In the first 5 years that I was a teacher I changed classrooms every year, and I taught in 3 different buildings. Every year I was starting from scratch to design my classroom. I spent the entire rest of my teaching career in the same room, and I loved that, but still one of the biggest jobs I did every year was setting up my room. It was such an advantage to have the same room, and I could think about what worked well and what I knew I needed to change, but I still tried lots of different arrangements through the years. Even after it was all arranged I sometimes moved it all around during the year if things just weren’t working well. Of course as the years went by I also accumulated LOTS of stuff, and even though I loved all my books and puppets and stickers and toys I had to decide where to put everything and allow space for all the activities we would be doing every day. Some people are just naturally neat and organized – but alas – not me! It took lots of concentrated effort!
There are so many factors you have to consider when you are deciding where all these things go – like storage of materials, traffic flow, noisy vs. quiet activities, where and how children will line up, and space for active play. Here are some things you might want to consider when you are setting up and arranging your room.
I usually began by deciding where to have my whole group meeting time, and that needed to be a pretty large space. In my district we could have up to 28 Kindergartners. At whole group time I needed to provide enough space for them to all sit comfortably and have enough room for movement songs and games. It was important to me for the children to be able to see each other during discussions and role play too. One year I was offered a very nice, almost new rectangle carpet — the one with all the colored squares, where each child could have his/her own special space to sit. I thought it looked beautiful, but after one day of using it (granted – it was the first day of school where everything can be a little stressful!) I was begging to trade it for a round, circle rug. I wasn’t comfortable with where I was sitting compared to the kids. I know lots and lots of teachers love these colored squares rugs, but I really like to have the kids sitting in a circle.
It really helps the children to know where you want them to sit if there is a visible circle (or square, etc.) My room was carpeted but for years I didn’t have a circle time carpet, so I made a circle out of 3M colored tape. I drew the circle by tying a piece of chalk to a long string. I got my husband to sit in the middle of where I wanted the circle and I pulled the string taut and drew a chalk circle – then went back and put down the tape. This worked great, but I had to teach the children not to pick at it or pull it up, and the custodians needed to work at removing the tape residue at the end of the year or it would be visible if I moved it the next year. I found it almost impossible to find a circle carpet large enough to suit me! I wanted space for all the children to sit on the edge, and room for me and my easel on part of it too. Finally I found a large one, and had the children sit just off the carpet – to make the circle big enough. It would be fine if you had a smaller class. When I read to the children or during interactive writing I had them all scoot toward me – but for discussions and demonstrating projects I loved how they could all see me and each other in a circle.
I usually set up centers around the outside edges of my classroom. I always included dramatic play, blocks, math centers, literacy centers, games, art center, writing center, listening center, science center and play dough/sandbox. If possible I tried to position some centers so the children could use the large whole group space for something else when we weren’t at circle time. Sometimes I put the block shelf, games or literacy materials close by so the kids could spread out and play or use that space.
Small Group Instruction
Somewhere, somehow – you need to find a place to meet with a small group of children at a time. The last few years I was lucky enough to have a small half circle shaped table with a cut out for me to sit on the flat side, that I loved. Before that I sat at a regular rectangle table to work with one child at a time, or a small group. You need to consider the activities that will be going on and what other kids will be doing close to that area if you are trying to keep the children’s attention on a task or assessment.
I was so lucky to have wonderful parent involvement in my classroom, but that also meant I needed to find a space for them to put their coat and purse when they came to help, and space for them to work on preparing materials while we were at circle time. Then I needed a place to put the prepared materials until we were ready to use them! Sometimes there were baskets of partially prepared materials that had to be cleared off a table to make room for children to work. All of these are things I had to think about when I was setting up my room.
Deciding what you plan to do about nap time, or quiet time is an important decision. But if you do plan to let the children stretch out to rest – or for Yoga/exercise activities, or anything that really requires them to have space; you need to think about how that fits into your room arrangement too. I loved to bring in a small jogging trampoline or balance board, or balance beam sometimes to allow children to move – some children really need that kind of de-stressing. My room was not huge – it is always a challenge!
One of the biggest changes to our curriculum in the last 5 years or so, was the expectation that most children will learn to read during Kindergarten. The end of year expectation was to read at a level 4 using DRA2 leveled books. I absolutely love children’s books and I have thousands, but Reader’s Workshop requires children to have access to different levels and different genres of books. The idea is to put lots of books into the children’s hands, so books need to be visible and easily accessible. I saw lots of examples of classrooms with tubs of books lining all the walls. There is no right or wrong way to arrange your room, but I always wanted my classroom to LOOK like Kindergarten – I wanted toys and play centers visible and inviting because I think that sends a message to parents that play is important, so finding places to put the books was another challenge.
Organizing materials and supplies is another huge task. I talked a lot about labeling in my last post – I think that is so important too.
During a summer workshop one year I was challenged to de-clutter my classroom. I was one of those “Queens of Stuff!” I bought, created, borrowed and copied everything I thought would be fun and helpful for my kids. But I learned that less really is more. In my housekeeping center I had realistic dishes, food, silverware, and the best dress up clothes I could find – including hats, shoes, purses and cell phones. It was packed! But most of the time the kids just went there – pulled everything out, walked on it – sometimes threw stuff around, then walked out. There was very little meaningful or complex play! I knew that children are playing at a higher level when they pretend and use a toilet paper tube as a telephone, or push a block around making believe it is a car. They use higher levels of oral language, cooperate and plan together, and solve problems! It also made clean up time a lot easier! I took out tons of stuff – leaving a few simple dishes and food and a couple of dress up items. I did leave the cell phones because they were a tremendous hit! I pulled out all that fancy food when we were learning about healthy eating.
When I set up dramatic play centers like a Fire Station, Doctor’s Office, Restaurant, etc. I learned that the children really only needed a few simple props and they could make or improvise the rest. You do need to put out some things to set the tone and encourage the children’s ideas. The most important part is to observe and talk about what people really do in those jobs, and model how to play with the materials.
Another suggestion is to rotate and change materials throughout the year. That brings up another problem – where do you store everything?
Part of my summer de-cluttering job was to sit on the floor, or go on my knees and look all around my classroom from the children’s point of view. The challenge was that everything visible to a child should be there for the children to use that day. They should not be able to see any stored materials, extra supplies, teacher resources or my personal stuff.
There were a few suggestions like putting storage boxes high on top of shelves and covering them with fabric or large sheets of cardboard so they aren’t visible. I put my desk behind the block shelf – you couldn’t see it unless you walked around the back of the shelf. Our classroom bathroom was large and since I didn’t need that space for a child in a wheelchair – I put a shelving unit in there to store boxes, and I hung fabric from the top to cover all the sides. I even put up a little curtain on the shelf under my double easel where I stored all the extra paint, etc. If you do use fabric or cardboard to hide stored materials and supplies, you can use the fabric or cardboard as a place to display charts or kids’ work – or anything you would like them to see.
Here is a slide I shared at a workshop about setting up: