Even if your classroom is much cozier than you imagined, there are ways to stretch the boundaries. These "big" ideas will help.
There's no question that a small classroom is a real challenge to arrange. When I walked into my kindergarten classroom for the first time, there was wall-to-wall furniture! I had half of a room and 27 children; there simply was not enough space to set up a proper kindergarten room. With a little ingenuity, however, I was able to orchestrate a workable classroom layout that met all my — and my students' — needs. Similar strategies just may work for your small classroom:
- Remove excess or over-sized furniture. Instead of a large piano, I brought in my small keyboard, which could be stored in a cabinet. Round and kidney-shaped tables were quickly adopted by other teachers who had more space. I kept only rectangular tables and a few desks in the room.
- Store rarely used equipment out of the way. I arranged for media equipment, which I don't use on a daily basis, to be stored elsewhere. I did keep one student desk, which I made into a permanent listening center by removing the legs so that it sat only six inches above the ground. The cassette player sat on top of the desk and the headphones were stored in the desk.
- Consider carefully your furniture needs. Midway through the year, I decided my students did not need to have their own individual desks or table spots. Eliminating just one table from the classroom and placing the other tables around the perimeter of the room opened up a large center area for whole-group activities and provided space for centers, math manipulatives, reading, and writing.
- Explore creative management techniques. Without the traditional seat-for-every-student arrangement, I struggled with how to engage the entire class productively. I finally hit upon splitting the class; half would work at the tables and half would work in centers. I alternated the groups, so that everyone could participate in both activities on the same day.
- Create portable centers. I was disappointed and frustrated that I didn't have room for permanent centers in my class. Then I discovered a rolling cubby unit with 32 tubs. I decided to make my centers portable by sorting them individually in the tubs with a photograph and a written description of the center on the front of the tub.
- Make use of every nook and cranny. I stored math manipulatives separately from my centers by hanging a clothesline on the wall. I placed manipulatives in individual zipper bags and hung them from the clothesline with clothespins.
Instead of deep bookcases, try narrow shelving around the perimeter of a small classroom. In this classroom, the teacher used plastic raingutters to display picture books.
- Set up an accessible library. Because bookcases took up too much space in my small classroom, a friend suggested that I attach plastic rain gutters to the walls around the perimeter of the room for storing children's books. This allows my kindergartners to find books more easily as the book covers face out rather than the spines. It also spread my children around the room when they were looking for books instead of creating a traffic jam around the bookcase.
This article was adapted from The New Teacher's Complete Sourcebook: Grades K–4 by Bonnie P. Murray, © 2002, published by Scholastic.