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Category Archives: Environment

Making Shelves Useful & Artistic

Lots of classrooms have the bookshelves with the not so pleasing pegboard backing on them; but they don’t have to be an eye sore in your beautiful classroom. I have found ways in the past to make these serve as both functional and artistic as well as found some new ideas while searching the internet. It is great when you can use the shelf to divide classroom areas and still be able to have the back of the shelf be functional so both sides are serving a purpose and it saves on having lots of furniture in small spaces.

Here are some of the ideas leaving the pegboard feature showing but maybe painting it to look cuter:
~ add peg hooks with cute baskets to hold supplies for art or writing centers
~ use hooks to hold tools and materials in the block area
~ hooks can be added to hang up clothing in the dramatic play area
~ pegboard holes can be used as fine motor activity area or to create 3-D art mural by using items such as
pipe cleaners or straws to stick in the holes; my last class discovered this idea on their own and loved
it!

Some ideas for the backs of shelves that will cover existing back are:
~ Attach felt to back and use as a felt board for story time or reading center
~ Paint with chalkboard paint (which you can make yourself in any color) and use in art or writing center
~ Paint with dry erase paint (yes they sell that too!) or you can buy sheets or laminate a larger sheet of
paper and use for circle time, art or writing areas
~ Paint with magnetic paint (another great invention!) and use in science area or for magnet stories
~ Using shelves for documentation and displaying the children photos and work is great idea too, especially
because it is as their eye level and looks way better than a bulletin board with stapled papers on it!
~ Make into a work of art by covering with material, paper, sheet, anything that the children can paint,
draw, etc. on and it can hang on the shelf as art mural

Some new ideas for shelving without the typical shelving units:
~ Using old dressers without the drawers; paint it up pretty and looks cute
~ Paint or line with cute contact paper/wallpaper the inside back panel of shelving units
~ Adding baskets to the shelves to hold lots of small items

I will post some photos of the ways we use or shelves and some of the new furniture trends we decide to use in the new classrooms to organize and create separate areas as we begin moving in the center. In the meantime, how do you guys use shelves in your classrooms or homes, making them functional and pretty?

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Aesthetically Pleasing Playground

As I have been talking about the environment, I also want to encourage everyone to think about not only the inside classrooms but the outdoor environment as well.  I have been searching the internet for ideas to transform our current new space to an inviting play opportunity for our little friends. 

Most of the playground equipment and materials are made of primary colored plastic; but I want to try not to use too much of that and am looking for a more natural approach.  I still want the children to be able to explore, play and have fun but would like to set up the play space to invite the children to do these on their own on the playground. 

A few thoughts I have are to use tree stumps and large rocks along with plants and flower pots to create natural barriers.  Maybe some stumps as seats and small table, an area for sand play or other sensory experiences with various tools.  I took a few “Before” photos of our space and have searched a few ideas; now to actually find the items in my Pinterest pins and create the awesome space I am envisioning in my mind! 

playground1

playground2        

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Before Photos

What are some of your playground ideas or photos to share your spaces?   I would love to hear and see them as I work on getting our space ready for the “After” photos, which are still to come.

Thinking outside the box in the block area

When thinking about your classroom centers or areas most have a block or construction area.  I used to put out the typical cubes, Legos, people and animals, but I think if we as teachers can think outside the normal items we can instill more creative and imaginative play among our children.  In my own past experience with this, at first the children are not sure what to do with the materials you display and allow them to use because “these are not blocks”.  But once you encourage them to explore and see what they can do and build, they use the items in more ways than I had even thought of.  Below are a few I have tried in my own toddler and preschool classes.

Some Block Area Materials to consider:

~ Real pieces of wood, tree logs cut into flatter circles or as logs

~ Natural items such as pinecones, seashells, acorns, leaves, rocks, etc

~ Tops of plastic drink bottles and can also be cut to look like flowers, etc

~ Seasonal items such as garland, cotton balls or Styrofoam balls in winter, ornaments, fake spider webs, etc

~Household items such as cardboard tubes, items used in packages for shipping, various boxes, thread spools, tiles, cut sponges, pool noodles cut, etc

I still like to provide some blocks but try using wooden rather than plastic ones.  Here are some ideas to alter even the wooden block sets you can purchase:

~ Try attaching some mirror paper or foils to blocks to give different illusions while building with them.  Add mirrors themselves to area along floors or walls makes for a great look at their creations too.

~ Tape photos of the children dressed up to blocks rather than play people.  We have also taped photos of the children’s own homes, places in our community or road signs to blocks too; it makes the area more relative to the children and got out girls loving the block area!

~Try adding sticky Velcro to blocks so they can stick them together as they build.  Most craft stores sell Velcro in colors too.  We have even added Velcro hair rollers too, it adds different shape and texture. 

