Kindergarten marks the first of many milestones in a student’s educational journey. It signals the transition into the realm of being a “big kid.” At the same time, exploration, collaboration, and play are still embedded into the curriculum and daily tasks and lessons. Thus, these aspects of instruction and learning directly affect how you should set up a kindergarten classroom.
As Margaret Berry Wilson, author and veteran teacher, states in her book about the kindergarten classroom, What Every Kindergarten Teacher Needs to Know, “Think preparation, not decoration.” In other words, the classroom setup needs to support the students’ learning and activities while providing a safe and intellectually stimulating environment. Thus, looking at different tips passed on by the experts would greatly help when you take on the task of setting up the ideal kindergarten classroom that works best for both teachers and students.
Kindergarten Classroom Themes That Inspire Students
One important trait that kindergarten classrooms share is thematic décor. Again, this theme goes beyond providing a kid-friendly backdrop. It incorporates the thematic unit and reinforces the 21st century skills you will pass on. Most of all, an effective classroom theme adds to a welcoming and stimulating atmosphere.
As Karyn Lisowski, Sphero Hero and Kindergarten and Special Education teacher, mentions when describing an optimal learning environment, “A kindergarten classroom should have welcoming features that are visually engaging for both the students and the parents. Often, kindergarten is the first time children will be away from their parents all day which is why I have included how to make a classroom welcoming to parents.”
Therefore, looking at various themes provides some insight for a teacher who’s looking for ideas for setting their own classroom at the beginning of the school year and beyond. Here are a few of our favorite kindergarten classroom themes.
The “Welcome” Theme
At the beginning of the school year or at the start of the spring semester after winter break, kindergarten educators can incorporate different elements of welcoming students for the first time or welcoming them back. One idea for the fall is to center the room around the question, “Whoo’s in our classroom?” A bulletin board decorated with little owls and photos of each student with their names can help kids learn and remember each other’s names. Also, kindergarten presents a prime opportunity for supporting parents in their endeavor to teach their kids how to help out. So another board can include owls surrounding a sign that says, “Whoo’s helping today?” along with a list of “chores” like passing out papers and collecting the crayon boxes.
“Creating a Community” Theme
Another idea is to take the spirit of innovation and creativity and add a LEGO wall to a corner of the room with the theme of “Building Community Together.” This area can serve as the foundation for a new city created by the students as well as a team-building activity. Likewise, this center can also double up as a story-builder corner with the theme of “Our Story” since LEGO sets have characters. The wall itself is lined with flat LEGO pieces where the students can place the bricks and other components to create their own communities, stories, or inventions. Basically, a variety of activities and skills will involve this center as the year progresses. As Chris Schmitz, Sphero Hero and Computer Technology teacher, observes, “LEGOs are wonderful for students to quickly prototype objects or play.”
The “Starting Line” Theme
And speaking of inventions, another team-building theme involves the idea of “at the starting line.” With the STEM tools like programmable robots, such as the Sphero indi Class Pack, the teacher phase includes cooperative learning activities that involve the basics of coding without the use of screens to start the year. Then, as the school year progresses, students can gradually incorporate the Sphero Edu Jr app as they build their own mazes and obstacle courses to reprogram how indi responds to the color tiles.
Kindergarten Classroom Setup Tips
To go along with the themes and to further facilitate learning and creativity, deciding where to place tables, centers, and storage proves to be a challenge for any teacher. As mentioned, however, the setup should support the teaching and activities while providing a safe and inviting environment.
Classroom design influences the way students interact with their environment and communicate with one another. Whether the kindergarten classroom is located at home or a local school, the following tips may provide some guidance.
A Place for Everything
To begin with, organization is key to providing stability, teaching the importance of “putting things back,” and cutting down on confusion.
Lisowski suggests, “A place in the room where supplies are available for students to use when they are reading, writing, and doing math. The room must have cubbies or a place where students can put their backpacks, coats, and other supplies. Having toys in the classroom so that at certain times students can play and work on social skills is imperative.” And, of course, knowing where to place these objects and supplies helps the students to take ownership of their new classroom community.
A Space that Promotes Learning and Independence
Other considerations teachers face when setting up the kindergarten classroom involves fostering a sense of independence among the students. Kids learn and develop at their own pace but blending in different instructional approaches while building confidence in your students are vital practices for success.
Lisowski offers her insight into the task of setting up the room. “A kindergarten classroom should be child-centered and take into account differences in children’s abilities. In my opinion, teaching kindergarteners to become independent thinkers is one of the greatest skills they can learn. Teaching students to solve problems rather than looking to an adult to solve it for them is not easy, but it is worth it when you see students solving their own problems.”
For instance, a teacher can think in terms of setting up a color code or eye-catching pictures in addition to signs to show students which center is which. Schmitz also suggests, “Visual schedules are very helpful in calling out what we are doing when so that students know where they are in their day.”
Kindergarten Classroom Teaching Strategies
As noted, the setup of the classroom space should offer opportunities for innovation and cooperative learning. Plus, setting up the kindergarten classroom offers yet another opportunity for learning important life skills. In other words, the daily procedures themselves teach valuable lessons.
For example, Schmitz remarks on one possible obstacle and a solution. “Space can be challenging. Ensure you think about storage of materials and create a spot for everything to go when you are done with it. Get in the habit of building clean-up into your transitions between lessons and activities.” Building in these procedures not only promotes the concept of lending a helping hand at school and at home but also saves time during transitions that would otherwise go into the next phase of the day.
Lisowski also offers some advice about how the kindergarten classroom setup facilitates effective instructional strategies and opportunities for differentiated instruction, especially for an age group where distractions can take away from student engagement. “Distractions from everyday life will be a big hurdle as well as optimizing engagement. One way to reduce distractions is to have a designated space for learning that may be quiet or where the ability to play music is an option.”
“Allowing students to choose their seating option is important to increase engagement. A chair and a table should be provided along with flexible seating options such as a bean bag. For some students, sitting in a bean bag to read a story makes the experience more enjoyable, while others may wish to sit on the floor or in a chair. These two examples are another way for the classroom to be child-centered.”
Setting Up Your Kindergarten Classroom for Success
As one can see, setting up the kindergarten classroom and establishing daily operational procedures work hand-in-hand in teaching independent thinking, promoting creativity and problem solving, and developing social skills. As long as teachers create a space that centers around a productive learning community that fosters cooperation, students will gain a memorable, valuable educational experience.