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The Big 10: Extreme Classroom Makeover, Part 2

By Lindsey Petlak on September 4, 2013
  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

Are you fabulously frugal? Ready to "date" your classroom design before you "put a ring on it?" What will you do when disaster strikes? If you already read Tips 1-5 of The Big 10, you have a great start, but read on to be fully prepared for the new school year. Tips 6-10 are crucial to classroom setup success. Don't forget to check out my extreme makeover classroom reveal after reading!

6. Fabulously Frugal

There’s no need to break the bank in order to give your classroom an extreme makeover. You just need to be fabulously frugal. These are a few of my favorite places to shop and tricks to use, in order to turn trash to treasure until my room looks picture-perfect! 

  • A coat of spray paint can make just about anything look like new and adds durability for student use.

  • Start bargain shopping early and keep your eyes and ears open for sales.

  • Make your own décor by hand or using a print shop program.

  • Favorite frugal hot-spots: Wal-Mart, Target, Goodwill, Hobby Lobby, Dollar Tree, Michaels, and party supply stores. Check out my classroom reveal for source of bargain information.

  • Stock up on items from the Scholastic warehouse and online summer sales!

Check out posts from my fellow blogger, Allie Magnuson, for tons of money-saving classroom tips.  

Sturdy student caddies $1.00 from Dollar Tree

Lamp: $2.00 from Goodwill, vintage suitcase and numbered photo frame 90% clearance at Hobby Lobby

 Retro bowling bags, including bowling balls and shoes: $5.00-$6.00 each from Goodwill

Retro bowling bags, including bowling balls and shoes: $5.00-$6.00 each from Goodwill

  Pegboard $5.00 and magnetic oil drip pan (awesome, cheap solution for needing large magnet boards!) $11.97 from Wal-Mart

White containers: $0.50-$1.00 from warehouse sale, blue and green buckets $1.00 from Dollar Tree, black and silver containers, <$2.00 each at Goodwill

Vintage chairs: $6.00 each at Goodwill

Various diner decor: $1.00-$7.00 each from PartyPro

7. "Date" Your Design

The reason you go out with a person before you marry them is to get to know them — is he or she the right person for you? I cannot tell you how many times I’ve envisioned my room layout and design, sketched it, set up the room and started putting up decorations, only to realize I ran out of space, liked another plan better, or needed to omit something from my original plans. Learning from my mistakes, I encourage you to "date" your design before diving in and committing to it:

  • Plan ahead and sketch out your ideas ahead of time, but be flexible and make changes once you get started.

  • Place Post-its around the room labeling what you want to go on bulletin boards, in cabinets, on shelves, and where you think furniture should be placed. A sticky note is MUCH easier to move than 25 desks!

  • Once I feel things are in place, I “stage” the layout and decor to fully see my plans come to life. Even at this point I often make revisions, so I don’t fully attach anything to my displays around the room and don’t put down small pieces of furniture (like all of the chairs) for easier shuffling. Instead, I use removable tape (like painter’s tape) or push pins on the edges (no holes in the paper) of bulletin board decor.

8. Pace Yourself

Starting a new school year is like running a marathon, so pace yourself. In order to find the best bargains and maintain your sanity in the weeks before school starts, I suggest planning bit by bit and gathering classroom items piece by piece throughout the summer months. This will best prepare you for when disaster may strike at the 11th hour. (Read tip #10 for lifesaving ideas.)

9. S.O.S.

It takes a village... to set up a classroom! Just ask my husband, Frank (the dashingly handsome handyman in my photos from Part 1). He is an expert at assisting me with all sorts of fun, grueling, and grimy classroom prep tasks. Now that I am a mother, we also need help from grandparents and babysitters on occasions when we have to go into my classroom and do setup tasks that are not child-friendly. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. 

Join forces with your colleagues, teammates, and other teachers in the blog-o-sphere to make the load of classroom setup lighter! Get inspiration and free room setup resources from other teachers online. Have a decor make-and-take or teacher swap meet with co-workers or other teacher friends. Why reinvent the wheel?  


