Sunday, October 12, 2014

Classroom Environment

On the journey to personalizing our classrooms a major change was our classroom environments.  I got a text from Carrie one day while she was attending a conference with Tiff.  She said they had heard a speaker talk about getting rid of desks and setting up a comfortable learning environment and both she and Tiff had been contemplating the same thing.  Well unbeknownst to her, I had just left IKEA with a rather large purchase of new items specifically for redesigning my classroom space.  That is one of the many amazing things about our Kindergarten team, we may go about things in a different way, but for the most part we are all on the same page.  Sometimes it is hard to jump on board with something new, i.e. personalized learning, but we all support each other and are always willing to try whatever it takes to meet the needs of our children.

One of the main reasons to change our classroom environments was to foster collaboration and creativity.  Our goal is for the children to take responsibility and ownership of their learning.  How can they do that confined to space that does not belong to them?  We designed our classrooms to feel more like a living room than a classroom.  I don't know about you, but at home I am rarely sitting up straight at the table not looking at anyone.  On the rare occasion that I am sitting at the table there is typically someone sitting across from me that I can talk to.  More often I am sitting on the couch, or laying on the floor while doing my work.  In order to create that same environment at school we first got rid of our seating arrangements with labeled spots and all of the children facing one direction.  The children have control over where they sit and when they sit there.  The tables are now a place for collaboration, the chairs face each other instead of all pointing at the teacher.  We brought in green plants and lamps to brighten the spaces.  Here are some images of each classroom space:

Alli's Classroom:
     I changed the paper on my bulletin boards to be a calmer color and left them blank, for the most part.  I want the children to feel the classroom is not my classroom, but our classroom.  The boards in my kitchen area will feature pictures of our class, their families, and their buddies.  This is where I also put my calendar.  I like the idea of having the calendar visible in the classroom but did not want to use that in addition to my SmartBoard calendar.  I created QR codes with links to our calendar songs such as days of the week, and months of the year in both English and Spanish.  One of the boards will be our word wall.  This year I used AR Flashcards as the letters.  Using this app the children can hover over a letter and an animal will pop up telling the letter and the animal with the same beginning sound.  I wanted to create numerous spaces for collaboration and also cozy reading areas.  Instead of my usual large bookshelf with numerous boxes full of books I added short bookshelves with fewer books.  Already in this first week I have had more children looking at books and I believe it is because they are easier to find and look more appealing presented this way.  One small change that has made a large impact is the blue basket of clipboards.  The children have the option of working wherever they would like and many times that means they need a clipboard to write on.  The blue basket has been a huge hit!  In the science center I used chalkboard contact paper on the table.  To begin the year I have just a few science materials out but even with few materials the center is always full of students exploring with what they have.

Carrie's Classroom:
I really wanted the kids to feel at home, feel happy, and feel motivated.  I decided to have my super crafty sister-in-law make some awesome posters of inspirational quotes...not because the kids can read them yet, but because I read them everyday to myself and the kids.  Who wouldn't be motivated and inspired after hearing how awesome you are everyday?

Tiff's Classroom:
Creating a calm and cozy atmosphere has been a gradual process for me.  I tried to get a little bit at a time due to cost, but ended up getting most of the lamps and the couches from family and friends that were just going to get rid of them or were just sitting in a basement being unused.  I also purchased the plants on sale at the end of the season which helped to keep the cost down as well.  We are very fortunate to have very large windows in our kindergarten classrooms which brings in a lot of natural light.  Each of rectangular tables in the room has a potted plant in the center.  I was originally very hesitant to do this because of the possibility of the them being a distraction and the potential mess if they were to get tipped over or the students digging in the dirt, but this has yet to be an issue.  When I brought the couches into the classroom, it was a very exciting day.  The students all sat and squeezed onto them and made comments like, "I feel like I'm at home!" and "It's like we are a big family!"  I was so excited to hear that they were feeling that way.  In that moment, it totally validated my reasons for changing the environment and made the time and money spent to change it so completely worth it!