Creating Calm with Color and Covers

The last few posts on décor looked at barren vs. bursting classrooms and left off saying that we would give some ideas on putting it all into practice.  How can we decorate our classrooms so we create a home for our students where we all want to be without overloading our senses, ourselves or our wallets?


     Picking Your Colors:  Sticking to no more than two main or base colors with perhaps one other color ‘pops” will help create consistency and knit your classroom together.  Even if this is all you do, sticking to a color scheme helps tie your classroom together.  Limiting the number of colors you use also helps reduce the amount of visual distractors in your room.  As a side note, having to stick to a limited number of colors keeps you from buying every classroom organization basket or bin you see.  If it’s not your color, you can’t get it.  Using your school colors helps connect your classroom with your larger community.


     Covering your Boards: An easy way to cover your bulletin boards with something that lasts and is relatively maintenance free is to use fabric.  Paper fades and can be a pain to get on without ripping.  Also, if you are in the habit of changing what is actually on your bulletin boards through the year, then fabric holds up better than paper when dealing with multiple staples or tacks.  You’ll spend more on fabric, but you can use it year to year. You could go with purchasing fabric by the yard, or go with buying flat bedsheets. If you want to go with some sort of pattern rather than a solid color you have to consider how visually stimulating and distracting the pattern is.  A high contrast or visually busy pattern can make it difficult for anyone to actually focus on what you are putting on the board.

 Here’s an example of a fabric to avoid.  While it does seem bright and sunny and easy to find a color in it to capitalize elsewhere, there is simply too much going on with the variety of colors and shapes. 

You may scoff at using this fabric for any purpose, but Aileen totally made a pair of pants using something very similar in middle school home ec, and they were FABULOUS!     

Here’s another example of a fabric. At first glance, it avoids some of the pitfalls of the last one.  It sticks to just two colors and just one shape.  However, the high contrast and high number of shapes can make this pattern a poor choice on a large scale.

     One way to avoid a too distracting pattern for your fabric is to simply pick a solid color.  If you absolutely must have some sort of pattern (like we do) go for one that does not have high contrast between the colors or too much going on in the way of shapes.

Something like these give you some pattern without being too distracting.


Ultimately though it comes down to what you want, what you need and how much money and time you can invest.  Whatever you do to your classroom, it’s your and your student’s home away from home for long stretches of time so it has to work for you!  Next up we’ll have some picture tours of our own classrooms so you can see how we put it all together. Processed with Rookie


Less. Barren Bastions?

Most teachers I know who go with more barren or streamlined classrooms usually say they just don’t have time or money to go for elaborate themes.  This is 110% legitimate. While there are a lot of time and money saving décor tips, it’s going to take some time and some money to give your classroom a theme.  So I have to wonder if it is worth it.  While I love the themes I wrote about in my last post, is there something to the other side?  Is there something more to going less, something other than time or money?

     There is some research out there about “calming” the classroom and promoting less in terms of decorations.  For years, Montessori schools have been going with relatively understated décor sensibilities.  Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University have gone even further, and have recently published a paper in Psychological Science called “Visual Environment, Attention Allocation, and Learning in Young Children.” (Yes, I am the nerd who looks up scholarly articles to justify saving money and make myself feel guilty over my classroom decorations.)  These researchers looked at two groups of kindergarteners, ones in a typically decorated room and one in a classroom with less.  They found that students who were in the more decorated room were more distracted and off task.  This makes sense if the teacher is competing with the room to gain the student’s attention.

     An earlier article “Consider the Walls” published in Young Children by Dr. Patricia Tarr is even more scathing when it comes to what goes on the walls of a classroom.  While at first blush, the article comes off as quite harsh (and how much teacher/student observation was happening as she was counting the number of decorations in the room?), it is a compelling read that forces you to reconsider what you do put on your walls.

Less vs. More?

     Considering that in special education we work with some students who struggle to attend to information and can get overwhelmed with too much environmental stimulus, it is important that we put even more thought into our classrooms.  We also have students who might need more visual stimuli and exposure to information to help retain information.  We’ve also got to contend with making sure our classrooms are universally accessible to students who may have unique mobility needs. (Yes, I’ve had to completely rearrange the furniture when a student kept landing in a wheelchair due to his rambunctiousness outside of school.) If you’re anything like me, you’ve also got to consider having to move from classroom to classroom each year and dealing with having less and less space to work with.  

So those are the ends of our spectrum, what’s the application? How can it be balanced out? Check out our next decor post for some ideas on putting these ideas into practice as well as some things to avoid!

Décor, Décor, Décor: Bursting or Barren?

There were a lot of things to get used to when I moved from working with middle schoolers to elementary students. I traded B.O.  and AXE Body Spay for tying shoes for one thing. Another huge difference between the two is with regards to classroom set up and decorating.

Here at Space on the Spectrum, we know that there are two ends and everything in between here in education. You’ve got high functioning to low functioning, organized to chaotic and when it comes to décor, less versus more.

At middle school, I’d seen a couple of posters on teacher’s walls.  Usually they had something to do with a favorite team or character.  There were also a couple of puns here and there,  but overall, things were pretty barren when it came to décor.  Elementary school?  Whole different experience.  I walked into a world of class themes and decorations.  Elementary school definitely leans towards the more bursting end when it comes to classroom décor.  So it is with more that I will start…

More More More! Bursting Galore!

Education draws in some crazy creative people whose classrooms are just bursting with decoration. In my building there’s a reading specialist who changes her theme each year. One year it was the “Comprehension Castle” and the next it was the “Reading Rodeo”. These weren’t just some catchy names either; she had floor-to-ceiling decorations. There’s another teacher in the building who’s got a “panda-palooza” going on in her room complete with bamboo. Another teacher has a polka-dot-paradise thing going on complete with large decorative paper pom-poms hanging over student desks. Check out pinterest or google and you’ll find some really incredible classrooms. There are also a lot of commercially available products out there that will let teachers have their theme on practically everything you can think of.  Here are some really detailed and fun ones I’ve found online:

Patriotic Theme Classroom

Patriotic Theme Classroom

Ocean/Beach Theme Classroom

Ocean/Beach Theme Classroom

Hollywood Theme Classroom

Hollywood Theme Classroom

As I’ve said, I’m an OCD over-decorator, so I fit in with the other crazies in elementary education. I love the idea of having a perfectly decorated classroom and will even admit to having a very “detailed” theme to my classroom. (Though I certainly am not changing my theme year to year! We are sticking with READY, LAUNCH, LEARN and the space theme I’ve got going on.) Both Jessica and I will have picture tours of our classrooms here soon!

However, even though I stick with the same theme and colors each year, since I’ve had to move my classroom each summer except this one, and I get bored, I do tweak it a bit.  I also try and make sure that my decorations can stand being up for the majority of the year, and don’t get me in too much trouble with the fire marshal.  Since I wasn’t moving this year, I even snuck into the class next door and gave my teammate a little bit of a theme to call his own.

Superhero Theme Classroom

Superhero Theme Classroom

While the “decorated” classroom certainly gets more credit from pinterest, and people often view the more decorated teacher as the more dedicated teacher, looking at the “less” end of the spectrum of decor is compelling. Check out my next post on décor where I take a look at the other end- less.

Happy Birthday to Me!

Having a mid-August birthday used to mean that I never was in school for my birthday.  I never brought in cupcakes and never got to wear the birthday crown.  This year though, that changes.  This year, the first day of school for students falls on my birthday.  I’m still debating bringing in cupcakes.  I usually take any excuse to eat sweets, but I don’t want to set the precedent of giving my students cupcakes on day one.  Can’t be too nice too soon.

But we all know that there’s a lot that goes into our classrooms before the first day of school.  So our next few posts here are going to focus on classroom decor.  You’ll get a taste of my end of the spectrum as an OCD elementary over-decorator, and a look at Jessica’s end as the eclectic, everything is here for a purpose, practical- high school decorator.

Welcome back!

Duct Tape Dining

I could not live without duct tape.  I found that out this morning when I came into my classroom and sat down to breakfast.  My oatmeal kept sliding around on the table every time I put my arm on it for balance.  I finally figured out that someone had kicked the paper out that kept the table balanced. (AGAIN)

table legDuct tape to save the day.  I realized that I needed a more permanent fix for the table and Duct tape came to the rescue.  We no longer have to keep putting a folded piece of paper under the leg, it is fixed in place and we can keep our food in front of us instead of it sliding around the table when we try to eat.

Food table with broken leg

Processed with RookieSoL

Classroom Decor

Classroom Decor

Classroom decor is dependent on so many factors.  Personal taste, physical constraints, time, what age level you work with, your building culture and even what you need and have to teach.  Your classroom can be a reflection and extension of who you are as a teacher and your students. Of all the categories we post under, this is the one where Jessica and Aileen are worlds apart on.  Jessica has her “go with the flow” mentality that focuses on affordability and practicality.   She also has the luxury of being able to stay in one room from year to year and even has a sensory room and a shared kitchen. Aileen’s got some serious OCD and is constantly battling with the fire marshal or safety committee.  She also has been moved from classroom to classroom each year and forced to get more and more creative when it comes to fitting into smaller and smaller spaces.  Check out posts in this category on what we do in our rooms and inspiration we find from others.