The Teacher as an Interior Designer

By Victoria Jasztal on August 11, 2009

Your classroom is a masterpiece- an expression of who you are. I feel when I decorate my classroom, I am an interior designer trying to bring a vision to life right before my eyes. Every year in addition to thinking about how I will organize items and arrange furniture, I think of how I can transform my classroom into an enriching haven that fosters creativity and individuality.

Since it is August (the typical month for pre-planning), I want to cover all the bases with you before we delve into instruction. Here is some advice regarding the design aspect of your classroom.

The Classroom Library-

You may be thinking that I just mentioned the importance of planning out the library in “The Nuts and Bolts of Classroom Organization”, and that is true. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a classroom library that even draws in your most reluctant readers to an extent. When I thought of how I wanted to decorate my classroom library this year, a bookstore setup like Barnes and Noble came to mind. Even if it may not be possible to purchase a plush, comfortable chair or couch like you would see in a bookstore, you can certainly purchase throw pillows in unique designs or an ottoman at a discount store. Camp chairs are also a popular choice. Also if you ever have the opportunity, spinning racks and other display racks are spectacular, whether smaller or larger. Two years ago, I purchased two plastic magazine racks for $10.00 each from a store that was having a fixtures sale. Last year, I acquired a spinning card rack that holds chapter books perfectly for free from a friend who was closing her scrapbooking store. 

Do-It-Yourself Furniture-

You can incorporate do-it-yourself furniture in your classroom library and in other places around your classroom. Milk crate seating is an example of do-it-yourself furniture. You can either use the milk crate for a seat and storage or just use it as a seat. To use the milk crate for a seat and storage, you can place or hinge a piece of wood over the open crate. Students will then be able to sit on the crate, though items will be stored within the crate. Or you can turn the milk crate around and simply use it as a seat- you may place the piece of wood over the seat to make it sturdier if you would like. From there, you can take seat cushions or pillows and put them on the crates for more comfortable seating. For my current classroom library, I happened to take a beige throw and cover two crates to make a “couch” with pillows.

In the past, I have also created a “Florida kiosk” out of a refrigerator box. I covered the sides of the box with pictures and historical facts from around our state. It was an interesting idea to bring a museum-like feel to my classroom.

Restoring Furniture-

You can also restore all kinds of furniture so it can brighten your classroom environment. Dedicate a few hours so you can visit thrift stores and see if you can get any reasonable deals. Most recently, I found a well-worn, yet well-made table at a thrift store for only $5.00. Additionally, I found two hinge-back chairs for $5.00 each a few years ago. Before the school year starts, I will stain the well-worn table on the bottom and decoupage the top with photos from places across the United States so it can incorporate with my yearly travel theme. The two chairs will be spray-painted with cobalt blue paint. The chairs and table will account for a spectacular little meeting area for partnerships in my room.

Bulletin Boards-

I place fabric on my bulletin boards. Other options include wrapping paper, butcher block paper, and burlap. All my bulletin board fabric is solid or with a simple pattern besides a board that has students place pushpins on a United States map for stories they have read in different places. Before the school year starts, I designate what the different boards will be used for- some are interactive, some are used for displaying charts from reader’s and writer’s workshop, and others are used for displaying student pictures or work. One thing that I do to bring more bulletin boards to my classroom is cover the whiteboard in the back of my classroom with fabric and make a few magnetic bulletin boards. Here is a short list of ideas for bulletin boards-

  • Travel Across America bulletin board- This board includes push pins in a different color for each student so he or she can pinpoint the location of a book he or she recently read.
  • Book Recommendations- Students can make recommendations for fiction and non-fiction books. Each student has a place on one of my magnetic bulletin boards and has a magnet so he or she can place an index card on the board with a recommendation on it. 
  • Magnetic Word Wall- This year, my “Word Highway” is going to include dry-erase boards (cut shower boards from Lowes/Home Depot) for science, math, history-related, and reading-related vocabulary. 
  • Student of the Week board
  • Board for current events, upcoming dates, due dates, and organizational purposes
  • Board for data question of the week- Students each have a magnetic photo of themselves that they can move around on a magnetic bulletin board to “vote” on a question every week. (Examples of questions- What is your favorite season? What is your favorite book that we have read this year? What is your favorite sport?) We then take the class data and make different kinds of graphs throughout the week like bar graphs, line plots, and pie graphs.

I intentionally leave a few of the bulletin boards completely blank at the beginning of school year, also, so students feel an even greater sense of ownership.

Themes-

Last, I am focusing on themes. As I mentioned before, a theme can be a small component of your classroom or it can be incorporated throughout everything in your classroom. Here are some ideas for themes for grades 3-5-

  • Travel- You can display postcards around your classroom (either you can get teachers or friends in other states to send you postcards, or you can post those from places you have visited), include patriotic decor, and even incorporate license plates or model items from antique stores. Each student is going to have a license plate name tag this year I am creating with an online generator.
  • Technology- Last year, my welcoming bulletin board said "Welcome to the jPod", and each student's name was on an iPod I designed. 
  • Astronomy
  • Sports/Team theme
  • Pirates
  • Movies/Hollywood
  • Survivor
  • Board games and game shows
  • Safari animals
  • Oceanography 

If you have any other ideas for classroom decor, please do not hesitate to share.

