When I think of our classroom over the years, a few aspects stand out in my mind. First and foremost, it is the children's classroom. I have never referred to it as "my room"; rather, it is "our room". This perception is evident in almost every way the room is designed, constructed and run. Our classroom was not your "typical" kindergarten classroom but I am proud of the ways our classroom was set up.
The layout of the room: I loved taking everybody's "leftovers". You know those odd shaped tables that no body wanted because they were old and did not match the rest of the furniture? Well, those are the ones I loved and wanted for our classroom. Our classroom had a hodge podge, a mix-match of random tables - circle, trapezoid, rectangle, square. I did not want the long rectangular tables that 6 children sat around that were colorful and uniform. I wanted a variety of tables. Some tables had chairs, others did not which allowed for children to stand and move around if they wanted to. Some tables were lowered so children could sit on their pillows and knees. Other tables had balance balls for children to sit on, wiggle on, and learn on. We also had a full set of clipboards for those children that wanted to spread out, lay down and learn on their stomachs or backs. Our room did not have a teacher's desk because it took away space from their room (and it helped me keep my piles of paperwork down!) Our room configuration changed from year to year and quite frequently throughout the year when we needed to better meet our needs. Needless to say, each year our room looked different. It met the needs of our class and took on the personality of our class!
Putting it all together: each year when the children walked into our room, it was empty. Nothing was on the walls or on the shelves. Putting our room together was our first task as a class on the first day. I had everything (toys, manipulatives, books...) in boxes. The children would then "unpack" the room. They had to decide which items went on each of the shelves (this helped with cleaning up at the end of each day because they knew where everything belonged because THEY put it there). They helped to create everything on the walls. I no longer had to buy fancy little posters and signs. THEY made everything (colors, number charts, letter charts... everything) and then determined where it would go up on the walls so they could use that information. This created ownership and pride in our classroom and our work since we all needed to use the work on the walls to help us all learn.
Obviously, this takes a great deal of trust and letting go on my part or any teacher's part. But ultimately, it did not matter to me where things went on the walls or on the shelves. It was their room and the children determined what was going to work best for them (even at the young age of 5)! Our learning started by creating our learning environment - a learning that went beyond standards, curriculum and assessments.