Let's set the scene: You have just been hired to teach – KINDERGARTEN. You are going through ALL the nerves and excitement and can't wait to meet your kids. BUT – there's a topic that stays ever-present in your mind in the summer months leading up to the new school year: Setting up a kindergarten classroom. Setting up YOUR kindergarten classroom. First year teacher thoughts can often spin-out and sound something like this:
- What are kindergarten classroom essentials?
- Where can I get my kindergarten classroom must-haves?
- Are these kindergarten classroom needs…or just wants?
- ARGH…I just need to pin ALL the ideas for classroom setup
- WHEN CAN I GET INTO MY CLASSROOM?
(Wait…I'm not a new teacher.)
OR – maybe you've been teaching for a while and you just got moved – by choice or not – to: KINDERGARTEN. I can only imagine how I'd feel switching to a new grade. Probably a lot of the same nerves and excitement as I did that first year. Unless you are coming from middle or high school – you might be surprised to learn that you may have more of those kindergarten classroom must-haves than you realize!
I know there are some kindergarten classrooms that still have dress-up areas and play centers, but in the 10 years I've taught, this has not been my reality. That doesn't mean we don't play – quite the contrary! I just have to get super creative, which is kind of my jam. 😉
I encourage you to take a deep breath, clear your mind, and possibly even that overgrown pinterest board! (Hey, I was super guilty of over-pinning and spinning out too!) I'm going to share the 10 kindergarten classroom must-haves that help my classroom run like a well-oiled machine. Get ready to fill your Amazon cart, make some Target and Dollar Tree runs, get on Facebook marketplace, and ask your family and friends for a little help. You'll have that classroom ready to go in no time!
Thinking back to being a First Year Teacher
I remember walking into my first classroom, and feeling something akin to being on a rollercoaster. Getting my masters had been that slow, jerky, creaky climb up the mountain. But I'd made it. I was at the top and I had a job! I was SO relieved to see my classroom, stand in it, look at the layout.
Then JUST LIKE THAT…that quick calm you feel briefly at the top of the hill on that rollercoaster – disappeared. Replacing it was the wooshing sound that started swirling around my brain. It felt like I was flying full-speed downhill trying to make a mental note of everything I THOUGHT I needed…but I honestly had no idea. Anxiety anyone? Oh yeah.
All of the classrooms I had observed or done my student teaching in hadn't prepared me for this moment. I realized I hadn't taken a class on WHAT to fill my room with FIRST. I had seen and experienced first-hand “how” other classrooms worked, but hadn't thought to take notes on the “what” was in place to help bring it all together.
Kindergarten Classroom Must-Haves
This past year I had a wonderful student teacher, Maddie. As she was going through the interview process I felt all of the nerves alongside her, and cheered with her when she got the offer. We started having the coversations of what the layout of her room was, what (if anything) was left for her to use, etc. It got me thinking back on that overwhelm I felt that first summer – trying to relax but having a hard time not spiraling about all there was to do.
I texted her and said, “This is a weird question…but what are you thinking about right now…about your first kindergarten classroom, I mean!” She answered, “first year teacher must-haves and most used classroom items.” (She mentioned a few other GREAT things…but that's another blog post!)
So, this post is for you, Maddie! And for any other first year teachers out there who may have that same feeling I had 10 years ago. I hope this list helps you as you think through the way your classroom will work, the systems you'll put in place, the traffic pattern of the room, etc.
(I'm sorry…did you just say traffic patterns? In a kindergarten room?)
If that last statement stresses you out and you have no idea what I am talking about – send me a message or comment below and I'm happy to talk you through it! One thing you NEED TO KNOW about kindergarten, the more you think through all the tiny things before those tiny bodies enter your room on day one – the happier you ALL will be!
Kindergarten Classroom Essentials
1. Individual Book Bins
You are going to be limited to some extent in your classroom, depending on features that don't move, where bulletin boards are, etc. In my first classroom, each child had a square shaped cubby that hung above the hooks for their coats and backpacks. That cubby acted as their home base for things like their book bin, notebooks, etc.
In my current room, there are long cubbies that fit coats, lunchboxes, and backpacks ONLY. There are 3 large bookshelves that are permanently attached to the wall, so I improvised and designated space for book bins. They cover 3 shelves but it is one of the most used things in my classroom. They LOVE having their own bin, and it helps keep them organized and responsible. Win-Win-Win!
You will WANT & NEED these book bins. They come in all colors, and I'd get the good quality ones. They will last you for years to come and it is money well spent.
