In early learning environments, organization is essential for optimal learning. Proper organization promotes exploration, builds independence, and helps keep children safe. Organized environments can also boost engagement by reducing distractions and cutting down on interruptions to children’s play. There are several areas of organization to consider as an early learning professional.
Furniture in early learning environments acts as not only space for work and storage but also helps define the learning centers of the classroom. Here are things to consider when thinking about the organization of the furniture:
- Storage shelves should be used to indicate boundaries between learning centers. This means, whenever possible, they should be arranged away from walls since walls already present a boundary. Shelves should be low to the ground to reduce blind spots in the classroom.
- When organizing learning centers create specific spaces for children to explore related materials. Here are a few common learning centers:
- Blocks and transportation
- Dramatic play
- Creative arts and music
- Math and manipulatives
- Active centers, such as blocks and dramatic play, should be located away from quiet centers such as literacy or art center.
- Messy centers (art) and sensory tables should be located close to the sinks to make handwashing convenient.
- Shelves that store particular materials, such as puzzles, should be located next to the workspace intended for that activity. This means that tables need to be located within the defined learning centers. This helps children easily collect materials for play and return the materials to their proper place when done.
- Shelves and tables should be arranged to reduce runways that can invite unsafe movement in the classroom. If running in the classroom is a problem, consider adjusting a shelving unit by a few feet to break up the open runway.
- Furniture should be the correct height and size for the children in the room. Click here for guidance.
- Inspect rugs for frayed fabric that should be removed. Remove or reposition any rugs that curl up at the ends to prevent tripping and other accidents.
- Include space for children to work together in large and small groups. Children should have options to work in different group sizes, and independently, throughout the day.
- Organization of furniture and learning centers should include a quiet calming space that children can opt to visit when overwhelmed or in need of a break from the large group. Just like adults, sometimes children need time away to decompress. This area should be easily supervised, while still providing space to be away from the group.
Supplies and Materials
In early learning environments, materials and supplies should be made available for children to explore. This can pose a problem if there is not a clear way of organizing materials. Teachers should spend time teaching children about the organizational system that exists in the environment.
- Orient the children to what each center looks like when it is cleaned up. Post a picture of the cleaned-up learning center in the center so children have a reference. Practice cleaning up and recognize that this can be a daunting task for children. Break the task down into manageable tasks and adjust your expectations to meet the children where they are, developmentally speaking. Doing so reduces frustration and builds independence.
- To help children understand the organizational system, use visual cues. Bins should have a label and a picture of the materials that should be placed in the bin. The shelf where the material is stored should have the same label attached to it. You can take a picture of the materials or cut out pictures from a magazine.
- Using learning centers can cut down on the spread of materials across the room. For example, if you have defined your block area with a rug and some shelving units, children will learn that that is the space for building. If you place science materials on a shelf next to a table, children will learn to use that table to explore the science materials. Doing so will prevent materials from different learning areas from spreading all over the room. Of course, materials from learning centers can “visit” other learning centers, but you certainly would not want a child to start finger painting all over the library center.
- If you have room for storage, you have the opportunity to rotate materials every so often. As you observe children, notice the toys that they are playing with and those that they are not playing with. Perhaps the ignored materials are too easy, or too challenging, for the children. Those materials can be shared with another classroom, or stored in a closet until children are ready to explore that toy. Having novel materials in the classroom help to reengage children with the materials in the learning environment.
- Dramatic play materials can be stored in theme-related prop boxes. Prop boxes can be rotated between classrooms (after proper cleaning) or stored in the closet. Prop box themes can include anything from housekeeping to airport to pet store and much more. All those materials out at the same time can become too overwhelming for young children, preventing them from engaging in meaningful exploration.
Children’s Personal Belongings
The learning environment belongs to the children. They spend hours of each school day in the classroom and should feel at home in the space. Children’s cubbies should be a space where personal items are stored.
- Provide bins that are large enough for the materials that will be stored in cubbies.
- Place pictures of children’s families on their cubbies (and around the room, as well) to help children feel at home.
- Use sturdy folders to store papers and forms for families.
- Cubby areas tend to become cluttered with personal belonging and should be inspected each week for items that can be sent home.
- Consider paperless family communication tools that can reduce the clutter in the cubby area and ensure that no important forms get lost.
- Children’s belongings include the works that they create. Common display options include bulletin boards. Unique works of art should be displayed and kept fresh based on curriculum topics.
- In addition to artwork, teachers can also take pictures of children’s construction efforts, playdough creations, and sorting piles. These pictures can also be displayed as a way of highlighting learning and building self-esteem.
