The Classroom Environment
Each semester I teach a course that includes a classroom design assignment. In the beginning I do a small imagination activity with my students. I tell them “Close your eyes, and start to imagine. What would your dream classroom look like? What colors would you use to paint and decorate? What type of furniture would you include? What would be the arrangement of your room? Imagine the types of manipulatives and centers you would have.” I tell them to visualize this classroom see it, smell it, feel it make it real in their minds. We imagine for a few minutes and then they design it using a graphic design program. The following list is my “dream” list, it is the program I see when I close my eyes. It is a “dream” list because most likely you will not find a program that encompasses everything on the list. This doesn’t mean the program isn’t a good one. I have seen high quality programs who have not hit every item on my dream list. These are just my “dream” characteristics and are great characteristics to look for when choosing a program.
When you walk into my ideal preschool it needs to be inviting, this is nonnegotiable! This doesn’t mean fancy, it means you feel welcome when you walk in. The classroom needs to be child-centered, again a must! The room needs to be bright and print rich with children’s artwork displayed, at their level. The room needs to be welcoming to your child and well organized so that the individual activities are distinguishable. I realize not all preschools have loads of room or endless budgets. This is a very important reason for room organization.
My ideal room would include the following areas:
- Dramatic Play- This area is usually dominated by a kitchen set. There is so much learning that takes place in this area. Language and social skills blossom in the dramatic play area. In addition, we see the development of problem-solving and symbolic thinking. All of these skills form the foundation for future academic success. This area would ideally change periodically. I have seen programs that have prop boxes that they change in and out. My daughter’s dramatic play area changes every few weeks with the project they are focusing on.
- Art (indoor/outdoor)- Ideally a few art easels would be seen here. In addition a table with materials to encourage creativity. This area would have certain staples that would remain on a daily basis. There would also be art media that would change periodically. The encouragement of art here is preferred and not so many ready made or modeled crafts. I would also like to see art carried outside with items like outdoor paints and chalk. We have an outdoor easel made of plexi glass for our kids in our backyard.
- Sensory Exploration- I have an obsession with sensory tables. I love mixing up gag or cloud dough to put in ours. I had my husband build one for our kids before my daughter could even stand. I was so excited to start using it with her. It doesn’t have to be fancy it can be homemade or an expensive one ordered through a magazine. The important part is it allows kids to dig and get dirty and use their senses. Ideally again the media should be switched out.
- Large Motor Area- This area will include large blocks and other construction type materials. So ideally it would be an open area where kids can build and move around. This area could include multiple types of large blocks, marble tracks, car or train tracks, etc. In my daughter’s classroom this area doubles as their circle time rug where they do stretches or dance as well.
- Small Manipulatives- This area would be devoted to smaller manipulatives such as magnatiles or legos or smaller blocks, puzzles, lacing beads, and my favorite play dough. The manipulatives in this area should promote fine motor development. Again they need to be changed out periodically. I like to see a small rug space and also a table for working. A shelf for storing bins is also very helpful!!
- Writing Area- This maybe an area you wouldn’t consider in a preschool classroom as many of them are not yet writing. However, we need to look at the formation or pre-writing skills and writing skills for those little ones who are developing that skill. It should include writing supplies. These could include notebooks, cards, clipboards, pencils, crayons, envelopes, etc. This is one of my daughter’s favorite centers. She loves writing letters and cards to people. Writing should be encouraged throughout the rest of the classroom in the other center. For example, when my daughter’s classroom did a project on the bakery they turned their dramatic play area into a bakery where they would make lists and take order on notepads. We also do a journal entry with our kids at drop off each day.
- Reading Area- This area should include a book shelf, where the books are switched out. It needs to be a welcoming area where the children want to be. This would have soft seating for the kids to get comfortable as they read. The children should have many opportunities throughout the day to be read to. In my daughter’s classroom the parents read at drop off. Then they have large group reading and throughout the day one on one reading time. This is ideal! However, the children should also have access to the books throughout the day to read individually.
- A Place to be Alone- This area should be a quiet area where the kids can go if they need some “me” time to relax or regroup. My daughter’s classroom added this last year and I was so happy to see it implemented. Their social/emotional specialist worked with the kids all year to recognize their feelings and she showed them how to use this area. I have seen many great examples of what this could look like. I have seen small tents or areas that are partitioned off. Ideally it should be separated from the rest of the class. It should be comfortable and quiet. We all need a place to go and recharge sometimes and kids are no different.
- Outside-This is another of my favorite areas. There needs to be a devoted outside area for the children. The playground needs to be safe but a natural rough play area is ideal. Most playgrounds are going to have the big plastic slides and swings. These are great don’t get me wrong but ideally I would like to see dirt, trees, sandboxes, a garden, etc. Last year I had my husband build two sandboxes to donate to our children’s school. An outdoor kitchen or dramatic play area would be ideal in addition to an outdoor sensory table and art area.