It's finally the end of the year, and if we know teachers, we know you're ready to pack up and head home for the summer. Like, SO ready. This part of the year can be particularly important, because if you pack up the right way, starting off next year on the right foot is a breeze. Last year's Kid-Smart expert, Tanya Kolb, has tips on how to get organized before next year, and you can check them out here. In the meantime, here's a little organizing inspiration to get you through these last few days before the glorious summer.
I was once tasked with re-designing a school space that housed both the teacher break room and a student tutoring intervention space. (Teacher break, huh?) The main problem was obviously the two very divergent needs taking place in one shared - and small - area. Account for sub-activities (like coffee/tea/food preparation, eating, sink use, socializing, testing and instruction), and we're actually talking about seven or eight different activities, all in one space. Here's what I learned from that design challenge:
Divide the Space By Individual or Grouped Activities
In this case, the space was small enough that it required grouping related activities together. We split the room into halves, based on the primary functions and then split each space again by micro-activities.
Too often we plan with only the floor space in mind. Using walls maximizes and multiplies the amount of useable space you have to work with. Whether you use walls for storage, use them to display art, or just let the teachers climb them, when possible, take it all the way to the ceiling for a strong visual statement and more space.
Make Use of Corners
Use corners to organize the space. Corners are a natural starting point to design our thoughts and objects. Creating activity centers in the corners works as an easy way for students to identify tasks areas and as a common sense way to keep organized. Activity centers also double the space for the tasks.
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:
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!