Do you remember visiting your friends’ homes as a child? Their toys were so much more fun to play with that your own, and their bedrooms/backyards/playrooms were WAY better than yours. You never understood why they wanted to come to your house, but they felt the same way, your stuff was more interesting than what they had. This is because it wasn’t the same old stuff that you played with every single day, your play things were boring because you were used to them, and they were always available.
This idea is true in the classroom too. My students don’t want to use the same materials every single day, nor should they have too – if I keep the same things our all year long, they’ll eventually start to use these things inappropriately because they have used them in every other possible way that they can think of.
This is precisely why I have adapted a room arrangement that is fluid and dynamic. Every two week I like to rearrange my classroom. I move the centers to new spaces, often using different shelving units and different tables to create new spaces. This doesn’t mean that I get new furniture every couple of weeks, but it does mean that I use what I have creatively. The easel from the art center might become the menu board in the dramatic play restaurant, and the table from the writing center might move into the block area to encourage children to draw or plan their building creations.
My students love it when I rearrange the classroom, and they often get to help. They’ll push chairs across the room for me, move items to new shelves, and gather materials that need to be put away. We do all of the hard work in the morning (usually on a Friday), and then I can count on a quiet afternoon because they are all busy exploring the new spaces.
This is a big job. Not only do I rearrange my furniture, but all of the center materials get put away, and new materials come out. I try to plan what I’m going to get out beforehand, so that when the time comes to do the job, I know exactly what I need. I often include my students in the planning, asking them what they would like to have the dramatic play center, or what kinds of art supplies they would like me to get out. Our classroom might look like a disaster while this process is happening, but once it’s done everything feels fresh!
Can I tell you a secret? This system has had a huge impact on the way that my students behave in the classroom. Any teacher will tell you that most behavior problems happen when students are bored. My students don’t have the opportunity to get bored because the classroom is constantly changing. It also gives me the opportunity to pay attention to their interests and behaviors, and tailor the environment to what works for them.
If I notice that my students are doing a lot of running in the classroom, I can arrange the furniture so that there isn’t room to run. If I notice that the entire class wants to work in the art area together, I can increase the size of that space, and make sure to include enough materials so they can all work together. If my students are especially interested in the rulers in the math area, then I’ll leave the rulers out for another two weeks, but I’ll put out different materials for them to measure.
This is a system that I am passionate about because I have seen it work wonders for my students. Every class I’ve had has responded positively to new spaces and opportunities for exploration. It takes a few days for the students to adjust to putting things away in their new places, but it is worth it because my students are engaged in the centers that are available because they know that they have a finite amount of time to explore each center before it changes again.