Building bookshelves for the preschool classroom

I still needed child-sized bookshelves for my classroom but not any more. Over the weekend my husband built me three of them…

I gave him the measurements that I needed based on how many baskets I hoped to fit in each shelf as well as measuring the height of my tables.  I didn’t want the shelves so tall that I couldn’t see the children behind the shelves as they played but not so short that it felt like a toddler room.  I also have limited space in my classroom so I didn’t want the shelves too terribly wide.  In the end the bookshelves measured at 3′ wide x 2′ 1/4″  tall. They can hold 8 baskets or 16 stackable shoe-sized baskets.

I went with my husband to get the wood and what you see above is all that he needed to build all three. I think there is wood left over too but I haven’t went back over to see for sure…

It was interesting watching my husband build these shelves for me. It had me thinking of how I should be introducing the building process to young children.  I realized that if I am going to provide blocks for construction play, then I should also be providing a variety of tools.  A measuring tape is definitely something my husband always uses and it is no big deal to keep measuring tools near the block area at all times…

Another tool that he uses a lot is a clamp to hold the wood in place as he saws or adds wood glue….

He also uses a pencil to mark lines on the wood and a square to line up the lines so to create nice straight edges…

And then he uses things like a power saw, power drill, and even a nail gun…

I also realized that I should be watching people more closely as they work. Just by watching the building process I gained a better perspective of what tools a carpenter uses and how the tools are used. This has helped me think about new ways to explore the block center, construction, and carpentry in the classroom…

After the shelves were all built, we sanded them (using sanding sponges) and then painted them…

I painted them white but I wanted to try something new so I painted the sides and back side of each shelf with magnetic paint. I had never used magnetic paint before so I am not sure I did it exactly right. Did you know that magnetic paint is black and very thick? It reminds me of tar just a bit.  I had to stir, stir, stir to get it all mixed up right then I painted it on the shelves pretty thick.  I probably should have added more than one coat of magnetic paint but I just used one…

After the coat of magnetic paint dried, I painted over it with white paint.  The magnetic paint is actually considered a primer – not a finish paint. You are supposed to paint over it with a color of your choice…

I couldn’t wait to start setting up the shelves in the classroom. These two shelves are back to back in the middle of the room right now but I will probably rearrange 20 times before school starts…

I tried the magnetic letters and the wooden ones with the flat magnetic side worked very well on the shelves. The plastic letter magnets didn’t work at all.  The stronger the magnet, the better….

My small magnetic pompoms worked very well too but my bigger magnetic pompoms were too heavy and fell off.  I will keep playing with it to see what works…

Read: Early Learning with Magnets to see some ideas that I hope to use with my magnetic boards and shelves…

Also read: Exploring Measuring tools!

By |2011-07-27T00:39:43+00:00July 27th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Leeanne A July 27, 2011 at 7:14 am - Reply

    The children who are going to play here will be so lucky!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 27, 2011 at 8:04 am - Reply

      Thank you Leanne:)

  2. lori July 27, 2011 at 7:21 am - Reply

    these are wonderful. kudos to hubby. my art closet has magnetic painted doors. it’s tricky to find magnets that work well, but once we do, it’s a giant playboard. seeing all your preparations is making me itchy to get back into my classroom.

  3. Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 27, 2011 at 8:06 am - Reply

    I still feel like I have much to do to be prepared!

  4. Magnetic paint is brilliant in theory, but (at least for me) never works very well. Bookshelves look great – you’re going to have the best classroom!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 27, 2011 at 8:43 am - Reply

      Definitely have to find the right combination of magnets to make it work. At least that is what I am discovering so far:)

  5. [email protected] July 27, 2011 at 11:02 am - Reply

    What a great idea to do magnetic paint on the sides and backs. So smart.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 27, 2011 at 1:56 pm - Reply

      Thanks for stopping by Laura!

  6. Melanie July 27, 2011 at 11:55 am - Reply

    Your husband is quite the woodworker lol. I love the shelves! The magnetic paint is a great idea, too. I have one shelf that I recently changed the back from a solid back to a peg board. I found inexpensive plastic hooks from Big Lots and use it to house the measuring cups, spoons, etc. for the sensory table which is located nearby. I think I’ll be painting the backs of some shelves this weekend with magnetic paint, too! Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 27, 2011 at 1:59 pm - Reply

      Your welcome Melanie! Someone sent me an email saying that two coats of the magnetic paint will make the magnet quality a little better.

  7. Shelly July 28, 2011 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    Wow Deborah, what a great post! Thanks for all your brilliant ideas. And I love the photos, it really helps me to visualize what you’re talking about. I appreciate you!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 28, 2011 at 4:19 pm - Reply

      Thank you Shelly:)

  8. Annamari @MommyPlaysEnglish July 29, 2011 at 8:50 am - Reply

    It’s so exciting to buy new furniture for the classroom, and it’s even more so if you can see it being made. 🙂
    As for tools and building, there’s a great book preschoolers will love (at least I had to read it to my kids for a hundred times or so :)), it’s called Harvey the Carpenter (
    Have a lot of fun with the new shelves! 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 29, 2011 at 11:35 pm - Reply

      Thank you for the book idea! I needed a really good carpenter book!

  9. These look fabulous! And I love the idea of using magnetic paint on the back. I had never heard of that. I’ve seen chalkboard paint (which is another good idea for the back of a shelf).

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 29, 2011 at 11:34 pm - Reply

      I thought of chalkboard paint too on the shelves but since I painted two walls with chalkboard paint, I decided to try the magnetic paint on the shelves. I was told to use two coats for future reference. I only used one coat.

  10. Wendy July 31, 2011 at 6:09 pm - Reply

    Can you share the exact materials used? I would really love to build these for a Kindergarten room!

  11. Rachel August 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    I can’t find magnetic paint! Where did you buy yours?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. August 3, 2011 at 11:10 pm - Reply

      Hmmm, I think either Lowes or Home Depot. Did you try there?

  12. Reve reed June 7, 2018 at 11:35 pm - Reply

    I’m looking for shelves and they are so expensive. Would you mind sharing the building plans?

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