Sunday, August 30, 2015

Classroom Set Up: Making Changes

"Change is the end result of all true learning" 
- Leo Buscaglia

Setting up the learning environment is such a valuable process. Every year that we teach, we learn more about ourselves and children, we think more carefully about the way that areas were used and how the structure or flow of our room supports student learning, engagement and relationships.

We were more than happy to visit Amy Martz and her partners Cassandra Hart and Jessica Dueck this week during their classroom set up. We had rich conversations about where things were, why certain choices were made, and how we could move or change things. After our visit, Amy has shared her thoughts on the changes and the process.

Setting up a classroom learning environment collaboratively is a really valuable process. Invite a colleague or friend in to your classroom environment and ask for their insight. Inviting new perspectives will support us in thinking differently, trying new things, and explaining our thought processes.

If you are unsure...move it and live with it for a while. The children will certainly tell you quickly through their interactions and actions whether or not the environment will best suit their needs! Children's perspectives and insight are very helpful when restructuring the environment.

Prompts or Questions when inviting someone into your space or reflecting on your own environment:
  • tour the learning environment
  • explain the different areas and your thinking behind their location
  • analyze each area: what are you noticing? what needs came up in that area last year?
  • think about different noise levels (quiet/louder areas)
  • think about the flow of the room? (do certain centres flow into each other? would dramatic play make sense connected to building?)
  • think about sight lines (can you easily see different areas?)
  • think about "saving" projects, structures, building materials (will there be space?)
  • think about how children learn in different areas? (e.g., on the floor? tabletop? laying down? sitting up?)
  • "control the controllable" - you can't change where outlets or windows are structurally, what can you control or move?
  • less is more (do I have out enough for children to learn? do I have out too much and it is overwhelming?)
  • Group Meeting Space: if you have a designated meeting space, how will it be used when it is not a group meeting time?
We think that Amy's reflections below will be very helpful for those new to Kindergarten or those restructuring a learning environment this year. Thank you for allowing us to share the photos of your room while we "played around". They have not set out all of their materials, but the images will give a clear picture of how we moved and changed the set up of the classroom collaboratively. Thank you so much Amy for sharing your reflections and for being so open to change!

It seems like I've been thinking about September in our classroom since May or June! Last year was our first year in Full Day Kindergarten. Our school underwent major renovations and the Kindergarten Team was only allowed in two days before school started. This year, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to go in to really think about our space and how we can set it up.

My partners, Cassandra, Jessica and I, went in a couple weeks ago to move in the furniture. We thought about all the different spaces we would like: book nook, small group instruction table, writing centre, art centre, paint, sand, building and blocks, math, science/nature, dramatic play and of course our carpet/meeting area.

As a team, it took some problem solving and a lot of moving back and forth of tables but we finally had a set up that we were pleased with. After leaving that day I was still thinking about the spaces that I wasn't sure if the set up flowed well or how we could fix it. 

So I thought about two of the most reflective educators I know and I contacted Tracy and Cheryl to see if they would pop in to help us with some problem solving. When they arrived, I started to take them through the space and explain why we had the areas that we did and as I always do when I talk to them, I had a ton of a-ha's and what they suggested made sense I had just never thought of it that way before!

Here are a few before and after reflections:


We had our large carpet for our meeting space by the white boards and bulletin board because it seemed like it should be there. The carpet wasn't being fully utilized unless we met as a large group and it seemed like a large area of wasted space, but we were not sure how to restructure it.


We moved the carpet to the block centre to give a large area for building and math play. We can still meet at the carpet and we even moved our reading cart there for when we do focused teaching. The children can also use the front and back of the white board/chart paper to write or record their thinking.


We had large tables clumped together in awkward shapes because we weren't sure where else to put them because there wasn't enough space. The way that we had them set up, the tables may have been too big to place provocations at because the children wouldn't be able to easily access the materials or connect with each other.


We moved and spread out the trapezoid tables to where the carpet was by the whiteboards and bulletin board. We brainstormed so many possibilities for this area: smaller tables for provocations, small tabletop building, loose parts, or nature area. 

