When I first started teaching, I wanted to do ALL of the things when decorating my classroom. The new ideas I was seeing all over Pinterest, along with the creative ideas I came up with on my own to make my classroom look picture-perfect sounded great at the time. I wasn’t thinking about having a calm classroom environment. I was thinking about a classroom that my students would LOVE to be in, and at the time that meant all the colors of the rainbow (I will talk more about this later).
Needless to say, the blue and green construction paper checkboard pattern on my ocean-themed bulletin board didn’t last long. The following year, the bright red, yellow, and orange bulletin board paper was quickly replaced by a more calming color, navy blue.
What I soon realized is that decorating a classroom can take lots of hours to do, and sometimes even more time to get it right. I also learned my students worked better in colors that were more neutral, allowing their brains to be less stimulated by the environment around them and to focus more on what they were at school to do, learn.
Why do we need a calm classroom environment?
This may go without saying, but anyone who has ever worked with children knows that they have energy. Our job as educators is to take that energy and find ways to use it and turn it into learning opportunities. Most of us also probably know that our environment – the colors, sounds, textures, and smells – affects our emotions, how we feel, and how we respond in certain situations. For example, you’re going to act differently at a Taylor Swift concert than you are when you walk into a library. There is a reason we have different experiences within these environments.
Don’t take this the wrong way. There is nothing wrong with rainbows and splashes of bright color. This leads me to the first tip for creating a calm classroom environment.
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#1 Be intentional
The learning environment is exactly that, a place where your student will learn every day. It’s so easy to go overboard and decorate with too many things or to have color EVERYWHERE. I don’t have anything against a rainbow classroom. If you love that theme, try it out and see how your students respond. There are some amazing rainbow classroom themes out there and they always catch my eye.
However, I have learned from my own experience it just doesn’t work for me and my students. Instead, I like to decorate with more natural classroom themes that help to create a more calm classroom environment, with one or two pops of color. It started with this Eric Carle classroom theme:
Over time it has transitioned to my camping theme classroom tour:
How do you plan to create a calm classroom environment?
No matter how you choose to decorate your classroom, be intentional. Think about how you and your students are going to use the space. Here are a few things to consider when planning your space:
- Anchor charts
- Student work
- Center rotations
- Classroom jobs
- Rule posters
- Calendar / Morning meeting area
- Birthday charts
- Alphabet, number, and shape posters
- Daily Schedule
- Focus wall
- Word / Sound wall
- Classroom library
I could go on. You have to decide what each area of your classroom is going to look like. Then, consider if it is something you are going to refer to every day or if it is going to be something that helps your students learn.
I prefer to post the anchor charts that cover skills we are currently learning about and I put them away once we have learned or reviewed the skill. My students use notebooks to keep smaller versions of the charts that they can refer to, as needed. I also occasionally pull out previously used anchor charts, or I keep out the ones I know we need to review often. Other teachers keep their anchor charts up all year long and slowly add them along the walls of their classrooms throughout the year.
No matter what you choose to have on your walls, remember the goal is to help students learn. Having more space to display student work help them to feel like a valued part of the classroom community, which will help them to respect the classroom environment more.
#2 Cozy Reading Corner
A classroom is like a second home to your students. We all spend almost as much time in school as we do at home. Think about the different textures that are present throughout your classroom. A classroom rug, pillows, bean bags, curtains, and plants can really liven up the space, but also keep it feeling cozy and calm. Your students will also want to use this space often, so make sure it is functional for them and is able to withstand all of the fingers and feet that may be using them throughout the year.
Star Curtain Lights (if you want to add more above the tapestry)
Every student and teacher that walked into my classroom talked about this mountain tapestry. I just stapled it to the wall and it instantly changed the look and feel of my classroom. As a matter of fact, I am leaving the same bulletin boards up this year and changing out the tapestry to match my new nature classroom theme, and one of the teachers down the hall asked for it so she can put it in her classroom next year. I am happy to pass it along!
#3 Flexible Seating
Flexible seating is another concept that has been proven to help students learn. Some teachers go all in and make their whole classroom have flexible seating. I use it during independent work times. During centers and with partner work, my students may choose where they would like to work in the classroom, as long as it does not disrupt others and they are working quietly. I have several tables set up around the room with chairs in groups of two for them to work with partners. Many of my students choose to work in the book corner, preferring to sit in the bean bag or work on the classroom rug.
We also recently added 4 small individual tables on wheels that can be written on with whiteboard markers. They came with stools with cushions for students to sit on. This quickly became another popular area in my classroom for students to complete work.
Creating a calm classroom environment often begins with lighting. Trading overhead fluorescent lighting for lamps and natural light by opening the blinds helps students to work more quietly and prevent eye strain. My current classroom has several different settings we can use to reduce the overhead lighting so it is not so bright. In past classrooms, I have asked the custodians to unscrew half of the lightbulbs, which was so appreciated. We can really tell the difference when all of the lights are on, and my students often ask to shut them all off in the afternoon and let the natural light in.
The star string lights (pictured above) I use around my whiteboard go well with many classroom decor themes. I will be using them again this year for my nature theme decor.
#5 A Calm Classroom Environment Lacks Clutter
With all of the decisions I make in my classroom every day, this can really be a struggle sometimes! I never thought of myself as a highly organized person until I kept hearing it from other teachers. I do know keeping things organized is helpful when it comes to creating a calm classroom environment, and it is something made a priority right from the beginning.
Everything that you can SEE should be something that is used often by you or your students. Things we look at take up space in our brains when we look at it, whether we are consciously thinking about it or not. If we do not use it often, we need to put it behind the cupboard doors or curtains for another day. Some days the space behind these doors is organized, and some days it’s a hot mess and that’s okay! My students help me keep the classroom clean and tidy by being responsible for their own space and classroom jobs. I also go through everything on my desk every day and organize it before I leave at the end of the day. Most days this works for me and helps me to walk into my classroom the next day with a fresh start.
I hope these tips helped you to find some ideas to use in your classroom.
For other posts that may be helpful for back to school, check these out:
Here are some quick links to my classroom decor items you can use to create a calm classroom environment: