One of my least favorite things to do in teaching is creating bulletin boards. Maybe it’s because I’m not artistic or perhaps it’s just tedious to staple on colored backgrounds, borders and letters. I must not be the only one. In churches and faith based programs, bulletin boards often go undecorated or have the same posters up for several years.
As much as I dislike decorating a classroom, if I have one to decorate I put a lot of thought in to it. You see, how your room is decorated gives your students clues about what to expect from your class. If the room looks like no one cares to put enough effort in to do at least some minimal decorating, the student assumes class is merely a time filler in everyone’s day.
Don’t believe me? Take a tour of your local elementary school. Some of the best teachers have rooms that should be featured in a decorating magazine. I don’t mean fancy (although some are), but rooms where it is obvious someone who loved her students but a lot of thought and preparation into creating a warm and stimulating environment for them.
The good news is you don’t have to be an artist or spend hundreds of dollars to create a great environment for your students. Here are a few tips to help you transform a dull classroom into an inviting place your students want to visit:
- Take a look at what is already available. What are the assets and liabilities of your classroom space? Ask yourself some basic questions to help you get started. Are you the only person who uses your classroom? Do you share it with another class? Is the furniture the right size for your students? Are there large tables or open floor space for students to work on projects? Is the room overcrowded with unnecessary furniture? Think about what needs to be added or removed to make your room work better for you and your students.
- Think about the needs of your students. Younger children need lots of room to move around and change locations throughout class time. For hands-on activities, your students will need lots of table space or floor space where they can work together or on large projects. I would consider removing all of the furniture over having individual students desks. Tweens and teens need a place to chill during class. It’s hard to share your heart about spiritual matters when you are sitting at an uncomfortable desk. Do you have any students with special needs? They may need a calm part of the room with little or no stimulation or they may need special chairs or objects. If you aren’t sure, ask the parents. They know the learning environments which work best for their children.
- Think about the length of your class and commonly used supplies. You may want some storage bins or containers if you regularly use art supplies. If you have a lot of class time, you may want a bookcase filled with appropriate books for your students to read during down times. For most Bible classes, I have found a large world map is essential. Students often have very little knowledge of geography and it helps to show them where places in the Bible are in today’s world. You want to have as many often used items in your room as possible. It saves you a lot of time if you don’t have to constantly haul things from home or hunt all over the building for them.
- Consider your lesson topics for the next month or two. If students have you once a week or less, you can often keep your “rotating” decorations up for as long as a couple of months. If students use the room three or more days a week, consider changing decorations monthly. Decorations should point the child to lesson topics, excite them about future lessons or remind them of a special theme. If you decide to reflect class topics, you must change decorations regularly. Nothing is more sad than seeing a room decorated for a topic covered a year or two ago.
- Think bright, cheerful and inviting. While an all white decor for your house may win applause from decorators, it won’t excite your students. Don’t go overboard with patterns or clashing colors either. It is possible for an environment to be too stimulating and distract from learning. My favorite trick is to walk by my room in the hall and glance in quickly as I walk by. Would I want to enter the room to see what is happening? If so, then you have the environment you want.
- Involve multiple senses. You may not involve every sense every week, but don’t forget smells, sounds, tastes and things to touch can add more to your classroom environment. Most of them won’t be permanent, but your students will wonder what will happen the next time they enter your classroom.
- Pinterest is your friend (as are pre-cut letters). There are so many ideas for great classroom decorations on Pinterest. In fact I have an entire board you can look through where I have pinned secular ideas and (on many) give suggestions for how to change them to more biblical type decorations. I also learned from a wise business man that my time is often worth more than the amount of money I have to spend on pre-cut letters. If you enjoy it, please save the money and cut them out yourself. Personally, I know if I have to cut out letters, the decorations will not happen. Others hate cutting background paper and have found plastic tablecloths make them more likely to decorate. Know your weaknesses and compensate if necessary to make sure you don’t use them as an excuse to keep from decorating.
Having a great classroom environment, won’t automatically make you a better teacher. Having a great atmosphere for learning, will however excite both you and your students to learn more about God’s Word.