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Designing Your Classroom Space (With Before and After Photos)

By Erin Klein on August 27, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

I've been working all summer long to redesign my learning space, creating a more inviting environment for my learners. As a former interior design major, planning an aesthetically pleasing area was important to me, as was keeping brain-friendly ideas in mind.

Due to the limited square footage in my classroom, I decided to replace the desks with a few pieces of non-traditional furniture. For example, our reading area is outfitted with rocking chairs, benches, and patio chairs, and in the back corner of the room, a breakfast nook is nestled beside a floor lamp and a large artificial tree. 

My main goal in designing my space was to create an environment where students would feel comfortable. I knew I had to provide materials that would be easily accessible and organized. Supplies are kept out in containers and baskets for the children to use as needed. Everything should be at their level. This meant lowering posters and charts. I also wanted to keep the colors calming in an effort not to distract from the content that would soon be posted on the interactive white board, walls, and bulletin boards.

It was important for me to select a theme that would appeal to both boys and girls as well. Since we have a garden outside of our classroom, I thought it would be a good idea to bring the garden into our room. Thus, the nature theme became my focus. Muted colors of brown, green, red, and gold started to fill the space.  

About the Design

I love shopping at Hobby Lobby for my home and classroom. I often rearrange the furniture in my home. When I do, instead of bringing the items to my basement, I'll switch them out with items in my classroom. The wall art you see above the window was a piece I had above one of my art canvas paintings in my master bathroom. Now, it sits above my classroom window. A few years ago, this metal wall art was placed above my bulletin board (click here to see). My bulletin board was designed to look like a window. I even had curtains on each side! You can find similar wall art by clicking here to connect to Hobby Lobby's site.

I also keep personal photos of my family around the room. You can see some sitting on the shelf. I add personal touches throughout the space to bring a piece of my life into the room. I even add framed photos of the students throughout the year, too. Because we are a classroom family, it's only fitting that their photos be added in frames around the room. My bulletin above the tall shelves is currently under construction. This will be the place where we post math concepts and vocabulary. However, since we haven't started a unit yet, no content is displayed. As we introduce skills, students will help to add essential information to the board.  

 

Getting the Student's Input 

When I asked my students last year how I should think about setting up my classroom for the new year, many of them expressed the importance of having areas where they could sit and relax. They really enjoyed being able to stretch out with a good book and not be confined to their desk. That's when I began brainstorming creative ways to incorporate inviting seating areas that would help to maximize the layout's working area.

Since we have a small room, it was essential to utilize each section of the space. The corner breakfast nook works perfectly to provide additional seating since it tucks right into the corner, not taking up unnecessary floor space. The bench seats also lift to provide extra storage. I keep many of our charging cords and technology accessories in these cubbies.  

I plan to use this area for groups to collaborate together and work on projects with one another. There will also be two round tables in the center of the room for children to use while working independently or with partners. We are getting 20 iPads for our grade level this year, which will be shared among four classes. So I am excited to have a comfortable area for children to connect with each other as they develop content and extend lessons on the iPads.  

About the Design

To frame this area, I added a border that I purchased a few years ago. I used tacks to hold the wall-border in place. I measured the border to be about twelve inches from the ceiling to create a more cozy corner. In effort to make this section feel more warm, like home, I added a chalkboard beside the window. I picked this up from IKEA for $14.99. This chalkboard is where I'll spotlight our date, special person of the day, and daily agenda...just like at home! You can also find this breakfast nook from Wal-Mart online for $279 — a sizable investment, but one that will last through many years of teaching.

 

Starting the Process...

It went from bad to worse. I began to second guess my decision to transform my classroom. At first, I was so overwhelmed that I didn't know where to start. After removing everything from the shelves and cabinets, I started sorting through what I would keep and what I would donate. Then I sorted the materials into piles where they would end up being placed in the room. Once everything was in organized sections, I went to IKEA and shopped around for items to define the space with purpose.  

 

Defining Each Area...

I like to set up various sections of the room to serve different purposes. This gives the students more options to work and keeps them moving. In our room, we transition a lot. I feel it's important to allow the children to have opportunities to walk around and discuss topics with their peers. One area I set up this summer was a small group meeting place.  

I hung chart paper on the wall and eliminated my bulky stand to save space. However, this also meant I could no longer utilize the nice, magnetic board that was attached to the stand. So, I picked up a $12.99 magnetic board from IKEA to hang above the chart paper. While at IKEA, I stumbled upon a hanging planter set. Instantly, I envisioned it being used for sharpened and unsharpened pencils. A few years ago, I found the tall chair at IKEA, too. It works great and doesn't take up much space!

As shown in the photo, below the chart paper hangs our pencil station. You can also see my mentor text shelf behind the chair. I have my books separated by subject: reading, writing, math, and social studies. I love having a spot for my mentor texts! I keep all of my seasonal read-alouds in the closed cabinets on top of the shelves on the right, and my curriculum materials are on the counter top. I'm really appreciating how putting items on the walls helps to save functional floor space.  

