It is often said that first impressions last a lifetime. When students and parents enter your classroom, what is their first impression? I want my classroom to feel cozy, inviting, and, most of all, safe. After all, it is their home away from home.
My classroom always has a theme and some sort of color scheme. In my personal life, I can’t have mismatched items, and I need some items to be color-coded. So, while my classroom changes every few years, the bottom line is that my classroom is coordinated!
Currently polka dots, chevron stripes, and owls are popular. I’ve always been fond of polka dots, so that is the theme I went with this year. Since red is one of my favorite colors, it is one of the main colors in my classroom. However, I have toned the red down by using mostly black fabric for bulletin boards. The black creates a nice backdrop and doesn’t take away from the students' work or other items on display.
You don’t have to break the bank to have a cute classroom. Look around at what you have and see if it can be repurposed. For instance, this year I took an old metal chest of drawers — once pink, then blue — and repainted it red. I found an old wooden bookcase in a storage room, and using red paint and some black and white polka-dot ribbon, created a cute shelving system to hold my students' book boxes. Other items that I have repurposed include plastic drawers and two old office chairs.
Visits to the local thrift store can be very productive. Thrift stores often have great items that can be recovered, repainted, or reupholstered. Especially look out for the following items:
Look around your room to see if it is obvious where various centers are. Do you have a library, listening center, or science center? Easily define these spaces using rugs or bookcases to section off each area. Coordinating bulletin boards with these areas also helps to define the space. In my classroom, I have specific areas for the listening center, the library, the writing center, and the housekeeping center.
Listening Center: A rug, a table, six crate stools, and a bookcase define the listening center. The stools do double duty: they also store extra listening center sets.
The Classroom Library: Four bookcases placed in an L-shape around a large carpet form our library. This area also serves as our carpet group-time area. Inexpensive tubs and homemade book labels also help create this space.
The Writing Center: My writing center is complete with a large word wall, dry erase boards, and student-friendly dictionaries. Students may choose from a variety of writing utensils. Redecorated plastic drawers hold our writing papers.
Housekeeping Center: The housekeeping center is in the corner with a small curtain acting as a window. It contains plastic food and dishes, costumes, and dolls.
This is where your color schemes and themes come into play. I’ve made many of the labels and signs in my classroom myself using clip art, my laptop, a color printer, and a laminator. All of my tables and their tubs are labeled with numbers. The labels themselves tie into the polka-dot theme. I used black fabric with polka dots for some of my bulletin boards and red for the others, and all have either red with white or black with white polka-dot borders. Curtains on the windows make those dull window blinds look a little less institutional. Although this year my classroom doesn’t have windows, I do have a curtain on the little window on my front door.
Covering the Walls: Use fabric instead of butcher paper. Fabric doesn’t fade or show pinholes. Some teachers like to use plastic tablecloths; however, these can tear and show pin or staple holes.
Ribbon: Use ribbon to decorate edges of shelves, crates, and bulletin boards. Wide ribbon can also be used as border instead of the traditional scalloped paper borders.
Containerize: I’ve been accused of being obsessed with plastic containers. I admit it is true. I like containers because they serve several purposes: they store items neatly; they hide the mess; and they look clean and tidy. I also like to label my containers. Labels help students learn where to return items, and again, they give your room an overall organized feeling.
No matter the theme or color scheme in your classroom, the bottom line is that you need it to feel inviting to students. You want your students and families to feel welcomed and comfortable. I know my students love our classroom this year because they tell me all the time how much they love school!