While most people celebrate the new year in January, for teachers, the start of the school year is their “new year”. There is a lot to prepare before students arrive on the first day, from preparing class lists and organizing planners, to thinking about first week activities and developing lessons plans. Designing the physical space is also an important consideration. Your classroom’s layout can have a significant effect on many factors, including student safety, participation, motivation, and engagement.
Think about the different learning areas you will have in your classroom. When you come together as a class for whole group teaching and learning, having a carpet is an easy way to establish this area. Make sure it’s large enough for all your students to sit comfortably in their own space. Consider where the best spot is for the carpet. Do you want it near a whiteboard, so you have somewhere to write or hang anchor charts while teaching? Should the carpet be away from the door, which can be a high traffic area? Will the carpet also be used for activities like blocks, and therefore need to be near the shelves they’re located on?
Another important consideration is how to arrange the tables and chairs in your classroom. Think about the activities students will be engaging in while seated. For example, if you intend to have an area for arts and crafts, having a table located near the shelf where all the supplies are stored makes sense. If you want students to have an area where they can write, you might want a separate table for that activity, away from the area where students are painting. Other tables may lend themselves to various activities, and can be more multi-purpose in nature. You may set puzzles out one day, math games another day, and lacing boards the next.
Determine whether you will have a “book nook” in your classroom. This is an area where students can look at books or be read to. Some teachers like to create a cozy area with a small carpet and pillows. You may prefer to have different seating options, like benches, stools, or soft chairs. Think about how to store your books so students can easily access them. You might choose to use bins or a display shelf. Remember to keep everything at children’s levels so they can reach their favorite stories.
Many classrooms incorporate a calming area into their classroom design. For our youngest students who are learning how to self-regulate, this zone can be very helpful. The idea is to provide students with a calm area, away from the buzz of activities occurring in the classroom. It could be a corner of the room you have set up with pillows, stuffies, and quiet activities like books and puzzles. It’s a place where students can take a break if they’re feeling frustrated, angry, overwhelmed, or even tired. Educators can also use the space to work with students who are solving a problem together or to debrief with them after an incident.
You may have areas in your classroom for sensory activities, like a sand or water table. These tables are often on wheels, which allow you to move them with ease when it’s time to clean them. When you’re deciding where to set up your sand and water tables, keep in mind that children will need adequate space to stand around them as they play. Sometimes a little sand or water leave the tables, so having them beside the children who are busy writing might not be the best idea!
As you create different areas in your classroom, keep in mind whether the layout allows for easy flow as students move from one activity to the next. Also consider factors like where students will line up when it’s time to leave the classroom and if you have other areas that require space around them, like water fountains, coat hooks, and bathrooms. Above all else, ensure any areas your students have access to are safe. Secure shelving, keep cords off the floor, and don’t pile materials high.
For our youngest learners, keeping materials at their eye level is an important consideration as you’re setting up your classroom. Resources that are intended for the educators in the room can be hung up high, but materials you want students to see should be lower. If there are bulletin boards in your classroom, think about how you will use them throughout the year. There may be other blank spaces on the wall that you can also use. Consider whether you will have displays that remain up all year, like students’ birthdays or pictures. There may be other displays that will be updated regularly, like areas to show off students’ artwork or other learning activities. You may have anchor charts up for students to refer to, like numbers or the alphabet. Will these be store-bought posters or charts you have co-created with your students? You may create other charts together such as rules for lunch time or reminders on the order to put winter clothing on. (Mittens come last!) You want your walls to be visually appealing and to also display useful information that you and your students refer to.
Every classroom needs a variety of storage solutions, for both the educators’ resources as well as materials students will be using. There may be items that you’re not accessing on a daily basis that can be stowed away in a closet or on higher shelves. If you have items in boxes or bins, labeling them will ensure you don’t forget what’s in them. For resources that you’re using more frequently, keep them near the area where you need them, for easy access. For example, you might want your magnetic letters close to your guided reading table.
You will need many storage options for the materials students will be using. For example, building blocks may need a large tote or ample space on a shelf. Letter trays might be a good choice for organizing paper. Clear plastic bins can house a multitude of items, such as math manipulatives and games, and students can easily see what’s inside. When you’re choosing storage options, remember that the easier it is for students to put things away, the more successful they will be at keeping everything in the right spot.
Setting up your classroom for the new school year takes some time and effort, but there’s something fun and exciting about fresh starts! If you’re still itching for ideas, pop in to a colleague’s room or check the internet for more inspiration. And if your best laid plans don’t quite work out the way you intended once you add children to the mix, just change them up!
Written by: Erin Agnello
Edited & Designed by: Jamie Schmalenberger
Graphics by: Freepik
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My name is John Haber. I’m a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and the founder of Nogginsland. I became a COTA in 2003, and then went back to school much later, receiving my Master’s Degree in OT from Mercy College in New York in 2016.
Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of populations in different settings, from school districts, to developmental disability centers, to children’s hospitals.