 

Organizing Books and Supplies...

 

Looking Closer at Each Photo (from left to right)

1.  I love my R E A D letters.  I picked these up at Hobby Lobby a few yeas ago to accent our classroom library. 

2.  In effort to save space, I moved out my teacher desk. I still needed to keep my filing cabinet. I thought it would make a perfect space to house my document camera and computer.  

3.  My newest find was the media DVD shelf where I store many of my chapter books. I'm currently adding more books and organizing the genres. Having the books displayed on open shelves makes it easy for me to switch out series so that the selections are always fresh and new!  

4.  The last photo shows the corner nook and the student supply area. Children keep all of their community supplies in organized areas so that their workspace stays neat and clutter free. However, having the necessary supplies in a designated and available area allows children to access any material they need in an efficient manner.  

Finding the 'just-right' piece of furniture can enhance a space so much. I'm so excited to share a few tips with you regarding simple transformations:

  • adding a decorative rug to a small area helps to identify it as it's own section

  • removing the teacher desk can offer additional space for a small room

  • a media shelf normally used for DVDs holds and displays several chapter books perfectly

  • having community supplies easily accessible can support independence 

  • bringing in incandescent lighting softens the space from harsh fluorescent lights

  • adding real plants introduces nature to the room—kids love taking care of them

  • decluttering helps students stay organized and keeps the room cleaner as they work

  • lowering print on the walls allows children to see content easier and more clearly

  • incorporating a neutral color scheme doesn't distract from content being introduced

  • keeping boys and girls in mind when designing allows all to feel comfortable

 

What are your favorite ideas and tips for setting up your classroom?  I'd love to know!

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Thanks for sharing your ideas on designing the classroom. This information will be helpful as one day I plan to teach, and I would love my classroom to be inviting not scary. Thanks again.

Erin, this looks amazing!!! I have been working hard at getting my classroom to look warmer and more inviting, but I bow to your superior expertise ;)

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Hi Beartrice,

Thanks!

Erin

I believe in setting a stimulating environment that attracts attention of visitors as well as enhancing children learning. Whatever the learning environment and including our personal appearance its all sets out role model and that all falls into learning. I totally agree with some positive comments from others. Thank you so much for the ever encouraging set up

Cheers

Rose

Hi Rose,

Your comment is so sweet and well-written. I really appreciate your feedback. I hope you're having a wonderful year.

Thank you,

Erin

I love looking at pictures of your room, Erin! Thanks so much for all the great tips. Decluttering is a definite goal of mine this year, and I am bringing real plants back for the first time in a few years with a goal of keeping them alive past October. Have a wonderful start to your school year! ~Genia

Hi Genia,

You're the best!! Thanks so much for your feedback. I'd love to see photos of your room. I totally understand the goal of keeping the plants alive. I do not have a green thumb at all. :)

Warmly,

Erin

I was a Montessori teacher for 17 years and now i am in a special ed classroom in the public schools. I took the focus on enviromental design in the Montessori class with me . The concept of quiet colors which accent the learning materials has always stuck with me .. I love your room and the energy it takes to make it happen. You have reminded me of the need to provide students with a calm environment and clutter free. I will work on more this year to bring that back. Thanks, Monica

Hi Monica,

I agree that Montessori has such strong roots in intentional design for students in a learning environment. Every time I visit a Montessori classroom, I always feel comfortable. Thanks so much for your comment.

Have a great year,

Erin

You have a beautiful room, and I took many ideas to use in my 4th grade classroom.

I find moving around the room on a daily basis difficult. I have 32 students, 34 last year, and 38 the year before. I find that putting the desks in groups works better for flow. What do I do when I want to run groups? I use student's desks as a group, but then you have to wait for students to leave. I've tried having them sit at their own desk and give whole class directions and that has its problems. I do have a classroom library with pillows and that is a must group and they can sit, lay where ever there is room. That works! My desk is on my projector table. I also have 3 computers in my room. So getting everything to work is a challenge.

Do you have any ideas for how I can get a group in a part of my room I haven't thought of?

Thank you,
Joyce

Hi Joyce,

Thanks! I bet your 4th grade classroom looks great!

I was finding it difficult to move around the room as well, that is one reason I wanted to change the design a bit. You're right, putting desks in groups can be helpful. I would often pull up a stool to table groups when I was working with them. Getting everything to work is a challenge. I had to live in my space a few years before deciding what would work. I kept rearranging furniture and trying different options.

I would try different, non-traditional furniture options. Maybe even eliminate a few desks for a table?

Best of luck, and I hope you have a great year,

Erin

I love your ideas, as well as those from the teachers who have commented! I am curious about how many students you have in your class. I try to create 'corners' but it is really hard, since desks fill most of the space. My room isn't big enough to do much other than contain students wall to wall. Sorry - I guess I'm just frustrated as I try to create a welcoming environment and have some way to positively manage my class, in a tight space.

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