Creating the Environment in a Preschool Classroom Part 1

If you are anything like me then you might find yourself in a school that does not have all of the resources you need. There might not be enough items in your classroom to create a stimulating and creative environment for the students in your care. I remember feeling a little restless and hopeless about the situation. I would talk to the director about the things that I needed, but I was more often than not dismissed. I gathered that they couldn't see what I envisioned in my head. I was told things like I do not have enough room in my classroom. When I wanted wooden blocks I was told I already had the mega blocks. They didn't see that I was trying to create a room for the different needs of the children that I was servicing. So what did I do? This might not be an option for everyone, but I slowly created the classroom I wanted myself. Some people might think this is too expensive and why should we have to use our own money as teachers? I agree with that sentiment, but not having the appropriate environment for the kids just made my job harder. Kids were idle and getting themselves into trouble rather than being engaged in real play.

The easiest place to start is in the art center. I provided the children with a hole puncher, a stapler, crayons and other mark making tools, glue, and different types of paper. As time went on I would add different things such as different materials I had recycled such as cardboard, tissue paper, gift bags, yarn, string, ribbon, toilet and/or towel paper tubes, die cut outs, popsicle sticks- the list goes on. There are an endless amount of possibilities and none of it is expensive. Most were things I had lying around the house that I no longer needed or was using so I gave it to the kids. This was one of the kids favorite spots day after day and they always created different items. I continuously saw growth in ability as well as creativity.

In a different area I created the painting center. I did not have an easel, but I had tables and I simply would place the paint at one of the tables along with different kinds of paper and let the kids have at it. I would put out different kinds of paint on different days. The kids did not really mind what kind of paint was put out and they could water color everyday, but there was a lot of growth from allowing them to paint with different kinds of paints as well as utensils. There were some kids that learned to be more okay with getting messy when the only utensil to paint they had were their hands.

In a bucket I placed playdough and different tools that the kids could use with it. Then I placed that bucket on a shelf and the kids were allowed to take it out and work with it whenever they wanted. I know some people might be afraid of the mess in this case so what I did to make the process run more smoothly was give the kids a dust pan and brush that they could use to clean up after themselves. I also bought myself a little dirt devil that I could pull out whenever things got particularly messy with glitter or other items we were using.

Then I went to Goodwill and found a little cart with two shelves. On the top of the shelf I placed a large container with sensory materials that I would change out periodically (sand, water, oatmeal and cinnamon, colored sand, noodles, etc.). On the lower shelf I placed a basket I found at Goodwill as well and put tools that the children could use with the sensory materials (containers, shovels, spoons, mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, etc.).

I searched around my own house and gathered materials that I intended to donate anyway and I used those to create a drama area. The kids enjoyed the possibilities with the materials. I kept them open ended by using things such as scarves and fabrics. The boys and girls enjoyed using these materials to create all sorts of different designs. I also placed several old purses and that made the girls want to shop. At a thrift store I found an old cash register that no longer talked to you, but still worked. When the kids saw it they noticed it was not talking and so they said, this is just for pretend? I said, "Yes, pretend." Slowly the kids made up their own shops and created their own signs to their shops. I also placed several old laptops that did not work anymore. I cannot count the many times those were used to create all sorts of things. Things I would have never thought of myself. I once saw the kids pretending they were at the DMV and they had all these clipboards with them and paper and were giving out licenses. That is definitely a drama area I never would have thought to create myself. The kids constantly amazed me with their experiences and what they found important and wanted to do. Another time I saw my kids using the different surfaces in the classroom and the fabrics to create a home. They were placing fabric over a large green bin to make it into a console table. On another table they placed another piece of fabric and made it into a dining table by placing the dinnerware down. I looked at them and it reminded me of myself and what we as adults must look like to children as we are creating a home. Of course there were also baby dolls in the area for the children which was also enjoyed by the girls and boys continuously.

Once I had these stations running, I saw a huge difference in the kids productivity and learning. They were engaged and had something to do. However, as I mentioned before I only had the mega blocks. What was I supposed to do for my kids that enjoyed to build? At first I added simple things to the block area that were inexpensive too such as fabric, cardboard, toilet paper tubes, popsicle sticks, bells, rocks, jewels, etc. The kids enjoyed using these materials to create. Slowly as time went on I found wooden blocks at the thrift store that I was able to use and as sales came online I was able to buy the kids a train and roadway system. Of course I added dolls, signs, wooden houses, and all those types of accessories to help with the pretend play. The block area is definitely where things got more expensive, but it was worth it. By that time, I was so invested that I did not mind spending the money to do something I knew the kids would enjoy. I had boys that lacked fine motor skills, but one would be hard press to find them in the art center. Yet, I saw them everyday working on their fine motor skills by trying to hold small cars in their hands and using them all around the room or by having to place the railroad pieces just so so that they would fit together. Slowly, but surely I saw those boys fine motor skills improve and as time went on begin to enjoy the art center and drama center as well. However, I don't think that would have happened without the creativity they were first allowed to use in the block center where they felt safe and like they could do what they want to do.

Once I was done creating the classroom environment, I only received rave reviews from the parents and my director. I had parents come in and show other people my classroom. They were purposely showing other adults the set up so that they could see how the kids were engaged and had a lot to do in the room. Basically, they were encouraging the other adults to send the kids to this preschool. I felt happy that this was a room that not only the students were enjoying, but a room that parents felt safe to leave their kids in. I never had issues with parents thinking that my kids were not learning enough or doing enough. The room spoke for itself.  This was a space that kids can go and grow in. And grow they did.

June 26 2016