A Guide to Classroom Decor and Setup

Updated: Aug 6

The classroom decor choices available on TeachersPayTeachers are endless. My Instagram feed comes in second place to TpT with a constant flow of teacher made resources for sale, all displayed showroom style. None of it answers teachers' essential questions...

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  • Which fonts should I use in my classroom?

  • Where should I hand the number line?

  • Where to put all these posters?

  • Which classroom decor theme should I use this year?

  • How do I make this space student centered?

When purchasing decor, main focal points are on classroom trends, colors, fonts and graphics. Sadly though, many of the popular styles miss the target for progressive and inclusive education. Here's why:


Monotony: too much of the same thing disappears

When everything in a classroom is the same color, same font, same size - it gets washed into the background. You can change this up by choosing different designs that compliment each other. Also, print posters on different sizes that can be moved around the classroom. For my math posters, I love to stick magnetic tape on the back so they can be front and center in the classroom when needed, then moved away but still accessible throughout the year.

Another way to mix things up while maintaining some consistency is to let students be involved in the making of resources.

At one point last year, I realized that our word wall had more ownership when the students put the words up. It actually doesn't have to be pretty teacher-made, printer printed or laminated.

I've found a happy medium by designing and creating my own alphabet cards but using blank cards for the words. Take a look at the alphabet cards and word walls I've made here.


The Fonts! Watch Your Typeface

I am not sure how or why teachers ever thought it would be cute or fun to mix uppercase and lowercase letters or even who created these fonts, but it is just wrong. We should model what we expect from children. And as a first grade teacher, I am tirelessly trying to get my learners to understand when and where to use letter cases.

If we don't write letters properly, why should they?

Maybe we should just do away with capital letters in English. Problem solved. In the meantime, let's agree to use fonts that are readable and model proper English to ensure the next generation is literate.

If our classroom decor and posters put capital letters in the middle of words, of course the children do, too!! But then we have no right to correct them, mark their writing as wrong or say they haven't met the success criteria.

I have a blog post all about fonts! Check out A Teacher's 48 Favorite Google Fonts to learn how to use fonts correctly and effectively and get a list of font pairings. 😉 It's perfect for preparing slides or even making worksheets in Google Slides, Keynote or PowerPoint.



Perspective

Perspective refers to how the students view classroom decor. Of course, a beautiful space is inviting and inspiring... but not if it is designed with adults in mind.


Far too often, we see classrooms with the alphabet or number line displayed above a white board or even lining the space where the wall meets the ceiling. In no way is this a reference for students (or even adults). Number lines and alphabet tiles should be at eye level or just above. I know… the space is limited but its all about making the most of your real estate. The charts and posters that are most relevant and get used the most often should be placed most accessibly.


Ikea now makes their picture frames of MDF and with plexiglass rather than real, breakable glass. I find this PERFECT for making my classroom accessible and visually appealing. I love using picture frames because it makes it feel like home. Just like any of us would hang frames in our home at eye level, it's just as easy to do the same for our students. You can find these posters in my Boho Poster Bundle.

"Wow, this looks just like a living room... do you live here?

I have, in fact, had one child come into my room and say this. I don't actually live there 😉 but my heart feels happy when my students grab a text, snuggle on the sofa and reach over to turn on the table lamp beside them (just like they would at home). It's possible to keep things on their level, but still real and making them feel so mature and independent. And that's the most important thing about perspective... letting them be independent.


Clip Art and Cartoons

Just no. No, no and no! This has no place in a classroom. I've been there and done that myself and now hang my head in shame. Why did I ever put toothless cartoon characters on the walls of my classroom? Is that supposed to represent the children? Should it teach them to draw? I'm still confused.

Cartoon images and clipart promote living inside a box and inhibit creativity.

Clip art lacks ingenuity and has absolutely no personality. Children cannot make authentic connections with them and by hanging it in our classrooms or sticking it on worksheets, we are only modelling a lack of creativity and setting expectations low for our students. Replace cartoony images with real life photos and actual handmade art. It not only allows children to see a variety ways of drawing, painting and creating but also allows them to see themselves within the environment and examples.

Sustainability

A funny thing happens with kids in elementary school. All these children (who once only knew what their parents and family members modeled for them) now bring home fresh ideas from teachers and classmates. They are learning that there are new and different ways to do things and these inevitably challenge home habits - hopefully for the better.


Modeling and practicing sustainability for your students and with them can have a powerful impact. Small steps with small people make big changes for our future. And if we're not doing it in schools, then who will be the ones to make the change?


It's up to teachers and students!

So here's a few ways I've tried to increase sustainability at school.



🌟 Ditch the laminating (or use it so sparingly)! I didn't think it was possible but I've managed mostly without. This year, I'm going through the whole year without one piece of melty plastic wrapped paper. No resource in my classroom is worthy of the carbon footprint laminating leaves behind. Check out these Real Life Alphabet Cards - I've drawn them myself and mounted them on scrap Amazon boxes to help them make it through the school year. Don't have enough cardboard? Go check with your IT department 😁


🌟 Scrap paper. No paper goes in the recycling or waste bin unless both sides have been used and it cannot be used for anything else. I teach the kids from the start of the year and they're holding me accountable by October.


🌟 Makers Space. I can't be the only teacher riding the bus with a reusable shopping bag full of trash... right? Half of the recycling from my home gets reused at school before actually getting recycled. I must say, I've been impressed with the creations my students have made from inventing their own games to building a town out of trash.


🌟 Turning off the power. I have class jobs and teach the children the importance of turning off the lights and reminding me to turn off the screen when we're not using it or leaving the room.



The often less considered, yet even more important elements to consider - that aren't for purchase:

  • less is more - an overstimulating environment is probably worse than mostly bare walls. Seriously. If something isn't currently, relevant and being used, tuck it away for a later date or next year.

  • usefulness of the space - there have been times in my teaching career when I have spent an outrageous amount of time making something look nice in my classroom. The library corner, the math wall, desk arrangement - only to find out that while it looks spectacular, it wasn't functional for the kids. What I have noticed that works is creating nooks in my classroom. Setting shelves perpendicular to walls creates cozy spaces that kids love to work in.

While it looked spectacular, it wasn't functional for the kids. What is the point?
  • identity and inclusiveness - does the classroom decor choices represent our classroom identities. Number one way to do this is include photos of your students in your classroom. On the door, for learning partners, next to their work on display, on their lockers, etc. Number two way to do this, include photos, videos and texts that are mirrors and windows. Also, adding an affirmation station is proving to add a positive vibe for student wellbeing, ensuring students honor themselves at school.

  • student agency and ownership of the classroom - it doesn't come from digital downloads and teacher made anchor charts. It also isn't a teacher designed bulletin board. In fact, it has hardly anything to do with us teachers - we are merely the person who encourages the hanging of work or puts it up ourselves. Classrooms are for students, not for teachers. While the resources we make and purchase are important and provide visuals and guidance, that's only one small part of classroom decor and style.

Thanks for coming to my Ted Talk! 😂


Also, as you're preparing for going back to school, check out this blog post giving a fresh list of Back to School Read Alouds, complete with creative teaching ideas.


Happy teaching and learning!

💛 Sativa


PS. Did you know that you can get an absolutely FREE teaching resource from me each month? It's true! Sign up for my monthly newsletter and get something unique, creative and beautiful for your classroom every mid-month 🥰


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