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Tips for Creating a Welcoming Classroom Environment

Charity Preston

Classroom EnvironmentWith Open House, Meet the Teacher Night, and Curriculum Night upon many, it is time to survey whether or not your classroom is welcoming

That first impression really sets the tone for the rest of the year and can affect things such as student behavior and open parent communication.  Make sure your classroom is ready to start off the year with a bang! 

Here are some tips on how to use the five senses to guide your classroom environment making it inviting for your new students and their families.

Sight - See Your Classroom Through Fresh Eyes

This one is a given, but really check for things from a different perspective.  Walk out of the room, and walk back in.  If you were a parent or student seeing it for the first time, would you immediately feel comfortable?  Ask a fellow colleague to do the same in your room.  Offer to give one another feedback before the big day arrives. 

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Make sure that supplies and other necessities, such as tissues, are put at the students’ level.  They have to be the one to use them, so make sure they are easily accessible.  This not only empowers them, but saves you many trips of grabbing the supplies for them.
Lighting can be key.  Check to see if there is enough light in the room, and (if you are permitted) also add in some table or floor lamps so that all the fluorescent light is not just directed straight down.  Lighting can really make a space feel homier.  Think about your home as an example – do you only use overhead lighting in your home?  Most of us use many other types of lighting solutions, so why would your classroom (aka home away from home) be any different?

Smell - The Scent of School Spirit

Smell can be tricky if your fire marshal does not allow air fresheners to be sprayed in the room.  I have been able to get around this a bit by placing lightly scented potpourri or scented crystals in a bowl on top of my desk or hidden above a hanging cabinet.  You want to make sure students are not able to access it for safety/ingestion reasons. 

One other fun tip is to place some carpet sprinkle on your rug and/or carpets (if you have them) an hour before parents are due to arrive.  Sweep it up shortly before, and you will still have the lingering smell in the air. Please note that I suggest a gentle fragrance.  If it is too strong, you will have parents and students coughing and clamoring to exit your room as fast as they arrived!  Similar to perfume, a little goes a long way!  Better to have no scent at all than one that is so strong people become sick.

Sound - Creating a Classroom Soundtrack

I always turn on my iPod and speaker when I am having classroom guests.  Think about the mood you would like to convey.  If you are having an Open House “Party,” perhaps some fun kids party music is in order.  I find kid-friendly party CD compilations on iTunes.  Make sure to preview all music before playing it aloud for families to hear.  Some music may have a random word or two hidden that would be quite embarrassing to you if it were played in front of parents.

Keep the volume loud enough so that it is heard, but low enough to allow for talking amongst the visitors to your room.  Really it is just background noise so that it is not completely quiet.  Think about how you felt the last time you were with others in a silent elevator.  This is the same idea.

Touch - Mix Textures & Add Props

For me, the touch factor involves having lots of different textures throughout the room.  I like to incorporate curtains, tablecloths, placemats, rugs, beanbag chairs, and more into the overall dynamic of the room.  Even fake greenery (if you are not permitted to have real) is wonderful.  Throw a few twinkle lights into a fake potted tree in the corner, along with some throw pillows and you have an instant reading nook.

Simply placing textbooks and workbooks on the student desks allows for families to touch tangible items that will be used in the classroom.   Part of the excitement for everyone in going back to school is the fun of getting new supplies, books, and paper!  Have some of those items out for parents to preview.  Even if they are 15-year-old textbooks – they are still new to the recipients!

Taste - Sweeten the Back to School Transition

Obviously you don’t want students tasting the textbooks or supplies, but everyone loves a good cookie and a mini-bottle of water.  No need to be baking at home either.  Just grab a case of waters, and a couple dozen boxes of cookies from your local grocery store’s bakery.  Bring in a cute platter from home, lay our the cookies, napkins, and the waters on a tablecloth-covered desk or table and you will have people flocking to your room on Open House even if they aren’t supposed to be!

Using the five senses to guide your classroom environment is great not only for the first week back to school, but should be utilized regularly as events come up throughout the year.  It is especially helpful when you are looking for a nice change in January upon returning from winter break. 

Knowing that your classroom is a place where student should feel comfortable to learn and take risks gives you an added bonus right from the get-go!   You will now have a classroom that screams out “Welcome to our learning this year!”

In what other ways do you make sure your room is welcoming?  Share your ideas in the comments section below!