Comments

I loved all your crate seating ideas! I could maybe fit a couch made of crates in my library area. I have an incredibly small room this year, so its hard to actually have furniture other than the kids' desks, my desk, and the guided reading table.

I had a third grade rocks theme last year. I hung little guitars cut outs and CD's with the shiny side showing. The students enter each morning and follow the instructions on their "morning playlist" which is written on poster I made to look like an ipod. Each student's name is written on a backstage pass and hung on the door. I place all of their papers on a bulletin board titled "Class Hits". They seem to like the theme. It's bright and fun.

I love the idea of a travel theme!!

My mom had a big 3x5 box on wheels with a locking hinged lid. She is going to cover it with fabric and put a 2" cushion covered in fabric. I was going to use it for games but I might use it for a reading corner instead. I am so excited to put it in my room.

I share 3 classrooms with numerous other teachers. The room in which I start each day is considered my "homeroom" although it really doesn't feel like "mine". Any suggestions how I can decorate and organize this classroom knowing that I am only in it about 2 hours each day to teach? Also how can I create a sense of feeling at home in the other two classrooms I use? I teach language arts and need specific materials available for my subject only. I am also responsible for the claaroom libraries in all 3 classrooms.

Very creative!

I also have the milk crate seats.

I love creating new classroom theme's each year. I put a lot of thought into it. I teach first grade and this year's theme is monsters. My students love it.

... Interesting theme! I bet your kids are having a great start to the school year with your awesome idea.

I looked up shower boards on both Home Depot and Lowe's websites. Couldn't find anything. Is there another name for this item?

... Risa, if you have one of these stores near you, I would just walk in and ask. I didn't know the "technical terminology", either, but I explained to them what I wanted done and they understood. They cut the board right there at the store, also, in the size pieces I desired. I hope you get some great boards! - Victoria

I loved reading about your classroom set-up and love the idea of your "Word Highway." One of my favorite areas in my room is my library. I have a bowl chair that a friend was getting rid of and a couple of "reading poofs." My reading poofs are actually dog beds with cute designs that I picked up at Ross or TJ Max. They are perfect and actually very comfortable. I look forward to following you this coming school year. I have been teaching for 8 years, but I am always on the look out to learn more and hone my craft.

. . . . . Michelle, thank you! Your classroom sounds lovely. I would love to see photographs if you have them available to share. Ross has a great selection of pillows, throws, and rugs- most of my library was furnished through what I purchased there.

I hope I can learn from you this year, also. Enjoy your weekend.

- Victoria

Charlene, No, I did not store anything inside the crates, but I could have. Here is a nice tutorial for making a more advanced seat I just found, by the way- http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/08/jerusalem-green-runway.php

The pillows are from Ross Dress for Less- and I went for anything that had swirls or circles, though the colors did not match up perfectly. I wanted something slightly offbeat, though. I think the students will really like sitting in that area, and I also like it is near my guided reading/meeting table.

Victoria

Victoria, I love the milk crate seating. The pillows you have on top are great patterns and the kids will love sitting there! Do you store anything inside the crates?

Katie, I agree about finding values in thrift shopping. I forgot to mention one little treasure I picked up in Ross Dress for Less for $2.00- a little holder made of many different colors of glass. It could have been a candle holder, but I am using it to hold highlighters for the students.

The idea you have about the pots and vases is also a really neat one. All kinds of colorful and unique containers can be found in thrift stores.

Now I also haven't shown anyone the decoupage table and electric blue spray-painted chairs I am working on, but they will be in my room by the time school starts!

How lucky have you been on Freecycle? What are some things you have been able to get donated?

Victoria

I love your creativity, Victoria!

I completely second the notion of fixing up 2nd hand furniture-I love a good treasure hunt! I just picked up two great vibrant vases from a Goodwill that could hold ANYTHING! What if you had a cool bookshelf covered in beautiful pots and vases full of your school supplies? Post-its, binder clips, highlighters, etc.

I also picked up a slew of antique picture frames from Craigslist for about $3 each. I'm putting corkboard on the inside and painting the frame bright colors-they will make great bulletin boards for specific topics-the writing process, journal prompts, etc.

Out in my area, we have a ton of wooden wine boxes floating around-any wine store will give them to you if you ask. What if you glued those label-holders from a scrapbook aisle to the front of the box and used them to store books, paper, technology, etc?

I highly suggest hopping on your local Freecycle e-mail list (www.freecycle.com) and sending out your wishlist. It's amazing what you can get donated, or scrounge up from garage sales, thrift shops, etc. Sometimes it's more fun than just buying it at the teacher's store!!

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