~ Print a photo and cut into squares the size of your blocks and tape to different ones, creating a photo puzzle with the blocks

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We are looking for a few things…

In the many years that the four of us have been teaching we have accumulated a lot of stuff, but opening a eccentric requires even more stuff! Here is a list of some of the items that we are looking for. If you have any of these things that you would like to donate to Inspirations Early Learning Center it would be greatly appreciated! Please email inspirationselc@gmail.com to set up a time that we can pick them up. Thank you!

Adult sized chairs – kitchen or office type

Radios with CD players

Paper products (silverware, plates, cups)
Paper towels
Grocery bags
Scrap paper
Double strollers
Bibs and burp rags
Changing table pad
First aid supplies 
Outdoor toys
Sandbox with a cover
Deck storage box
Storage bins – any size
Ziplock bags – any size
Kleenex
Area rugs
Office supplies 
School supplies
Hand soap
Diaper wipes
Towels and rags
Toilet paper
Dress up clothes
Garbage bags
Beach umbrella
Address labels
Spray bottles

Sensory Sanity

We do a lot of sensory activities, which means that we use A LOT of sensory materials.  Making sure that we have everything that we need for an activity is important.  No one wants to disappoint a room full of preschoolers who just want to make flubber!

The best solution the we have found for cataloguing our supplies, is also the best solution for storing them. We use Rubbermaid Kitchen containers to store supplies.  Not only do these keep the supplies fresh, and the critters away, but they are clear, so we can always see what we need more of.

The containers are available in a number of different sizes, so that you can store and entire bag of flour, or a single carton of baking soda.  They range in price from 3.99-9.99 depending on size, and completely worth the investment.  We’ve all had the avalanche of Ziploc bags, we consider these an essential!

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The environment as the third teacher

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If you have followed Reggio Emilia Philosophy at all you have undoubtedly heard that the environment acts as the third teacher.  But what does that mean?   I think this quote I found says it perfectly:

“In order to act as an educator for the child,

the environment has to be flexible: it must

undergo frequent modification by the

children and the teachers in order to remain

up-to-date and responsive to their needs to

be protagonists in constructing their

knowledge.”

                     Lella Gandini

We know that the classroom should be child friendly.  Most classrooms I have walked into have had child sized furniture, low shelving with play materials on it, bright colors and art work plastered on the walls or bulletin boards.  There is much more to the third teacher than child furniture and toys.  Making the classroom feel like home, make the children feel welcomes and safe; the classroom should reflect the children in it and their personalities and interests.

I agree with having low, open shelves to display materials and having them arranged to section room off into areas of interest.  But along with these ideas I always try to bring nature into the class whether it is in center materials or as decorative elements.  Someone walking into my classroom would see lots of recycled/reused items as manipulatives or decorations, along with family photos and documentation of our children.  Soft elements such as lamps, rugs and pillows make the environment feel home-like.

Bringing authentic materials and supplies into the classroom is a must; the classroom should be somewhat of an “exploratory lab” for the children and they learn to respect the environment they grow up in.  Having glass items for the children to use or organize supplies, is not uncommon.

I think it helps when trying to re-create your environment is to look at some ideas in books or online for inspiration; I LOVE Pinterest for this!  You can search anything on there or in books too.  Once you have a vision, think about how that will work with your current children or get input and ideas from the children themselves.  Most of the time our rooms have too much furniture and materials in it, see what you can remove, what do the children not utilize?, or what could be repurposed for another use? Doing the whole room at once may be overwhelming to you; rearrange the furniture or first and then work on one area or center at a time, adding manipulatives and decorative elements.  It may take longer, but will be worth the wait when you and the children get to view and explore in an inspiring environment!          

“First we shape our buildings. Thereafter they shape our lives.”

  Winston Churchill

 

“Every person needs a place that is furnished with hope.

Maya Angelou

The perfect time to get organized

Summer is the perfect time to get organized and today I want to share one of my favorite organizational ideas.  It seems so simple, I can’t believe that I didn’t think of it before!

Classrooms and homes are similar in that there are always a million things going on, and whether you are a teacher or a parent, your to-do list is never ending.   Getting things done on that to-do list is often a team effort, which requires a ton of communication.

This to-do list template has a space to initial the tasks that you’ve completed, which is easy, and genius! Share the list with your co-teacher and then you know who has completed the task, and if you have any questions about it, you can ask the person who completed it.  If you have a classroom aide, or a parent volunteer, you can share the list with them, and show them which tasks they can complete.  Then, when you can’t find that printable that you know you laminated, you can ask the parent who cut out the lamination where it ended up. 

At home, share the list with the baby-sitter, and point out which tasks he or she can work on after the children are asleep. Then, when you can’t find the soccer jersey you can text the babysitter and see if she saw it when she was folding the laundry.

Print this template and hang it on the fridge, or do what I did and cut each list out and have them bound into a notebook.  Then your only task will be not misplacing your new notebook!

to do list