Set Up Your Classroom For Success

When setting up the classroom for young learners (students from Preschool to 2nd grade), it is paramount to remember who the classroom is for--the kids!

Educators are responsible for teaching a slew of academic standards, while celebrating each child's unique needs as he/she is strengthened academically, socially, morally, physically, and emotionally. A challenging task indeed! But with a thoughtful classroom setup designed with areas for discovery, play, practice, and more, we as teachers can promote learning success while keeping students excited about and engaged with learning.

Following is a checklist of "Must-do's" when setting up an early learning classroom.

Does Your Classroom Have?

defined areas for learning

Children needs to be taught in a way that allows them the opportunity to grow and develop through play; the way children learn best. There should be areas in the classroom dedicated to science, social studies, writing, building, dramatic play, technological skills, math play, and reading. All of these areas should show evidence of hands-on learning. Young children learn best from hands-on discovery and  participation with academia, rather than hands-off lecture or rote style worksheet learning.

Discovery Based Learning Materials

When first entering your classroom, discovery learning should be evident. One should easily see things like puzzles, magnets, magnifying glasses, and other important learning manipulatives. Young children learn best through hands-on learning where they can make discoveries about the world around them. The materials that make this possible should be stored at their level where they are able to access.

Areas To Promote Play


Research provides evidence that play is the work of children. Academic performance is improved when learning tasks are presented through playful situations. For example, children can understand the elements of a story better (characters, setting, etc) if they are asked to dramatize the story. There should be a playhouse or a play area in your child’s classroom as well as a block center and a sensory table. Areas like this show that the teacher is dedicated to teaching in a research based, age appropriate way.

Areas For Artistic Expression

Is there an area for painting, cutting, gluing and creating? Art strengthens spatial awareness, motor skills, problem solving, and persistence. Think of the child who has to work out how to cut up pieces of paper and glue them together in a way that makes a picture, not only is that child building the strength of his/her hands, he also needs to learn patience in completing the task--a skill that he can transfer to other academic areas.

Areas To Display Student Work

Seeing ones own work in the classroom shows a child that he/she is valued and that stamina, persistence, and accomplishments are worthwhile. It gives students ownership of the classroom and ownership over their own learning if work is displayed and valued.

Print Littered Across The Classroom

Children need vast exposure to print in order to learn to read. The classroom should have evidence of literacy everywhere. There should be words around the classroom as a friendly invitation to reading.

Areas for Literacy development

Create a classroom library. Have comfy chairs with books and book buddy pets. Have a listening center, and read the room activities easily assessable. Children love to practice reading. Encourage this natural desire by having song posters, poetry charts, name charts, birthday charts, and more at a level for students to easily reach with their pointers.

Areas For Writing

Create a space for students to experience and practice newly acquired writing skills independently. Have the area well stocked with all types of writing and book making supplies. Provide anchor charts and word walls that will offer students support.

When setting up your classroom, resist the trends. Don't give into the academic pressures that become ever greater each year; this leads many to think that they need to remove anything from the day that isn’t strictly academic. This is faulty thinking. Research has proven that young children actually do better academically when taught in a way that reflects their need to play, experiment, and create. Teaching to the whole child actually leads to better results. You will be surprised. Your children will thrive in an early learning classroom that has been strategically set for play-based discovery learning and is led by a teacher that scaffolds student learning in appropriate ways.

Learning Center Signs: Dress up the classroom & Inform the Observer!

I love these Learning Center Signs that continually remind and inform not only myself, but anyone that comes into my classroom, what young children are learning in defined areas throughout the room each day.

Each sign has an "I Am" statement that informs the observer of the learning objectives that take place during center time in an early learning classroom. These posters/charts have a photograph (or clip art) reflecting the center, center title, and a list of objectives and career connection that truly cause the reader to reflect upon the objectives.

This chalkboard style contains 26 "I Am" posters from which to choose, pocket chart or center board title cards for each poster, and a special BONUS: sizable jpegs of each page for customizing your own size!


If clip art is more your style, you will love this version containing the same objectives and career connection. It also includes pocket chart cards. This version comes with both I AM and I Can Statement choices and has 40 center choices.


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Velcro Fabric Bulletin Board Background

I bought this velcro fabric by the yard 18 years ago at a conference on children's literature and story telling. They were advertising the fabric to make story telling aprons. But, of course, my teacher lightbulb turned on, and I was wondering what it would be like as bulletin board background? It was expensive, about $10.00 a yard, but I decided to bite the bullet and try it! What a great investment. This fabric never fades, never looks old, and is still as bright as the day I bought it. The picture below show the fabric with 18 years of wear. Perfect, right? Does not show any staple holes, tears, chips, fold, tears, etc that can be seen on traditional bulletin board coverings.

