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July 18, 2016 Making the Most of a Small Space! By Erin Klein
Grades PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

    This summer I dedicated much of my creative energy towards redesigning my classroom space. I've been interviewed by MindShift about my design process, posted on SmartBlogs for Education sharing my beginning stages, and talked about tips for designing a space on various podcasts. The more I share my ideas the more inspired I become. I always enjoy getting feedback from colleagues and friends so that I can incorporate their suggestions into my space.  

    That is the inspiration for sharing my final reveal of my classroom space with all of you. Additionally, I recently traveled to a dear friend's school in Jackson, Michigan. Ben Gilpin, principal at Warner Elementary, shared the work his faculty did over the summer. I'm quite excited to highlight a few of the design ideas his teachers incorporated into their spaces.

    Flatten Your Walls and Go Outside

    I feel blessed to work at such an amazing institution where the arts are valued as much as the academics. At Cranbrook, the faculty believes in nurturing the spirit of the whole child and creativity is valued over bubble sheets. I knew I was at home when my interview naturally lead into a discussion of appreciating architecture and incorporating nature to spark wonder in a child's learning path. I knew that my studies as an interior designer would be valued and I was excited to see how this beautiful landscape would impact student learning. What I found was though my classroom space may be small, by utilizing the resources of the campus, the walls seemed to flatten.  

    Finding those 'just-right' spots to read a great story, engage in rich conversation with friends, or simply relax and let your mind wonder are essential for students. While I recognize that not every school has perfectly idyllic surroundings, I do feel that each school has treasures waiting to be found and taken advantage of. 

    Whether your class enjoys relaxing on the soccer field or cooling off under a shady tree, allowing nature to be a part of your classroom can have huge advantages. I find that when my children leave our classroom together, they begin to see one another not only as a person in class but also a friend they can talk with outside of reading and writing workshop.  


    Getting Furniture That Fits

    As I was sitting at my computer searching for a narrow bookshelf, I happened to eye a DVD case nearby. All of a sudden, it hit me! Chapter books are the exact same size as DVDs. So, I began to search differently. Instead of looking for the perfect bookshelf, I began looking for the perfect media shelf that would fit my chapter books. I found a skinny one that tucks nicely behind my door. This was space I was unable to use before, but now it's home to various works of literature for my children to explore.  

    I knew that I would not put all of my chapter books on display. In fact, at the beginning of the year, I only put out a few familiar friends from first grade. I group them by genre or series so they're easy to grab and switch out. By changing books often, there are always new features displayed on the shelves. The kids love getting to see what's new. These books fly off of the shelves. I also have two large shelves on the opposite wall of my library. These shelves contain picture books and additional stories that the children love to browse as well.  

    This year I opted to try tables instead of desks. Not only has this allowed for more floor space, but collaboration has become a natural part of our lessons. Children work in groups without having to be prompted or encouraged. Having the circle tables really supports interaction between friends.  

    When it's time to pull the children together for small group reading instruction or math workshop, I gather them in a variety of spaces around the room. Having the tables opened up many special nooks around the perimeter of our classroom. One space where we often gather is by our chart paper. Last year, I had a large rolling stand that held the chart paper. It also had storage buckets on the back. Though I liked this item, I found it was really a space taker. So, this year, I decided to hang our chart paper on the wall, gaining a ton of space simply by removing the easel.

    One of the students' favorite spaces this year is "Collaboration Corner" aka the breakfast nook in the corner of the room. This is where I used to tuck our chart paper stand. However, because it stuck out so far, there still wasn't a lot of space for seating. Therefore, I wanted to bring in a piece of furniture that would provide seating and also encourage conversation. That's when I ran across the idea of a breakfast nook. I found this item on Wal-Mart online for $279. A big ticket item, but one that works for the long haul. The downside was the assembly, which my husband said was a bit tricky. It was worth it though. The students enjoy working on their iPads, crafting stories, and reading with friends in this new area.


    Using the Outside of Your Room

    Back in Jackson, Michigan my friend's teachers wanted to create a thematic hallway for their learning spaces. What used to be white walls is now "Leader's Lane." Teachers came in over the summer to add a creative touch to the walls outside of their classrooms. The kinder and first grade teachers decided to go with a town/village theme. Each classroom poses as a storefront. In the examples above, you can see the flower shop, toy store, and pet shop. Since the main material is paint, this is a low budget decorating idea that I believe delivers plenty of return on your investment. The lightposts are also a nice feature beside each door. One of their faculty members was renovating her barn and brought in the old posts to be sanded down, painted, and repurposed for her colleague's classrooms. What a nice touch!

    Children now feel their classroom extends into the hall a bit. This added space gives just enough room for children to still feel a part of the class even if they're working right beyond the classroom door with a group of friends or another teacher. It also adds a warm sense of community that connects the entire hallway. It brings together all of the learning spaces in a vibrant and positive way.



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