Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Nightmare That Is Classroom Organization

As I was revamping & reorganizing in preparation for second semester, I came across a topic that might spark a New Year’s Resolution or two! I have been an Early Childhood teacher for eleven years and a mom for six so as you can imagine that is a lot of years of collecting toys and random junk as my husband would say.  

As an Early Childhood teacher, I have saved a huge collection of hands-on toys and materials. And being a Special Education teacher, I have felt the need to KEEP everything! I am a huge believer in using student interests to tap into individual potential & motivation. (You can read more about the principles of using special interests items through the work of Paula Kluth and her book Just Give Him the Whale).  

Who knows when I will come across a student that is infatuated with the little Sponge Bob figurines that McDonald’s had in their Happy Meals five years ago or the metal Matchbox cars my husband played with as a kid. What motivates and intrigues one kid for an hour or two may be just the ticket to keep another student in a growing and learning state all year.

That being said, there is yet another factor to what I have kept and collected over the years--it's student levels. My students come to me ranging from a developmental age of 6 months to 5 years so it is important that I have materials and manipulatives to fit all student levels. 

I remember when I first took my job as an ECSE teacher. I was a bit clueless but very thankful that my first son was 11 months old at the time. I remember coming to school with his cause and effect toys in hand almost every day. Now some of those toys are a starting point for kiddos when they first enter our program. They help teach children how to play and stay engaged in an appropriate manner. 

Unfortunately, most of these toys are large and cumbersome so we have had to purge over the years and only keep our favorites. They are stored in gray tubs above our storage cabinets. 

Note: I chose gray tubes so they simply blend in with the classroom cabinets and are not visually distracting. It is not ideal to have them up so high. However, we do always have one that is down on the floor serving as a shelf for our attendance chart most of the time.  At other times, it is pulled for lower level students to play with during rug play.  

Each one has an outside label that states what it contains. 

Okay... so my paras will tell you they aren’t always perfectly stored in the correct tubs but we always start the year with them in the correct location. (As you know, after the year gets going things kind of just happen!) But we do always keep in mind that it is important to have our classroom visually organized with everything in its place so that students are not distracted by unnecessary things laying around.  It's also important to stay organized so  staff know where everything is stored and can get to it quickly if needed.

This year I have also chosen to store things in the dramatic play wardrobe. Over the years, we have tried to use the wardrobe for what it was purchased for---a closet for pretend play-- but it never seemed to work out. It was not structured enough and inevitably we would always have a student or two who would pull all the clothing and accessories from the cabinet and then try to hide inside. As a result this year, I chose to flip the cabinet around so it doesn’t open to pretend play area but rather to the literacy center area

We don’t actually use it in literacy. It simply serves as a boundary for both literacy and pretend play.  It has a child lock on it so we can store preferred toys in it for easy access for staff but not students. 

The back side has been made functional as an area to hang a mirror for students to look in when they are playing dress up.

To learn more about other storage solutions in our classroom, check out the following posts.
Now comes the scary part showing you our closet and cabinet spaces!!!  Yikes!!! Miss Penny often refers to my closet as Monica’s closet from "Friends". The one you don’t dare go into unless you are prepared for the things that will topple out at you. Anyway, enter at your own risk... :)

The top shelf serves as storage for Mega Blocks, Little People Toys, and Gross Motor materials. 

The second shelf serves as a place for art materials. 

Recently, I moved all these items to plastic tubs with handy labels. 

This has been a lifesaver because I used to store all my art materials in one big art collage bin. What a headache! I could never find what I needed! And instead, I found myself always buying doubles of materials...and thus, adding to the original problem.  

On this shelf we store everything...rubber stamps, foam letters, foam numbers, foam shapes, pencils, stencils, crayons, stickers and miscellaneous items such as pipe cleaners, bells, and wiggly eyes.

The third shelf serves as a place for construction paper, clipboards, notebooks, and other large art items. 

You may be wondering where are your paints and other art materials?!? Well, I will proudly show where...I have strategically placed the paints in between the art easel slats. They have been stored there for years but more recently I realized I can cover the area with cardboard attached to Velcro. 

What a huge difference it made visually for my impulsive little ones whom would take paint from the shelf just because it was accessible. Underneath the art easel, I have other paints and paint brushes all labeled and stored in their place for easy adult access. However, we have curbed student interest by covering them with Velcro towels. 

