“It has been said that the environment should act as a kind of aquarium which reflects the ideas, ethics, attitudes and cultures of the people who live there.”
-Loris Malaguzzi, Reggio Emilia
Teachers all over the country are beginning to gear up for another school year. Setting up the classroom is part of those busy first days back. Boxes are unpacked, furniture is moved, and garage sales are shopped in hopes of finding the perfect coffee table, lamp or pile of gently used books for the classroom library. Designing the space that you and your students will call home for the next 180 days is a critical part of having a great year. Here are some tips to think about as you create a beautiful space where readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists and learners will thrive.
- Tape off a wide, open space big enough for each member of your class to have plenty of personal space standing or sitting. (blue painter’s tape with wide packing tape put over it works well) This space has multiple purposes: whole group meeting area, meeting with guided reading groups or writing groups, Legos, blocks, puzzles, puppet shows, storytelling, indoor recess, literature circles, science experiments, drama, dance, or stretching out to read/write.
- Set up an easel in the whole group meeting area for shared reading with big books, poetry charts, morning messages, chart paper for community writing projects – making sure you have a container nearby with everything you may need (markers, correction tape, white board, highlighting tape, current books you are using for reading/writing workshop, etc…)
- Decide what other spaces you need (writing supply table, classroom library, science inquiry station, painting, quiet work areas, and so on.) Create these around your wide-open space, making sure every space has a purpose.
- Set up only the tables and desks you need in specific areas and have them serve multiple purposes (writing table, visual arts table, science table, coffee table (low or high) in library, and a few random tables if you have space.) Vary the level and shape of the tables. If you only have desks, put them together to form clusters – you can take the legs off of desks to create a low work space.
- Don’t worry about having a desk or specific table space for each child. Encourage children to work in a variety of places in the classroom, depending on what they are working on. Some children work better on the floor while others prefer a desk space. However, you need to have a space for each child to keep his or her things (dishpans, baskets, file boxes on shelf or windowsill, cubbies, stackable bins, etc.)
- Have enough clipboards available for each child – or use the back of dry-erase boards. (Home Depot will cut shower board for you to use as individual dry-erase boards – they often do it for free if you tell them you are a teacher)
- Put out pillows or stuffed animals to lay/sit on.
- Place books all over the classroom in bins or tubs – don’t limit your books to the classroom library.
- Remove your teacher desk. Use a table as a workspace, but share it with the kids and don’t let it pile up or become exclusively your space.
- Keep your classroom space beautiful and organized – don’t waste precious space with “stuff.”
- Reflect on the various spaces with your kids; if an area isn’t working, change it!
- Label everything and keep all of it within reach of the kids; teach them how to use all the supplies appropriately. Make sure they are held accountable for keeping supplies neat and taking care of their classroom.
- Use documentation and photographs on the walls to chart the children’s learning.
- Pair quality artwork with children’s art.
- Be willing to start the year with blank walls, the room will transform quickly as the children take ownership of their space and their learning.
Chapter 5 in Catching Readers describes in words and photographs how to set up an environment to support students in a comprehensive literacy approach, as well as provides a list of professional resources to help you design your classroom space. Enjoy these busy days before the children come and take the time to make sure your teaching and learning environment works for you and your students. Here’s to a great start!