5 Cheap Classroom Investments for Learning and Lovable spaces
Okay, there are 5 things that stood out to anyone who came into my classroom. I will address these below:
- Accent Wall
- Home staples
- Alternative Seating
- Lighting and Aromatics
- Something Living
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A lot of teachers tell me that my classroom looks like a primary one. I taught high schoolers.
Yes, my classroom is always colorful, but not because of the students–I like colors. While other teachers have their favorite posters, personal pictures, and things they like, I actually post educational posters and student work. If they’re going to ignore me and stare at the walls, they can at least remember their literary elements!
Any area where I plan to spend 9-11 hours a day is going to be comfortable for me and those who come into it. Period point blank. Done. My students loved it, and there is quite a bit of research behind it that supports why this should be more so a thing.
They were those touches that made students want to actually be in my classroom throughout the day. Not to mention, the indicators that this classroom is my home. Mi casa es su casa.
By the way, did I mention that most of the items were purchased for less than $10 each (for the things I did have to buy)? You have to get into that thrift store life!
To me, this is the most key part of a room. Many teachers try to fill the white/cream walls with pictures and posters and all kinds of stuff. But sometimes, it’s just clutter when you fill every space. You need that “white space” to balance the accent and promote it as a focal point. Try to have at least 50% white space outside of your basic wall requirements (curriculum posters, boards, shelves…).
There are a few ways I’ve accomplished this.
- Paint — I had two green walls (the color of green I use on everything). One was the back wall that you saw when you first came in. The other is the wall that you see when you leave. That’s it. Any more and the color would be overwhelming.
- Art — I mean legitimate art. Make one of your walls an art gallery with a large picture and smaller ones structured it. This makes the room feel a little more inspirational and artistic. It can promote students to be a little more reflective as they stare at it. Not to mention, it’s beautiful and adds a level of class to your space. Gettin’ all gourmet and sh**!
- Posters — Now, be careful with this one. Teachers tend to find tons of helpful and inspirational quotes and clutter their walls with them. A small 2014 study found that students in cluttered classrooms spent more time off task and learned less. If the posters are as interesting as you want them to be, they’re probably going to be more interesting than you (sorry to break it to you) and they’re less likely to pay attention to you. Instead, only include a few key posters. Anything on which we took notes was not on the wall–except a poster on how to take those Cornell notes! This can be used as the accent wall instead of paint or art. If you want to have the accent paint or art, make sure to use the posters more sparsely.
Related Article — The Psychology and Meaning of Colors
- Student Work — I know we want students to feel proud of their work but kids can get distracted. Not only by what’s on the walls but also by comparing their work to it and ruminating on their successes and failures. If you put student work up, make sure it is key to the unit; otherwise, put it in the hallways. Don’t clutter that area though, either. They feel just as proud of more students seeing it, and they aren’t distracted during class time. Again, use this sparsely.
For some reason, the kids really love this one! I think it may be because they learn about you. Not to mention it brings that homey feel to it that they’re used to at home, and makes them a little more comfortable in the classroom because it reminds them of home.
There are some things that you can include–for free or cheap–that not only makes you comfortable but creates positive associations between the classroom and home spaces.
- Appliances — I had a Keurig in my classroom with little pictures around it about how much I love coffee. The kids obsessed about it and really talked to me about their love of coffee. It was a simple move for me to have my afternoon coffee, but they really loved that it was there because we had something in common. I’ve seen teachers with microwaves, refrigerators, and kinds of other things. For some reason, when they bring them in, I hear the kids talk about who has what in their classrooms all day.
- Rugs and Doormats — I always have a colored rug that matches my classroom in the middle or front of my classroom. For students who struggled to see, they would ask to sit on the rug up front. Especially when it came to movie and story time (yes, I read aloud to my high schoolers). “Can we sit on the rug like story time?!” “Sure!” Here they all come to sit crisscross applesauce, staring up to watch me read in my Southern Scout voice during To Kill a Mockingbird or my psychotic voice during E. A. Poe. I think they remember rugs from their younger days, and good memories come back.
Similarly, I managed to find a color matching door mat that said hello that I put outside my front door. The kids loved it. When it got moved around, they fixed it for me, they wiped their feet on it when it rained outside. When I took it away to clean it, they immediately noticed and volunteered to buy another. So simple a thing to make them feel welcome, and they loved it. It felt like they were walking into their front door.
- Cleaning Supplies — Many young children enjoy cleaning with adult supplies and crave chores (such a beautiful thing). There was a vacuum in the corner and I had kids who raced to vacuum the floor. There were even some who came in after school just to clean all the desks with bleach wipes and rewrite the numbers on it. It made them feel like they were helping, and they were. There was still a little part of them–no matter how old they are–that wants to help the ones they love and appreciate.
