Setting Up your Preschool Classroom for Success!
Do you spend your day teaching colors, numbers, wiping noses, and tying countless shoes? If so, you most likely hold the illustrious title of PRESCHOOL TEACHER! Kudos to you! I truly believe you have one of the most rewarding jobs on the planet! As a mental health social worker and preschool behavioral consultant, I am always in awe of your ability to manage a classroom full of little minds and all that it entails!
Often times, I am called in when there is a child who is experiencing some type of behavioral challenge that is disrupting the flow of the classroom. The VERY first thing I look at is the classroom set up. (Did you think I was going to say the child?) Behaviors are simply a child’s way of communicating wants or needs that are not being fulfilled.
For today, let’s focus on the set up and design of your classroom in order to take a preventive approach to behavioral challenges. Below, are some points to keep in mind when setting up your learning environment.
• Traffic Patterns: Minimize large open spaces; some children see a large open space as a free-for-all wrestling ground. Set up tables and center dividers in a way that allows for freedom to move about the room comfortably and promotes use of “walking feet”.
• Be sure that centers have adequate space. Close quarters, especially in beloved centers like blocks and housekeeping, can lead to frequent arguments.
• Physical Design of the classroom: Have clear boundaries; label your centers. Be sure you have visibility of all children in each center when you stand in the middle of your room. Have materials organized and labeled with both words and pictures, provide visual prompts when centers are closed and have no more than 4 children to a center. Rotate materials and have multiples of favorite toys and activities.
• Classroom rules: Post them at eye level of the children. State rules positively ( For example instead of saying “No Hitting” say “Keep hands to yourself”.)
• Does your classroom setup consider the needs of children with different needs and abilities? For example- if you have a child with sensory integration issues or ADHD, having a “busy” room with bright colors and lights, and projects hanging from the ceilings and walls may be over stimulating. Have a “cozy corner” set up in a quiet place in the room with limited visual stimulation. Provide a bean bag chair or soft pile of comfy pillows. Stock the area with a few stuffed animals for snuggling, some books, or access to a headset with calming music to help a child who is easily overstimulated.
Maybe you have a child who is receiving physical therapy for an unsteady gait, or is just learning to walk. Does your classroom provide a safe and clutter free environment to reduce tripping hazards? Are your rugs flat on the floor?
I know you‘ve put a ton of time and effort into getting your room set up “just right” in the days leading up to the start of the school year. Have an open mind to shifting what your room looks like (maybe multiple times) in order to best support the social/emotional/behavioral needs of your students. Often times, simple changes in the environment can go a long way to improving the behaviors of the sweet little souls you have the privilege of caring for daily!
Katerie Breuer, MSW, LCSW, LISW-CP
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