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August 29, 2016 Set Up Your Classroom for a "Readable" Environment By Elaine Winter
Grades PreK–K

    I think about gradual beginnings when I work with teachers to set up a classroom. Our goal is to make the environment readable: easy to understand and navigate. This is a sensible approach no matter what the grade, but for our very youngest students, it is essential. As teachers, we have so many choices to make, including room arrangement, wall displays, and materials. Here are a few strategies I learned over the past years.

     

     

     

    Elaine’s Tried-and-True Strategies

    1. Shelves: Less is more. Though it’s counterintuitive for many of us, small beginnings can be a gift to the young child on those first days of preschool. Allow your shelves to be half empty (or half full), adding slowly to what is available. This allows children to learn (and remember) what is where, how to find what they like, and where to return materials when finished. 

       

       

    2. Materials: I like to mix the familiar with the new. I include a few favorites on our bookshelf, quality literature most children know by heart, such as The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, Curious George by H.A. Rey, If You Give Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, or a story from the Clifford series by Norman Bridwell. I mix used crayons or markers with new ones to give a sense of “kids were here.” If I’ve found a great new manipulative, I might place it on the shelf next to a bin of familiar Magna-Tiles, for example.

       

       

    3. Signage: Only if I am 100 percent confident that all of my children are readers do I NOT post printed signs with pictures. By choosing images, I’m saying that the message is for everyone; every preschooler can interpret and use this symbolic reference.

    4. Wall displays: The phrase "less is more" is particularly apt when it comes to the classroom bulletin board. In the first days of school, before students have begun producing tangible work, bulletin boards may add color to the classroom, or reference summer experiences. But I prefer to leave them blank, awaiting children’s artwork. When I begin to post this work, the classroom comes alive. The board becomes the children’s environment, not the teacher’s.

    5. Photos: There are a number of ways to personalize an environment for the young child, but the easiest and most powerful is through photographs of themselves and/or their families. They could be included in a Family Album, displayed on a bulletin board, or even incorporated into a game.

    More Strategies From Third Street Teachers

    From Nancy DiCostanzo, teacher of 4- and 5-year-olds: 

    1.  I decorate our classroom door with the names and sometimes photos of each child.  My favorites are something upbeat and welcoming.

       

    2. I designate one area of the classroom to design together with the Fours. It might be a job chart, a bulletin board or the shelf with drawing materials.

    From Cathy Guy, teacher of 3- and 4-year-olds:

    1. Transitional objects, such as a lovey or small stuffed animal, can make a big difference.

    2. Help parents and caregivers keep their good-byes short and sweet; less is more here (once again!). The message is: You are safe at school with Cathy; what shall we do when I pick you up?

    3. Put a family picture in children’s cubbies.

    4. Email and post the Phase-In schedule so there is no confusion.

    5. Choose first books carefully, avoiding stories that are too sentimental or those that might trigger big feelings.

    6. Sensory materials such as sand, water, and play dough help to keep hands busy and foster interaction.

       

    From Maite Castillo, 3- and 4-year-olds Associate Teacher: "I encourage parents and caregivers to allow their children to walk into the room, instead of carrying them in, as some like to do. It sets the stage for independent exploration."

    From Eileen Doster, 3- and 4-year-olds Associate Teacher: "I encourage parents to be emotional minimizers, not maximizers."

    And finally, Elisabeth Rothauser, teacher of 2- and 3-year-olds offers:

    1. One strategy I use is to allow children to bring in a favorite toy or stuffed animal — a transitional object — that lives in their cubby during the school day. The child can "check in" with their toy if they feel sad during the day. 

    2. Make a little book of family pictures for each child. This book also lives in their cubby, and can help with sad feelings at the beginning of the year. 

    Easing the transition from home to school for early learners is an important part of the child's educational career in terms of creating positive first impressions. Please share your strategies here so we can keep on improving.

    I think about gradual beginnings when I work with teachers to set up a classroom. Our goal is to make the environment readable: easy to understand and navigate. This is a sensible approach no matter what the grade, but for our very youngest students, it is essential. As teachers, we have so many choices to make, including room arrangement, wall displays, and materials. Here are a few strategies I learned over the past years.

     

     

     

    Elaine’s Tried-and-True Strategies

    1. Shelves: Less is more. Though it’s counterintuitive for many of us, small beginnings can be a gift to the young child on those first days of preschool. Allow your shelves to be half empty (or half full), adding slowly to what is available. This allows children to learn (and remember) what is where, how to find what they like, and where to return materials when finished. 

       

       

    2. Materials: I like to mix the familiar with the new. I include a few favorites on our bookshelf, quality literature most children know by heart, such as The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown, Curious George by H.A. Rey, If You Give Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, or a story from the Clifford series by Norman Bridwell. I mix used crayons or markers with new ones to give a sense of “kids were here.” If I’ve found a great new manipulative, I might place it on the shelf next to a bin of familiar Magna-Tiles, for example.

       

       

    3. Signage: Only if I am 100 percent confident that all of my children are readers do I NOT post printed signs with pictures. By choosing images, I’m saying that the message is for everyone; every preschooler can interpret and use this symbolic reference.

    4. Wall displays: The phrase "less is more" is particularly apt when it comes to the classroom bulletin board. In the first days of school, before students have begun producing tangible work, bulletin boards may add color to the classroom, or reference summer experiences. But I prefer to leave them blank, awaiting children’s artwork. When I begin to post this work, the classroom comes alive. The board becomes the children’s environment, not the teacher’s.

    5. Photos: There are a number of ways to personalize an environment for the young child, but the easiest and most powerful is through photographs of themselves and/or their families. They could be included in a Family Album, displayed on a bulletin board, or even incorporated into a game.

    More Strategies From Third Street Teachers

    From Nancy DiCostanzo, teacher of 4- and 5-year-olds: 

    1.  I decorate our classroom door with the names and sometimes photos of each child.  My favorites are something upbeat and welcoming.

       

    2. I designate one area of the classroom to design together with the Fours. It might be a job chart, a bulletin board or the shelf with drawing materials.

    From Cathy Guy, teacher of 3- and 4-year-olds:

    1. Transitional objects, such as a lovey or small stuffed animal, can make a big difference.

    2. Help parents and caregivers keep their good-byes short and sweet; less is more here (once again!). The message is: You are safe at school with Cathy; what shall we do when I pick you up?

    3. Put a family picture in children’s cubbies.

    4. Email and post the Phase-In schedule so there is no confusion.

    5. Choose first books carefully, avoiding stories that are too sentimental or those that might trigger big feelings.

    6. Sensory materials such as sand, water, and play dough help to keep hands busy and foster interaction.

       

    From Maite Castillo, 3- and 4-year-olds Associate Teacher: "I encourage parents and caregivers to allow their children to walk into the room, instead of carrying them in, as some like to do. It sets the stage for independent exploration."

    From Eileen Doster, 3- and 4-year-olds Associate Teacher: "I encourage parents to be emotional minimizers, not maximizers."

    And finally, Elisabeth Rothauser, teacher of 2- and 3-year-olds offers:

    1. One strategy I use is to allow children to bring in a favorite toy or stuffed animal — a transitional object — that lives in their cubby during the school day. The child can "check in" with their toy if they feel sad during the day. 

    2. Make a little book of family pictures for each child. This book also lives in their cubby, and can help with sad feelings at the beginning of the year. 

    Easing the transition from home to school for early learners is an important part of the child's educational career in terms of creating positive first impressions. Please share your strategies here so we can keep on improving.

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