In a classroom with 10-20 children, things can become very disorganized, very quickly. Teachers should develop daily, weekly, and monthly tasks to stay on top of the organization of materials and personal belongings. Develop helpful checklists, divvy up the tasks, and involve the children in maintaining the organization of their classroom environment.
Teaching is an incredibly rewarding and demanding profession. Remaining organized in and out of the classroom is a challenge for many educators, especially when resources are scarce. Many teachers feel that a disorganized classroom negatively impacts the effectiveness of their teaching methods and materials, potentially even resulting in missed learning opportunities. Fortunately, there are a few simple classroom organization tips for teachers that can save time and create efficiencies.
1 | Start Organizing by Decluttering
The best way to begin any organizational process is by eliminating what is not needed and then slowly adding more items as they become necessary. If it’s not useful or mission critical, find another loving home. This is particularly true if you’re organizing a small classroom where every inch counts. After removing unnecessary furniture and clutter, empty out the currently available storage spaces. A foundational principle of effective organization is that items to be stored must adapt to the space available, not vice versa. This means that you will want to visualize all of the available (or potentially available) storage space before going any further. Once all of the storage spaces are emptied and the furniture has been arranged for maximal spatial efficiency, you might be able to picture the space in a completely new light and reimagine the layout. Once the space is set, it’s much easier and faster to incorporate the remaining classroom organization tips for teachers covered in this article.
2 | Use the Classroom Walls
Go off the walls! While some classroom walls are covered in charts, maps and pictures, many are also barren and underutilized. There are an almost endless number of ways to use the flat, straight edge of a wall for more storage space. Some common ways include the following suggestions:
- Distribute or receive assignments, store papers and much more by pinning or taping folders to the wall. If done properly, cardstock folders should create perfect pockets for storage, allowing you or students to customize their own!
- Put up wall-mounted bookshelves, which are easily accessible and also display the available options with the covers facing out – enticing younger readers particularly well.
- Let art projects dry by stringing clothesline along the width of a wall, high enough off the ground to avoid being knocked inadvertently but low enough for all to admire.
3 | Use Vertical Storage Solutions
Since effective organization for school teachers is all about managing constraints, it’s almost certain that you’ll have to save space by incorporating vertical storage components. Simple vertical storage solutions include standard bookshelves; especially those that mount directly to the wall as they protrude less into the room. Many teachers also utilize vertical storage bins, which can be great for holding entire activities or the personal belongings of a student as the bins are more private than a shelf and keep everything together in an organized way. The biggest benefit of vertical storage solutions is that they create more floor space that can be used for seating, walkways, tables or other physical activities.
4 | Stretch Storage Space Further
Get even more out of your existing shelves, cabinets or other furniture by installing dividers, pull-out racks or other in-cabinet storage solutions that make the space more functional. These storage solutions are specifically designed to help you fit more items, or items of a specific size and shape, in an enclosed area.
5 | Label Everything
Organization for school teachers is not just about clever storage solutions or creative management processes. Fundamentally, effective organizational practices for teachers are about making it easier to find what you need, when it’s needed. Clear labeling will help you find things faster and help students understand exactly where to put items away. Use consistent naming schemes and structure so that you don’t have to guess when reading a cryptic label.
6 | Recycle and Reuse Household Items
There are many ways to save money and get creative with storage containers. Old or unused items that most people have in their own homes or workplaces can be repurposed to hold pencils, desk items, craft supplies, personal belongings, school projects, and much more. One of the best parts about reusing old containers is that you won’t feel stressed if one breaks or gets messy. After all, that’s their purpose! Household items that are commonly repurposed for classroom use include:
- Mason jars
- Milk or juice cartons
- Soda boxes
7 | Keep Student and Teaching Information Organized
Another key way in which organization for school teachers differs from other occupations is the additional level of preparedness required to accommodate a substitute teacher, a new student or any of other surprises that threaten classroom stability and lesson plan continuity. Adequately addressing these unforeseen disruptions requires a different kind of organizational endeavor: information management. Some of the top classroom organization tips for teachers from other teachers include the following:
- Have a designated folder with extra materials set aside for new students, or for a substitute teacher that might have to take over at a moment’s notice.
- Create and always have handy a classroom roster for notes, roll call, etc.
- Consider sending a brief email newsletter that keeps parents in the loop. This can be an excellent way to ensure that students have what they need each day, and that families are well informed.
While organization for school teachers might look different depending on individual preferences, following these tips will hopefully help you be successful in organizing your classroom to become the most efficient and accommodating space for teaching students year after year.