How to Plan Your Classroom Space in An Early Childhood Setting

As I sit in the comfort of my favourite cafe, (sipping my morning cappuccino and delaying a big cardio session awaiting me at the gym), waves of anxiety begin as I suddenly remember what is in store for me at the start of the next school year. My classroom was TOTALLY packed up in June, as the whole school has moved to a brand new location. Everything I need to be an effective teacher will be in boxes, plopped in the middle of my new room. Whew, where do I begin??



In planning the action needed to answer this question, I realized I now have an opportunity to "practice what I preach" and hopefully help other teachers who may find themselves in a similar predicament. Whether you are organizing your room from scratch, (like me), or wishing to change things up a bit, our objectives align - to create a learning space that will optimize effective, positive and quality learning engagements for young children. Here we go!!


Why is effective planning important?

Effective planning is important because using your space well is an aspect of good practice and teaching. It will determine the quality of learning engagements and possibilities within your class environment. How you plan your space can either extend or limit these experiences for children and how your plan unfolds can also impact their behavior in terms of expectations (ours) and self-management (theirs).


When planning your space and materials allow for independence -  think in terms of maximum challenge to the mind and body. Past studies indicate that the higher the quality of space in a classroom, the more likely the teachers were to be sensitive and friendly toward the children, namely, in providing encouragement and teaching empathy. On the flip side, when space quality was low, (as some of us have experienced here in HK), children appeared less likely to be involved or interested, while teachers appeared to be less encouraging; meaning higher levels of guidance and restriction were needed.


Listed below are some questions you can ask yourself to help you determine your objectives when planning your classroom space.


Does the space:

·       meet the children's needs?

·       create a safe environment?

·       allow for movement and self-expression?

·       provide a sense of belonging?

·       allow accessibility?

·       include child-sized furnishings?

·       have 1/3 of the floor space uncovered (uncarpeted)?

·       have related materials stored together?

·       clearly define activity areas?

·       provide clear pathways?

·       contain areas that allow for visibility and invisibility?


Answering yes to these questions will ensure your success for teaching and learning in the year ahead!



Learning Centers are well-defined work areas (with materials logically organized and clearly labeled) that allow and encourage independent learning. Knowing what centers to include is important when planning your space. (Remember that space allotments differ for different ages. Our focus here is preschool.) Learning Centers are designated as core and optional.


Core learning centers in an early childhood classroom would normally include:

o   Dramatic

o   Creative

o   Books / Literacy / Library

o   Blocks

o   Puzzles / Math

o   Fine Motor / Manipulatives / Table Toys

o   Sand / Water


Optional Centers (which can also happen outdoors) normally include:

o   Gross Motor

o   Science & Discovery

o   Woodworking

o   IT (depending on the school's philosophy, this could be considered a Core center)


How can you determine your success?

When deciding where to place your centers, the following criteria will determine the success of your plan.


On paper, divide your room into quadrants: wet (at the top), dry (at the bottom), quiet (to the left) and noisy (to the right), or in whatever direction makes sense for your room. Dividing your room into four quadrants will help you to place your centers in locations that will optimize learning engagements. For example, blocks and dramatic play are dry/noisy activities whereas art, sand and water play are wet and slightly less noisy. These centers could be placed at opposite sides of the room (in terms of noise level) or can overlap as you move through the room toward noisier centers/activities. If you were to incorporate these centers on the quieter side, along side books and puzzles for example, disruptions and unfocused activity will result and cause noisy distractions to the children who wish to engage in quieter pursuits.


Once you begin to map out your room into these four areas/quadrants, you will be able to easily decide where to place your learning centers in your room design/set-up. To further ensure accessibility, imagine an S-shaped pathway through your room - from your door to the end of the room. This will allow for the ease of congestion and for all areas/centers to be accessible to the children.


In closing, good room organization will support child development in all areas: social, emotional, cognitive, physical, and creative. That's what we - as EC teachers and administrators aim to do - meet the developmental needs of the precious children in our care. Jumpstart your success for the year ahead by designing your teaching space effectively and thoughtfully. My room is looking good this year! Is yours?


- Posted by Debi on 08-Sept-2013 (