10. When Disaster Strikes

As Murphey’s Law states, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.” That pretty much sums up the “series of unfortunate events” that have happened to me over the past few weeks. It all started when my parents came up for a wonderful long weekend visit. Things seemed perfect, until... my father came down with stomach flu. While I was glad my family members stayed a few extra days, I hated that it was because my dad was sick, and that I felt distracted by the mounds of back-to-school work I needed to be focusing on each day. Next, my son came down with viral hives. Then, my computer and printer experienced technical problems, and our rooms are nearly 85 degrees because we have no air conditioning. The icing on the cake was when we were informed that all of our new classroom furniture (SUPER exciting) was delayed and would not arrive until the second week of school — at the earliest. Yikes!

Needless to say, things were not going as planned. What do you do in times like these when it seems as though all of the forces of the universe are working together to thwart your plans?

  • Keep in mind that you cannot (despite all valiant efforts) control the universe.
  • Remember that this is why you (hopefully) started planning ahead throughout the summer and already have some tasks completed or mapped out for when you are able to get into your classroom.
  • Do the best you can, with what you have, in the time you have been given.
  • Remember that the first few days of school don’t have to be perfect. Just like a wedding, you are the only one who will know that you didn’t get every piece of border paper applied perfectly straight on your bulletin boards. 
  • Keep a steady stream of your favorite tunes flowing in the background.
  • Have your favorite beverage (mine is Starbucks iced green tea, no sweetener) on hand at all times, or better yet, delivered via IV!
  • Most importantly, KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON so that you can KEEP CALM AND TEACH ON once the kids arrive!

Ready for the BIG REVEAL?

Watch the video below for detailed reveal photos from my retro road trip classroom! Each photo slide provides an informative caption to guide you through the virutal tour of our room.  Some room projects are still a work in progress, but aren't they always?

Beyond the Decor:

Check back for more information on implementation of year-long themes that go beyond "revving your engines" and really put the pedal to the metal by integrating MANAGEMENT and CURRICULUM.



Comments (9)

I love your classroom design! I had retro owls for a long time and then they became so popular, I needed a fresh theme. This year I've really been in limbo. Not super in love with my theme, but just needing to refresh. This is PERFECT! Have you thought of selling your designs on Teachers Pay Teachers?

Rachel Shaw
Middle School/ELA

Wow! What an amazing and inspiring classroom. I began trying to implement classroom themes last year. My nautical theme this year has been a hit so far but I found it to be expensive. Did you create all those graphics yourself?

Thank you!! I LOVE nautical themes and bet yours is wonderful. I have digital graphics packs from several different sources that I use to create signs, name tags, and much more around the classroom. Graphic design is one of my hobbies, so I enjoy making my own printed decor/signage, and have found it to be MUCH LESS EXPENSIVE than trying to purchase similar themed classroom decor items. The retro road trip graphics shown in this post primarily came from One Little Bird, as featured on The Lilypad.

Link to The Lilypad: http://the-lilypad.com/
Link to the Road Trip set of graphics from One Little Bird: http://the-lilypad.com/store/roadtrip.html

Check them out, and best of luck: http://the-lilypad.com/store/search.php?mode=search&page=1

PS--I hope some of my other money-saving tips help you be able to continue and add to your nautical theme....without breaking the bank!


This is so wonderful and useful! I love the drip pan as a magnet board and the peg board. So crafty you!

Thank you for sharing!


Thanks, Kriscia! I saw the drip pan idea ($12 at Walmart--pretty cheap for a HUGE magnetic board!!) on Pinterest for toddler fun activities and thought it would work well.....It has been GREAT so far! The peg boards were Frank's idea, and I LOVE having the clipboards hanging off of them. Those items turned 2 totally unusable spaces (uneven windows) into working spaces.

You simply amaze me!! I wish my children could have you for a teacher during their school years. I hope many watch this and gain knowledge on what an amazing learning space you have created! Anyone can do it you just have to find the inspiration- You, Lindsey, are IT!! :) XOXO

Thanks so much, Meredith! My hope is to show that no matter what your space looks like to BEGIN with, it can be transformed.....and on a budget! More importantly, I hope the video showed that classroom decor should just be the surface of your classroom environment. Everything you put up or feature should be tied to either management or academics....but you can still make it super fun!

Thanks so much, Erin! I love reflecting on the changes in my room over the last 3 years and showing that even a classroom in an older school can shine up like a new penny....using SUPER BUDGET BUYS! This retro road trip theme is SO FUN, relevant, and I can't wait to write about the CURRICULAR components that truly make a theme worth-while (beyond just decor). Thanks for reading!

Hi Lindsay,

You are so creative. I love your ideas! Thanks for sharing these awesome tips!


Erin Klein

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