The whiteboards also lend themselves to students recording their thinking, magnetic play, or use of the overhead projector for light play. Spreading out the tables will also help during nutrition break. Smaller tables will provide students with more opportunity to have conversations with peers and will in turn support the noise level hopefully making lunch a calm time for students. Also, by spreading the tables out, we have a lot more open spaces for students to choose where they would like to sit.


The book nook was a super small space because we were giving priority to the whiteboards for students to use.


We spread out the book shelf and placed a couple of comfy chairs so that there is room for the children to spread out and lounge with a book. It is also right beside our small group instruction table. When we do guided reading, we can have a group read there with their previously read text while we work with a group.

We are thinking about putting our word wall on the whiteboard so that students can easily grab and replace the word wall word they may need to support their writing.

On the little bulletin board we will have our family wall (inspired by Tracy and Cheryl). Last year we took pictures at meet the teacher, or had families send in family photos. We added our class photo and also our staff photo. The staff photo was great because it allowed the students to get to know other staff in the school and often the children would talk about the teacher their sibling has.


A lot of print on the walls. We had our classroom sayings on the walls but really when we thought about it, who was it for? Mostly adults because not many of the children will be able to read it.

The walls are almost bare now except for the words: build and create over two of the bulletin boards and those may even come down once our year begins. As much as we have created and set up the furniture, the creation of our classroom will reflect the children in it with the documentation, pictures and art up on the walls.

Tracy and and Cheryl were a huge help in helping us talk though why we had something in a certain spot and thinking truly about how the children used the space. Just because it looks like we "should" have the carpet by the whiteboards doesn't mean we have to!

We also moved the furniture around, a lot. We tried different formations and spacing between tables and shelves. We even thought, what if the children want to save a block creation where we usually meet as a large group? Well, we have two tables we can just move out of the way and we can meet on the floor! We can be flexible to create an inviting environment for our students.

Having Tracy and Cheryl help to restructure the classroom was super helpful because even though I have an open mindset to change, in the back of my head is...well we did it this way, why not do it again? They were able to offer suggestions and give feedback as to why we may keep it or how we may change it.

Oh... and the pink bin.

Last year we had a number of small blocks that we just tossed in the bin because we didn't have enough space to sort them on the shelves. After moving our block area, we separated the blocks into white bins on top of the shelf. Many of the blocks in that bin still look brand new because we don't think they got used much last year!

Now that they are in individual bins that will be clearly labeled with photographs, the children will be able to see and carefully select the materials they need to build their structure or creation. One key thing I learned: as an adult, if I find it overwhelming or difficult to put away or access, how is a 3, 4 or 5 year old child going to fare?

Even as I write this I'm thinking of little changes to make the use of space more effective. And once the children arrive, we will have to see how they use the space and access materials and reflect on if it is working for our new group of students. Working with multiple educators to create this learning space for our new students has been so valuable and we look forward to welcoming our new students this Fall!

Thank you, Tracy and Cheryl!

Amy Martz @martz_mimi
Cassandra Hart @hart_cass14
Jessica Dueck
Follow their Classroom: @MCKkinders16

Be open to change, be willing to learn from others. Allowing ourselves to see and learn from another person's perspective is so valuable to our own growth and learning.

"Everyone you will ever meet knows something you don't" - Bill Nye


  1. I like the storage idea for the small blocks. We had a hard time keeping these blocks on the open shelves. I might be borrowing this idea. Hey Tracy and Cheryl fancy a trip to Markham. :)

  2. Barb we always love spending time with you! Would love to come visit one day!!

  3. I really enjoyed your article! Moving down to K after many yrs of gr. 3 combinations. I had been struggling with the set-up of the room - finally switched to rectangular tables from circular and WOW! Now all the chairs can be pushed in, students can more easily reach across the table and more usable space for learning. The room seems less crowded and the flow is better. Now to figure out bathroom routines ;)

  4. Liz, we are so glad that you found it helpful! Looking forward to hearing more about how your year goes, lots of learning ahead!

  5. I to would love to borrow your idea with the small blocks! We have them all on the open shelves with labeled spots for them to go. It does work well once everyone gets to know the spots for each, however, it is still quite the task. I was thinking of putting the smaller blocks back into a larger bin like we had before. I decided against it because I expect that many of the medium blocks that had a designated spot on the shelves would end up in the bin. Your idea of having smaller bins for each different type is the answer! Thank you!