September 11, 2012

Tips for Organizing Small Classroom Spaces ~ Part Two!

This year I moved out of my spacious, mansion-like classroom....
                  Which looked a little like this...

Ok... maybe not, but in my fond memories I had unlimited storage and didn't have to store things in stacks like the leaning tower of Pisa. 

With our school growing quickly and bursting at the seams I knew it was only a matter of time until I needed to move out of the big classroom and find a "cozier" space that would work. I offered to move into the OT/PT combo room that was currently used as a PTA workroom. 

I spent a lot of time this summer purging and organizing materials and hauling a few storage shelves and cabinets up to school. Thankfully, there is a small alcove outside my room where I was able to fit the shelves and cover them with curtains to mask the materials. 

The classroom itself has an interesting layout. The "bigger" side is about 10x12 feet and adjoins a smaller space with a glass wall. I decided to make the bigger side the academic side and create a Sensory Center in the smaller side.

Because the space is so small, I wanted to be very careful to keep the distraction level low by limiting the amount of "visual noise". I deliberately left as much off the walls in the academic side as I could -- only keeping up the alphabet strip, number strips, expectations poster, the size of the problem visual, and the posters that define expected/unexpected behavior.

Here's what it looks like as you enter the room...

I created the layout by considering "zones". As you enter the room, I created a new behavior reinforcement system on the side of the file cabinet. I love racing, so I decided we would race to the treasure box. The kids cut out and colored race cars, I laminated them, and placed an adhesive magnet on the back.

In the academic portion, I have a small table with the fridge and microwave on top. Under the blue skirt I have hidden the Playmobil School set. We use the school for role plays and problem solving. My desk is to the right with a curtain over my bookshelf to decrease distractions. I strive this year to keep the piles under control on my desk. I can't say I'm being very successful so far!

I didn't take a picture of the school set under the curtain, but if you ever get a donation of money this is so worth purchasing! I totally lucked into getting it.

Because I didn't want to have the walls get too "busy" and because I teach so many different grade levels, I decided not to put up a word wall or other large anchor charts. Instead, I use a wooden paper towel holder on the table and put all the anchor charts in sheet protectors. It allows me to immediately display what we need to view for a lesson without the visual noise. I found the idea on Pinterest - of course! We have also created personal word walls that are stored in folders. This way I can customize for different grade levels and the kids tend to use them more effectively by having them right in front of their view without having to track from their seat to the wall.

The sink area is the only built in area in the classroom. I use the cabinet door to display the size of the problem visual. I added the short curtain on the door because the kids tend to be distracted by the traffic in the hallway. It is still low enough that adults can look in the room.

You can see the glass wall along the computer side of the room. I added white sheer curtains to decrease distractions while still allowing the light in from the one small window.
You can see the white panel curtain that divides the two spaces on the right. I hung a donated curtain panel on a shower curtain rod and created a tie back with ribbon and notebook rings which can be hung on a 3M removable hook. 

I keep the curtain closed to indicate when the area is "closed" or when I have groups with especially distractable students.

Here is the view from the doorway into the Sensory Center.
Yes, the fabric on my homemade Superflex bulletin board is sagging. I need to make time to haul out the tall ladder and fix it. There were no bulletin boards in my rooms, so I created this one from lightweight materials from Home Depot. I'll do a post soon on what to use to make your own bulletin boards.  The shelves hold fine motor activities.

Here is the view of the tent and the Learning Zone area...

Here is the side with gross motor equipment. The red stool hides video games that are used as motivators for specific students. The white wire cart contains puppets and stress balls. The hippity hop sits on top of the unit.

Here is a quick view of the bookshelf, tv for video games, peapod, and trampoline. This is the lone window in the space. It looks out on the kinder playground. You can see my favorite element in my space -- my student created Social Detective. Love him!

So many of us teach in small spaces. I hope some of these ideas get you thinking about how to reduce visual noise in your space. ~ Kelley


  1. Love the paper towel holder idea! Very smart, thanks for the tip. I think you did an awesome job maximizing your space :)

    - Sasha
    The Autism Helper

    1. Sasha,
      I would love to include you in our Blogs We Love. Let me know if that is ok with you! ~ Kelley

  2. Thanks, Sasha! The paper towel holder was actually a Pinterest idea for holding scrapbooking supplies, but it has turned out to be so useful in the classroom.

  3. I'm impressed by how you managed to make the zones and eliminate a lot of the visual noise in your room. I'm lucky that I have an entire wall of cabinets where I can hide most of my materials, but they seem to be ever-expanding out of the cabinets.

    Talking With Rebecca

  4. yes! this is very helpful! I found out today that I will be moving to a smaller space, the first day of school is about a week away. I have intensive resource with a child in a wheelchair, he has lots of equipment, so I am looking for ideas. thank you! Paula


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