Getting the most value out of a bookshelf in the preschool classroom

There are days that I wish I had more space in my indoor classroom. Don’t get me wrong, I am very proud of my indoor classroom. I love setting it up to be warm and inviting and I enjoy the challenge of turning small spaces into valuable spaces. Today I want to share with you a few ways I try to get the most value out of the bookshelves I have in my preschool classroom…

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

I only have three stand-alone bookshelves in my indoor classroom. Each shelf was custom built (by my husband) to fit comfortably in my classroom. Before building my shelves, I did my homework. I measured how tall and wide I wanted each shelf to be. The measurements were based on the average height of a three and four year old and the amount of floor space I would have available…

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

I think it is important that each shelf can stand up in the middle of a space without having to worry about it tipping over. My shelves are extremely sturdy and heavy to move around. They are sturdy enough for me to stand on them to change a light bulb or one of my students to climb on top of it without it tipping or breaking (although  my students do not climb on my shelves). Because my shelves are so sturdy, I can set them out in the middle of a floor to help divide my classroom into smaller, intentionally designed spaces (centers) for play…

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

When painting my shelves, I painted the sides and backs with one coat of magnetic paint and a second coat of white paint on top. I think I should have used two coats of magnetic paint but I was in a hurry and only used one. I can place magnetic items on the sides or backs of the shelves for the children to explore but nothing too heavy or it will fall off . On this shelf are magnetic sentence strips with the children’s names on them – the rest of the names are spread out around the room on other shelves. The children can go and get their names and then put them back on the side of a shelf when not in use…

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

On the back of every shelf, I also like to add something like a felt board, magnetic board, or anything else I can think of to make every part of the bookshelf a contributing part of our classroom environment…

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

I label my shelves and baskets to some degree but not nearly as much as I possibly could. It all depends on how much time I have and how often I change things up. I use sentence strips for labeling and tape them in place with clear packing tape…

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

I also use the tops of my shelves for different purposes. Sometimes, I set out different types of supplies the children can use on top of the shelves…

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

And other times, I set out different types of tools for play on the tops of my shelves…

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

Everyday, you will find someone exploring some type of play, science, math, or creative process on the top of our shelves…

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

We also built small shelves for our walls to display books, artwork, or light table supplies. The shelves are low enough for the children to reach and they help us keep our floor shelves available for other types of activities…

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

And we also use small baskets or file folder holders on our wall like the one shown below that holds our journals…

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

Every shelf has a purpose it its design and the goal is to make sure that every shelf is designed to bring value to the classroom environment and the children’s experience…

More than just a bookshelf by Teach Preschool

Available on Amazon

Links to Grow on

A new bookshelf in my preschool classroom

Simple ideas for classroom set-up

Building bookshelves for the preschool classroom


By |2017-07-18T12:48:54+00:00April 20th, 2013|

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. Laura April 20, 2013 at 8:27 am - Reply

    I will be working on my classroom with some of these ideas in mind. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. Heather April 20, 2013 at 9:44 am - Reply

    Thanks for sharing your tips Deborah. Vertical space is definitely the way to go, and has helped me when arranging my boys rooms.

  3. Linda April 20, 2013 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    Thank you for all the inspiring ideas! Love this website. I have also started a blog about preschool.. learning corners, ideas, creativity. Please check it out!
    Take care

  4. Eddie - The Usual Mayhem April 20, 2013 at 7:11 pm - Reply

    Great post! The more things on the shelves, more room to play……You have some great space savers and invitations to play in your set up.

  5. MIRIAM FERNANDEZ BORASO April 21, 2013 at 7:02 pm - Reply

    thanks for sharing , DEB! gret ideas to keep our classrooms cneat & tidy & secure with lot of space to play!

  6. Amanda Mason April 23, 2013 at 10:47 am - Reply

    I was wondering how much interest you get in the books on your book shelf? I always try to set out a bunch of books that go along with what we are learning, but I haven’t had many takers. Thanks for this great post! I love the idea of painting the shelves with magnetic paint 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. April 23, 2013 at 11:38 pm - Reply

      Great question Amanda and would make a great post to write too! My students LOVE the books we put on our shelf but we never put a book on the shelf that we haven’t first read as a class. Once we have read a book and brought it to life in our centers, then the book goes up on the shelf for the children to read on their own. There are many ways to get the children into your book center, like making sure it is warm, comfortable, and inviting and adding home-made books (books the children made or books about the children). But getting the childen to choose a book over lots of other fun centers is always a challenge – even for us! We have days where I will notice a child or group of children sitting in the book center and reading during center time but this isn’t as often as I would like. So we have about a 5 to 10 minute book reading time every day after snack and this is when our student go and select one of our books to read with a friend or on their own. Somedays, the children will stay a really long time and read on their own and other days, five minutes is all they are up for. And some days, a child will pick out a favorite book and ask one of the teachers to come and read it to him or her just out of the blue.

      I hope this helps! Now I am going to have to put this in a post because I have to say – if you haven’t read the book with the children and captured their interest and appreciation for a book on your shelf, then it really isn’t something they can fully relate to or will fully enjoy.

      I hope this helps,


      • Amanda Mason April 24, 2013 at 5:53 pm

        THANK YOU SO MUCH! That was VERY helpful. Your posts and replies to my comments are always so much help. Thank you again for all you do. You are truly an inspiration and you make teaching preschool SO EXCITING!


  7. Kayla July 29, 2013 at 4:34 pm - Reply

    The shelf that has the magnetic board screwed to the back…where did u get a cookie sheet that large? And what process did you use to screw it on?

    Wonderful ideas!!!!

  8. Erica July 16, 2018 at 9:29 pm - Reply

    I would love to know the plans for the bookshelves that your husband used. I really want to create custom shelves for our home.

    • Deborah Stewart July 18, 2018 at 11:25 pm - Reply

      HI Erica,
      Unfortunately, he didn’t use a plan. My hubby is a carpenter by trade and just sees what he wants to build and goes for it!

Leave A Comment

This site uses 'cookies' to give you the best, most relevant experience. Using the website means you're OK with this. Ok