This year I decided it was time to purchase another 3 yards and do another bulletin board.  I found

Industrial Webbing on line and I thought I would give them a try. (I just googled velcro fabric, there are were other sellers of this product as well). The total for 3 yards with shipping was $109.00. Now that sounds expensive for a bulletin board, but remember, my original purchase is 18 years old and still looks brand new. When I add up the countless rolls of fadeless paper that I have bought in the last 18 years for my other boards, it makes the velcro fabric seem like a deal. (And it is fire marshall friendly).

My new bulletin board is up, and I am thrilled. The blue is a little duller than my original bright blue, but it is great. Here it is up on the board ready to be my word wall. (The old fabric is now on my poetry center board, I can hardly wait for the difference it will make there). The fabric works perfect for my words. I simply put a dab of velcro on the back and viola! They are ready to stick where you need them. The words easily pull off to hand kids that need a close look, and easy to rearrange when you need to alphabetize a new word.

Yep! Velcro material for my bulletin boards, probably one of my best teacher investments!

Managing Learning Centers: You Can Be At Every Center!

Have you heard of "Talk Boxes?" If you haven't, these are a classroom must have. With just a push of a button students can be independent at each center. If students can't remember what to do, they simply push the button to hear YOU give the instructions once again. What a great way to not only build student independence, but these boxes free the teacher to concentrate on guided reading/writing or math tables! Viola! With Talk boxes the quality of classroom life is improved instantaneously.

To top it off, there are many other uses for these devices. Children can quickly record their own voices providing opportunity for students to practice verbal and auditory skills. They can be used with games, displays, word walls, phonics practice,  information, etc.

These gadgets also come is a smaller version called "Talk Points."

Metal Board For the Writing Center

So, this idea comes to you because of Teacher Deb and my Uncle Miles!
My uncle was a furnace man and in the sheet metal business. So when I wanted to add a large metal board to my writing center, I thought of my uncle and my times of watching him cut those great sheets of metal in his shop as he made custom furnaces.

Thanks to Deb who has a metal magnet board in her classroom, I was directed to our local furnace/sheet metal company. I will take pictures of the finished product when it is finished! Meanwhile, I am excited to get magnets on the back of my word wall words. 

Vinyl Decals in the Reading Center

So I got these adorable decals to put in my classroom reading center. But, since they are so adorable, they went to my grand baby's bedroom instead. And, yes they look great!

So I guess back to etsy or amazon once again. I like this one, but, I am afraid it would end up in the two year old's bedroom!

Well, I guess I will keep shopping;  I will put some pictures up of my reading center once it is completed!  

Teacher Pick-Me-Up Idea

Ok, so I will immediately give credit to my husband for this idea. Twenty years ago when I began teaching he told me to keep every thank you card that I was ever given by a parent, student, colleague, administrator, etc. and place them in a box. Then, when I was having one of those hard teacher days, simply pull out the notes and read a few. So, that is just what I have done.

I have spent this week finally putting them in a scrapbook binder, organized in a state they deserve. What treasures! Here is a picture of some of the sheets ready to go into the book, and of course my class photos.


If you are not doing this, start right now! You will love the results.

Letter Paddles

Looking for another way to read words? Check out these letter paddles Kathleen just purchased for her classroom from Lakeshore (Don't you wish all teachers owned stock in that company?). There are 26 paddles in a sturdy storage box - the uppercase letter is on one side and the lowercase letter is on the other. The paddles can be used to make CVC and CVCe words as well as words with blends and digraphs. 

The letter paddles generated a lot of interest and enthusiasm! Two students held the rime of the word while six other students took turns holding different beginning consonants. The students were eager to hold the paddles; more importantly, even struggling students enthusiastically volunteered to read the words formed when their classmates held the paddles.

My New Classroom

First off, here is my new school:
The school is amazing! My classroom has finally transformed from a giant pile of boxes to a room ready for 5 year olds!
A view from the door.

Drama Center

Science Center

Reading Center

Guided Reading & Writing Center

Whole Group Carpet Area

Listening Center

Technology Center (ipads go on the blank tables.)

Teacher Area

Writing Center

Math Center

Art Center

Whole Group Table Area

Construction Center

Excited about the Technology in the Classroom!

I have always wanted a Document Camera!