Classroom clutter clutters learning in preschool

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Helpful strategies that will positively impact your classroom environment

I was invited to participate in the Bam Radio show, along with Rae Pica and Dr. Rebecca Isbell, titled “How Classroom Setup and Clutter Affect Learning and Behavior.”

“Classroom setup and structure are critical elements in teaching and controlling behavior and student interactions. What do you need to know? What are the best practices? How might rearranging your classroom help you?” (From the Bam Radio Show)

Take a minute and listen to the radio show by clicking here or here!

Rae Pica with Dr. Rebecca Isbell Ph.D. and Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed.

Classroom Setup

Setting up a preschool classroom is a topic that makes up enough material for an entire book by itself! I have invested a tremendous amount of thought and time into my classroom setup. Having a rather small space to work with, like my preschool classroom, brings its own challenges but whether your classroom space is small or large, the way you set up, care for, and maintain it has a real and tangible effect on classroom management, child behavior, and child engagement in the learning process…

One important part of the classroom set up is the issue of clutter. Clutter, clutter, clutter, clutter! Clutter is like chatter – a lot of noise going on all around you all the time and you can never shut it off. Clutter is distracting, stressful, demotivating, and can make a group of children go bonkers…


Where does clutter lurk?

Most classrooms usually don’t start out at the beginning of the year being cluttered, but clutter sort of sneaks up on you. I find clutter building up in my classroom all the time. I literally do a daily search around my room before going home to make sure everything has been put back in its place and I am constantly amazed at how quickly things can start to fall apart and the clutter can start to build up.

Keeping clutter under control takes energy, time, effort, skill and a realization that if you don’t manage the clutter – it will absolutely-without-question negatively impact your classroom environment!


Clutter on Countertops

Sometimes (well most of the time) it is my fault when my classroom starts to look cluttered. My teacher area (aka the countertop) is the number one place that starts to get cluttered in my classroom. I will set papers, cups, games, glue, paint, pencils, bags, books, and you name it on the counter thinking I will need it soon and the next thing you know I am adding dishes, measuring spoons, snack items, and more right on top of what is already there…

When my counter top gets cluttered, I start to feel unorganized. Well, it is more than a feeling, I actually am unorganized. I knock things over and it takes me twice as long to find something when I need it in a hurry. Clutter complicates teaching – it is a time waster and it adds stress to the day.

So at the end of every week, I wade through the piles of clutter on my countertop and unclutter all the clutter. I make sure that when I leave, the countertop looks clean, inviting, attractive, and organized. I get rid of anything that I don’t have to have off the countertop. I find that if I wait and come back to the clutter later, I feel stressed the minute I walk in the classroom so I have gotten into the habit of making sure I unclutter before I head home for the weekend.

Cubby Clutter

The next area that I have to keep an eye on is our cubby area. Our cubbies are composed of hooks for each child on the wall with a basket on the floor underneath each hook. When I visit a preschool or childcare center, one of the first places I can usually find clutter is either in or on top of the cubbies.

A cluttered cubby area does nothing to promote or teach children about organization, care of their personal space or things, or care for the classroom environment. My cubbies look pretty good in these photos but by the end of a week or two – our cubbies can look like a big rock, mitten, pebble, acorn, stick, toy, and paper collection! When the cubbies get too cluttered, the children have a hard time taking care of their things so we purge the cubbies regularly to help the children feel more in control of their personal space and belongings…

Classroom Shelves and Baskets and Toys

Like most preschool teachers, I like to add new toys and activities to my classroom but there comes a time when you have to know enough is enough. Having too many shelves, baskets, and toys are just begging for trouble in the preschool classroom (having too few can be a problem too but today we are focusing on the too many)

Having a small classroom, I really have to be selective in what stays out all the time and what needs to be rotated so that the children can easily find and independently take part in caring for our classroom. The more you have, the more there is to take care of and for young children. Too many toys with no specific and clear place where things belong can be overwhelming…

After a while, it can seem like the children just don’t seem to care about where things belong. When I start finding plastic fruit in the postcard mailbox and toy cars in the bookshelf, I know it is time to declutter and make sure that I have classroom setup manageable and that it makes sense to the children. Once I declutter, I sit down with the children and we have a little reminder session on where things go and how we all need to take part in putting things away in their proper place.

Observing and Reflecting on Clutter

Your classroom may not look cluttered at first glance. Things may look neat and tidy but be sure to be an observer of your own classroom environment. Take time to observe the children at play and see where things tend to fall apart and what needs to be done to improve the situation. Be reflective and responsive to the children’s needs in the process. For example, in the photo below, you will see my students playing on top of the puzzles. The children have been playing on top of these puzzles for weeks now. They are not playing with the puzzles, they are playing on top of the puzzles….

In the process of their play, the puzzles keep getting shoved aside. Everyday, I find the puzzles set on the floor or on a table. I find them anywhere but on that shelf. These puzzles have been out for quite a while now and clearly, my students would like to use the top of this shelf for their own play but I haven’t been responsive. I really like these puzzles on my shelf. They look so pretty there, but for the children, they are in the way of their play. They are actually just clutter.

So today, when half of the puzzles came tumbling down on the floor in a loud crash, I knew that I should have moved those puzzles over a week ago. So, now I have them all stacked up on the counter with all the pieces (that fell out earlier in the day) sitting in a basket.  I will take all the puzzles and store them in a box in my garage for a while and let the children have the top of that bookshelf for their play. The puzzles can come out on another day but right now, the children need that space for their own purposes. I could tell the children that they are not allowed to play there because they are messing up my puzzles – but really, does that make any sense?

Classroom setup matters and clutter control is an important part of maintaining a positive classroom environment. So, if you haven’t been on clutter patrol in awhile – its time to start!  Don’t forget, if you would like to hear what the experts have to say about classroom setup and the impact it has on young children, head on over to Bam Radio and take a listen! Click here or here for our broadcast on classroom setup!

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Deborah J Stewart

Deborah J Stewart

Every time I think I know everything I need to know about teaching young children, God says, "Hold on a minute!" and gives me a new challenge.

Let me tell ya...

With each new challenge that you overcome, you will find yourself better equipped and more passionate about teaching young children.

God didn't call wimps to lead, teach, or care for His children. Nope, he has high expectations, so get ready. You will have to give your very best but after teaching for over 30 years, I can tell you that it is a wonderful and rewarding journey.

Whenever your calling feels hard, just remember, 'He who began a good work in you (and in the children you serve) will be faithful to complete it.'

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