room in this area once the children view themselves as writers and illustrators. What a great problem to have. It happens right around the same time that the housekeeping area with the dolls begins to lose its appeal. That shift in play is a magical time when students’ play time begins to look much more like work but it’s on their terms so to them it’s still play.
This is the place we meet for large group instruction with loads of talk, modeling, and practicing. The buckets below are home to all the things I need to be the entertainer, magician, and leader of the learning. My favorites: smelly markers, train and slide whistles, and creepy witch’s reading finger. It’s pretty safe to assume those are also the children’s favorites along with the never-ending sticker supply and colorful highlighting tapes for showcasing things we notice in print. This double-sided easel is located right in the center of the classroom where we learn to gather for the purpose of learning together.
This fabulous piece of furniture is my way of holding onto the good, old-fashioned classroom. Yes. It takes up an enormous amount of space, but I make sure I use it daily even if it’s only to play a signal for transition times. If I play slow it means take your time, clean up carefully. If I play it fast, it means quickly meet me at the carpet and we will go back and clean up later. I always play quick when we have a celebration or problem to solve and then we get right back to business. My favorite use of the piano is when I can play Happy Birthday for each student on their special day and they think I’m the best pianist in the whole wide world. Trust me. I’m not. I get by with the help of my Wee Sing easy to play song book of simple childhood songs like Bingo. You have no idea how many different songs can be sung to the tune of Bingo or Thumbkin.
The nice thing about my large group area is the giant carpet. It’s plain. No distracting letters or numbers. There’s room for everyone. It gets a little tight when we are doing yoga together but in the days of half day kindergarten when we were responsible for teaching art, music, and physical education we could squeeze three classrooms of students (66 kids or more) in my room in order to give one of the three teachers a prep time. That was collaboration at it’s finest out of necessity. Each month I change the clean up song and our blue carpet turns into a pumpkin patch, cornfield for scarecrows, Santa’s toy workshop, a skating pond, etc. Did I mention how many ways you can change the words to the tune of Bingo?
The Smart Board is another major place of gathering multiple times each day. What I like most about our large group area is that each side has its own purpose. Students always have a chance to sit in front or back based upon the direction we are facing. Students learn quickly how important it is when we gather on the blue carpet. I try to break up our daily schedule with many times for gathering there as a class family.
I am excited and nervous about how this area will come together. I want the feel for this area to be one of research and inquiry. A place to wonder. I requested for three computers to be installed underneath the bulletin board. Resources on the bulletin board will display our findings and record our global connections on a map. Watch for posts as this area evolves. In this area I hope to explore Genius Hour with my students thanks to @dubioseducator who makes it sound perfectly doable with younger students.
Two additional computers will go in the Wonder Area. My thought for putting the computers into two different groups would allow for an adult to sit between two students while others could be working independently on the other three. I rely heavily on parent help as students become more independent on Kidblog. Last year I chose to incorporate Wonder Wednesdays using Wonderopolis and a great post by Matt Gomez. I immediately saw the need to do even more with it this year.
The classroom jobs chart and materials for our daily routines as part of a Conscious Discipline classroom can be found immediately upon greeting me and entering the classroom. Mailboxes are handy for checking as we enter and exit each day. The awesome mailboxes were a result of classroom changes much like our couch was. One teacher’s trash is another teacher’s treasure.
The soon to be new and improved class library. Again, a high priority area for the upcoming school year. The biggest dilemma is organizing a collection of books that has been growing for 28 years. I have a lot of books and I still keep buying them. A future post will be about the three new additions to my collection for this year that I couldn’t resist.
This area is exactly where it belongs, right next to the sink for easy clean up. Many students are thrilled to have a chance to paint, use Playdough, glitter, glue in a bottle instead of a glue stick, glitter glue, water colors, and stamp pads. It’s sad when they say their parents don’t let them because it’s too messy. I’ve always thought that was the point. Our best messes create the best outcomes. If you don’t like messy, steer clear of Kindergarten!
There you have it. I guess I’m all set to head back now that I have it all figured out. Wait…next up…daily schedule.