One quick side note:  I like to keep counter tops as clean as possible so when I moved to my new classroom I chose to have a place to hang wet art work rather than laying it around the room to dry. You can't read it very well but the sign above the clips say Just Hanging Out to Dry! A phrase I coined from Mrs. Betz at Quinter Preschool.  Thanks, Tracie! :)

The fourth shelf in the closet serves as a place for containers and bins. 

I must say this is actually the most visited shelf in the closet. We use these recycled tubs and containers for everything from structuring independent tasks to storing materials for daily art and math activities. Ever since being trained in Structured Teaching, this has been a must have shelf!!

Then on the floor of the closet, there are four fabric bins. I used to have five of them and ideally still would if my closet was big enough to set out five. Bins 1 through 4 store activities for Monday through Thursday and then the fifth bin was for the following week’s items. But with lack of storage, they have become bins for week by week materials. So I can put out items for a month of lesson planning...that is, if  I am that well-organized and planned out!☺ 

Please note to optimize space in the "Lindy" closet, I removed a shelf and laid it on top of another shelf and then spaced my shelves out so there was no wasted space.

Now, let's move onto our games and other manipulatives. We are blessed with two double door, long length cabinets. One stores small manipulatives like board games and puzzles and the other stores large manipulatives. 

Miss Alaina, a former para and amazing person, graciously typed up a table of contents for each shelf. 

And again by the end of the year, items are not always stored in their original "beginning of the year" locations. But I try to start out each year and if I am luckysecond semester with items in their proper homes. For the large items I have also labeled the shelves with label maker tape that states "pretend play", "toys", "building toys", "fine motor", "literacy tools", and "social play".

Which leads me to one more hidden storage spot in our classroom...under the sand table! I have velcroed brown towels along the table for added storage. Originally, the towels simply served as a reminder for one of my kiddos not to go under the table. Later it became a great place to store extra dramatic play costumes, flattened cardboard blocks, and sensory table spoons, scoops, cups, and other manipulatives. You might be asking why brown towels?  Well as I shared in my virtual tour back in August, each center has a color for students to navigate more independently and review or learn their colors. 

For those of you who are new to my blog, you don’t have to be a seamstress to use the Velcro towel technique. I simply buy cheap towels and heavy duty Velcro. I attached the soft side of the Velcro to the hard surface. Then I hot glue the rough side to the towel for extra support because I have learned that the sticky back Velcro will hold up for a while but lose it’s sticky after a few months.

Okay, only two more cabinets to go! Beside our full length double door cabinets, I have two more smaller cabinets. In one we store kitchen tools and supplies as well as kleenex boxes and ziplock baggies.  In the other, we store extra teaching materials. On the top shelf I store manipulatives to review and practice pre-academic skills: numbers, colors, letters, and shapes.  Things like number dice, a color di, a how many jar, number lines and alphabet lines and so much more. 

Then on the second and third shelf, I store other materials used throughout our school day, like timers, fabric bags, paint sticks, voice activated buttons, and other materials used for social small group activities. 

Our counter space above these cabinets basically serves as a staff desk. That being said, we try to keep it as clean and clutter free as possible, so we have a space to work when the occasion arises. 

On top of the microwave, I have a to do tub. 

Inside I have materials and items for staff to work on if /when we have a few minutes. This is great for when we have a student out sick or two or more students out to ot, pt, or slp at the same time. Note: I try to write little notes on all to do items so my staff knows what to do with the items without having to interrupt direct instruction to ask me what to do. Given sometimes, they are not sure what I am asking so they typically move onto something else and then come back to that one after class when they have a chance to get more information. 

On the other side of the cabinet, I store picture icons as well as a place for extras and a before, after and between classes to do list for my paras to follow.

There are just two more hidden storage spaces to share before I sign off.  The large group materials are stored on a shelf opposite the circle rug play materials. The children know they are off limits because there is a sign that says "Stop! This is for teachers." glued to the Velcro towel on this shelf. 

Inside I have a place for large group extras: DVDs for a rainy day as well as bubbles, a parachute and other group time activities that I can pull out at a moments notice.  All good for those days that don't go according to the original plan. 

I also have teacher resource storage and other books behind the bench seat at literacy.

Wow! That was a lot.  Now, you see I am quite OCD but that is what makes it work. I truly feel the organization helps everyone involved...my staff, myself and our students. However, it is definitely a work in progress!  I'm always open to your suggestions & recommendations. What works for your classroom?

Tune in next week to see how I have managed to organize my theme-based learning tubs, books and manipulatives.

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