- Small knickknacks — I had a bird cage with a small owl in it. They loved it so much and begged to hold Athenis (the owl) because he was our adorable giver of wisdom. I also had a stuffed tiger (our school mascot) that they wanted to name and said hi to all the time. There was a mirror that looked like the magic one from Snow White. And, I had little candle vases with fake flowers in them around the room. The kids loved to use them as props for activities. And, if someone knocked over one, they would all rush to pick it up, grab down another from the shelves and set it up again.
There’s so much hype around this to accommodate students with AD(H)D struggles. When I started doing alternative seating, it’s not for accommodations, but rather, just an alternative to desks. While it can pose some problems, it doesn’t anymore than anything else we have to manage in class. Not only did the alternative seats help students to feel more comfortable in the class, it also served as a positive reward as far as PBIS strategies.
- Cushioned seating — I have this thing for chairs. I don’t know why, but I prefer chairs over couches and other cushioned seating. At the Goodwill’s in my state, every other Saturday is whole store 50% off. I would buy chairs for under $10 each and horde them in my home parlor (until my husband made me stop). So, to my classroom they went!
My kids begged to sit in these chairs (I had three at the time) and I would strike deals that they had to finish work, or keep a certain track record. Some of my best students even got it as their assigned seat for a short time. They worked like they would at a desk, but they were comfortable; not something they typically associate with a classroom. I even had students who would come in during off times to sit in the chairs, so I would make the privilege contingent on them having to work on something academic while there; it typically worked.
Related Article — New to Flexible Seating? Here’s 10 Things You Need to Know by Two Sharp Pencils
- High Seating — Students who have more active legs love high seating. Whether they are standing at a counter so they can shift around, or sitting in a bar stool (like I had) where they can swing their feet. I also had students who used it as a confidence boost. I noticed when they sat in the chair, they spoke more, were more attentive because they could subtly move, and just did better overall. I’ve even seen teachers get the high-risers for beds (that they sell around back to school time) for desk legs so students can stand at their desks, instead of sit. I’ve always wanted to try this; I think it will be very successful.
- Low Seating — Like I mentioned with the rugs, I had many students who loved to sit on the floor. I’ve also seen rocking seats that students can sit in at stores. This would allow those active movers to rock, but still work. Lap desks and/or clipboards are a must for whatever kind of seating. Some students stay at their tradition desk, but use a clipboard to lean around more comfortably in their seat.
4. Lighting and Aromatics
There are studying tips about using smells to help us better remember information. Lights can also promote certain moods. Dim lighting lends itself to rest while high lighting lends itself to energy. Not to mention, having the right lighting during presentations it key to student vision and work.
- Air fresheners — Depending on the season, I would have correlating air fresheners. Though a little expensive, the students loved walking into good smells and associating those smells with positive memories, like baking, holidays, rain, and etc. You can also create this effect with fake candles and oils (be careful with this depending on your age group).
- Lights — I always made sure I had a desk lamp in the back of the classroom so when the lights are off, I and/or the students could still see to work. I’ve seen some teachers include color lights that, again, played on that color psychology. I also included a salt lamp in my classroom for a soft glow that rested students when they were getting out of hand; and, it helped to purify the air.
Unfortunately, I never had this in my classroom but I met teachers who did and it really added a more communal feel to the class. Having other living creatures in the classroom, in my opinion, reminded us that the area is a place where others live, and we should respect it. There are different ways to bring other, non-human, living creatures into the classroom to enjoy all the company.
- Plants — Not only can they be air purifiers and accents, they are also a responsibility that needs care. As students see it grow, they respect it more as something that breathes and needs just like them. Most teachers don’t have windows, though. I’ve met plenty of teachers who can get plants to grow in their classrooms, but I have yet to find any to make it. But, it may be something that students can help to care for if it needs extra.
- Pets — I had a high school teacher with a mouse and another with two snakes (yeah, you read that right!). I’m not saying to bring a puppy into the classroom. There are other things that work just as well. Some teachers keep fish tanks. They’re quiet and non-distracting, the students love feeding them, and I’m sure one will volunteer to clean the tank. I’ve seen teachers with reptiles of different kinds. They qualify in all the ways a fish does. Bunnies do, too. Hamsters/guinea pigs have just a little more noise to them because of the toys. However, they are easy maintenance like the others described.
The classroom is so much more than where class is held and assignments are due.
It’s where a community comes together to share ideas and make a change. It’s where a teacher welcomes a student into his/her life. For students, it’s where they are safe and loved. For others, it’s where they are failures and abused. Which your class will be depends on many factors. But, tried and true, I found that one of the distinct things that students mention at the end of the year about my class is: they love coming to my class because its comfortable, it’s fun, and it’s down-to-earth. Unfortunately, I can’t get them to leave at times. I’m sure, in some strange world, that’s a compliment!
So, what do you do in your classroom to throw tradition out the door? Have you had success trying any of these? Have you had any failures? What do you think and suggest about these design tips–for any grade?
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