Real Kid-Smart Spaces: Tanya Kolb

Kid-Smart Spaces is launching a new series featuring moms and teachers from across the nation who inspire us every day to keep doing what we do. First up, Tanya Kolb from Brooklyn, NY!

Teachers Tips Interview Header

Name: Tanya Kolb

School City & State: Brooklyn, NY

Years teaching: 14 years

grades: Pre-k, K, & 1st grade


IT ONLY TAKES YOU 1 TO 2 HOURS TO SET UP YOUR CLASSROOM AT THE START OF THE YEAR. WHAT'S YOUR SECRET?

What I do at the end of school year sets me up for back to school, but technically I have two secrets: Purging and Organizing.

4 Steps to My Quick Classroom Set Up:

  1. Create Ideal Layout - During the school year I experiment constantly with my classroom furniture, moving things around until the space is laid out just the way I like it.  

  2. Document It - Once it looks the way I want it to, I take section by section photos of the room from different angles (from front looking back, from back looking front, etc.).  I also photograph each bulletin board and each wall.  Referring to these photos when I’m setting up the room makes set up move quickly.

  3. Purge Before You Pack - Teachers are natural hoarders! We don’t like to waste things, because we know how valuable and costly supplies are, but our downfall is, "I might use it next year" and finding things another teacher made and thinking, “I can totally use that.” Those are traps!  In reality, if we didn’t make it, we have no attachment to it and little or no memory of its use. If you didn't use it this year and if you didn't make it - throw it away! I know so many teachers who have boxes but don’t even know the contents inside.

    My purging trick is to pack the stuff I don’t currently use in a separate box.  At the end of the year, if I still haven’t used it, I throw it out. 

  4. Pack It Right - I limit myself to 6 to 8 boxes, but no matter the number you have, the key is to pack and label only items that belong together in the areas where they live in the classroom.  It can be as easy as “Front of the room - Left Half”  

THERE ARE 3 PARTS TO THE KID-SMART SPACES PHILOSOPHY, WHICH RESONATES WITH YOU MOST, AND HOW DO YOU SHARE IT IN YOUR CLASSROOM ROUTINE? 

  • The places children learn in shape them, and help them shape the world.  

  • Space, light and movement are integral to wellness and success.  

  • Every child deserves beauty and inspiration in their daily life.  

The first one is most meaningful to me.  Children are not necessarily organized by nature, but they mimic what they see.  They know how important organization is for me, so they follow suit and mimicry becomes habit.  Our habits shape their habits.  For me, I think creating surroundings they can value helps students value themselves and hold themselves to higher standards.

WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST SPATIAL CHALLENGE AND HOW DO YOU OVERCOME IT?

This year I’m very lucky to have a large classroom but in the past, struggling in smaller classrooms, I found excess furniture got in the way of activities and wasn't aesthetically pleasing.  Flow is important, so I always opt to remove any furniture that takes away from the space when possible.

WHAT'S YOUR #1 LESSON OR TIP FOR CREATING A KID-SMART CLASSROOM YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE WITH FELLOW TEACHERS READING THIS?

Get rid of the stuff!  That goes for bulletin boards too.  If there’s too much to look at, the intention is lost on the kids.  Minimize the physical and visual clutter.

Keep checking back for our next interview with Real Kid-Smart Spaces, and if you know an amazing mom or teacher, let us know! 

Help! My Classroom is Too Small

It’s easy to offer organization and design tips when there’s a large classroom space to work with.  Things get really challenging when teachers need to fit everything into small classrooms. Though there’s not much we can offer by way of fixing social issues like overcrowding or cost per square foot, there are a few basic ways to keep your small classroom organized:

image credit: pixabay

Minimize Visual Noise

In graphic design the amount of white-space (or empty space) is as important to the viewer as the subject itself.  That’s because the image, in its entirety, affects the viewers' ability to process what they are seeing.  Think of your classroom walls as a blank canvas. If the canvas is covered with too many subjects (in this case instructional tools and classroom decorations) it all becomes visual noise. Remember that every item placed in the room competes for your students attention, so display wisely.

Swap It Out

How can you avoid over-stimulation and limit the information students focus on when there’s so much they need to learn? One way to keep visuals from competing for attention is to swap them out as needed.  Use magnetic whiteboards, magnetic paint, velcro or colored paper to make your decorations or instructional tools interchangeable. This allows you to better manage the room's focal points and, by extension, the focus of your students.

Keep Your Shelves Concealed

Concealed shelving is an excellent way to minimize the clutter that shrinks a space.  Unless they are holding books or house items that require constant access, shelves should hide the items they store. Doors are ideal, but if closed cabinets can’t be managed, use alternatives like curtains, table skirts or storage bins to hide the clutter.

Create Activity Zones and Define Them Visually

“A place for everything and everything in its place.” That age old adage never gets old, especially where classrooms are concerned. The best way to maximize the space you have is to use it wisely. Give each activity its own zone. In small classrooms, several activities may need to share a zone.  In those cases, the tips above (like concealed storage, swapping items out, storage bins) are especially key. That way, once one activity has ended, the zone can easily be packed up, prepped and transformed for the next use.

What methods do you use to maximize the space and effectiveness of your small classroom? We'd love to hear in the comments!