The beginning of the year is an exciting time! It marks new beginnings and, for most teachers, a classroom to create as a home away from home. According Reggio Emilio, the classroom environment is the “third teacher” (with teacher and children being teachers one and two).
So setting up a classroom with care and intentionality is an important and challenging task. Here are some questions to help guide the process and help you create a stimulating, learner-focused classroom environment.
What is your priority?
In my classroom I want students to feel like they belong, so while planning my room I first designate a spot to display student work. This can be a bulletin board, hanging clips, or just a blank part of the wall. I plan to rotate work frequently, so I want to be creative with a permanent display. I use poster board that has been covered in contact paper so it doesn’t rip with tape stuck to it. My co-worker has glued clothes pins to the wall for easy rotation of work. Regardless of how it is done, students will feel the classroom is theirs when THEIR work is on display for all to see.
What are key components to the curriculum that I want to reference with my students? Since I teach preschool I use a calendar, chart for weather and number cards. As students get older teachers can introduce letter walls, word walls, and number lines. For upper grades word walls and math reference charts can be used. The idea is it can grow as you go forward with your year, and it is an easy tool for students to reference as needed.
For all students, the classroom is a home away from home, so it’s fun to personalize it. I like to have a spot where each student brings a family picture. Other teachers will add floor lamps, wall art, woven baskets, or fun rugs. Anything.
What do your students need?
My delightful 4 year olds can be full of energy, but also easily distracted. For me it is important to have a classroom with learning as the focus, but also to incorporate white space so the environment is not overly stimulating. Some students need extra reminders for routines and procedures, so creating posters with pictures helps students reference what is expected of them. By thinking through the individual needs of your students you can create a unique environment for them. Think about how many students you have: are there any physical or emotional challenges that need accommodated? how is the language fluency? etc. Each question can be catered to in the environment.
How can I allow for students to grow in independence?
Throughout the year, I strive for my students to grow in independence. With that in mind, I make sure all basic supplies are accessible to them. I have a shelf with art supplies such as colored pencils, scissors, glue, etc. that students can access without adult assistance. Additionally I have a designated location for water bottles, backpacks, and lunch boxes. It takes time to teach the routines and procedures necessary for taking care of classroom materials, but with intentionality it is possible.
Whatever the size of your classroom, however many students you have, and whatever level of “craftiness” you possess, it is possible to create a warm, inviting learning environment. Remember your students can spend over half their day in their “home away from home” so use the environment to create a space that is both welcoming and educational.
Sarah Trussell, M.Ed.
Elementary Principal, early childhood teacher
El Camino Academy, Colombia
 Loh, Andrew. “Reggio Emilia Approach.” 2006. http://www.brainy-child.com/article/reggioemilia.shtml.
Photo Credits: Sarah Trussell, El Camino Academy