2. Classroom Library Baskets
Ahhh…a good classroom library is a little piece of heaven. I wanted all of my baskets to be the same that first year, and didn't have a lot of cash to spend. So, I hit the dollar tree. These little baskets have held strong for 10 years, though they are definitely cracking and splitting and giving up. 😉 The only reason they've lasted is that the kids don't pull them on and off the shelves each day, like they do with their book bins. If they did, there's no way they would still be around. If you have some extra funds – and plan on your kids moving the baskets around – go for heavier/sturdier which means just a little pricier.
3. Shared or Individual Supply Caddies
There are plenty of ways to organize the kids' supplies, but you really need to think it through! Keeping up with their own things will be new for a lot of kinders. I like to make it as easy on them as possible, which means easier for me too! Once again, your classroom setup will set the parameters for you in a lot of ways. I have round tables, and so pre-covid each table had a shared caddy. I used condiment caddies that you'd use in a restaurant, color coded them for each table, and used the little slit at the top for table numbers.
Then came covid. We had to go to all individual supplies. The challenge there was a big one, but my work wife and I ended up finding little individual organizers at the Target dollar spot and drove all over Nashville to find 50 of them. When we got to return to shared items, I decided to mix it up a bit.
My crafty friend figured out a way to zip tie the individual containers to a circular mesh organizer, then we fit a pvc over the top so I could still have my table signs. The kids love having their own space, but I love being able to move the entire thing at once if I need to!
4. Buckets or basket trays for work
I have had my ‘tray' baskets awhile, and just picked up a new set at Target in the dollar spot. The trick is to have different color baskets for different things – OR have them clearly labeled with picture cues if you can, and decide where they will live in your classroom. Again…it's a system thing. Classroom management becomes so much more ‘manageable' if they know exactly what to do. It's crazy, but the more you work all of this out ahead of time, then practice with them the first month or so of school, the more freedom you will have together the rest of the year! It takes time – but it's worth it. 🙂
5. Organization system for supplies
Labels make everything better! Seriously, they help ME think through things, they help the kids help YOU, and labels even help substitutes keep your classroom running when you aren't there! I have bins that are in my cabinets where I keep all the extra glue, crayons, pencils, etc – and you'd better believe they have a label on the outside! Clutter drives me bonkers, though it's bound to exist. I even have a ‘clutter' basket, or ‘catch-all'. That way it “feels” organized, and I'll go through it once every quarter and clear it out. You can find labels on TPT, or templates to make your own. Just print, laminate, and hot glue those bad boys on!
6. A Treasure chest or some sort of reward system
In kindergarten, never ever underestimate how exciting a treasure chest can be. It can add up if you are filling it yourself all year long, so ask parents to donate every once in a while. Think little trinkets, ring pops, pencils, leftover gold coins from the leprechaun, etc.
7. Numbers – Numbers – Numbers!
I can't express enough how much a number system will make your life SO MUCH EASIER. I assign each child their number at the start of school. This is ALWAYS our line order. I know a lot of folks mix it up, but coming in from recess, lining up for a fire drill, making sure I have everyone…if they are always in the same order a quick scan is all it takes. Oh! And there's never arguing over who was there first. GAME CHANGER.
I put numbers on the floor for lining up, in their cubbies so they know where to go each morning, by their math journals, by their book bins, etc. It solves SO many issues, and they actually love having their own special number. They get plenty of mixing and mingling with their carpet spots and their tables…but lining up is a cinch day in and day out. Boom.
8. BOOKS! BOOKS! BOOKS!
I hit the jackpot when I started my classroom library. I had been a special ed. para for a child in 1st grade while I was getting my masters. The 1st grade teacher was retiring at the end of the year, and she told me to go thorugh and take any books I wanted to start my own room. She said, “People have been so kind and giving to me throughout my career. So take what you want, then one day pass it on.”
I then posted on facebook and shared what I was doing, and that if anyone had any books they were ready to let go of, I would happily accept them. I recieved several FULL boxes in the mail, and was SO excited! So…ASK people. You never know who wants to help!
My next task was to organize. I found a great classroom library system on TPT: You put a label on a basket, then there are corresponding stickers for the books. For example, one of the labels has a picture of a dinosaur – so any book that has a dinosaur gets that sticker and goes into the basket. My kids LOVE to take them out, and then sort them and play ‘librarian'. 🙂 BIG undertaking – SO worth it.
9. System for displaying student work
Another thing that is going to be determined by your classroom layout where the bulletin boards, white boards, and smart boards are. Before you go nuts on those empty bulletin boards, making them super cute…ASK WHAT IT GOING TO BE REQUIRED. I learned that the hard way year one.
Ask your principal, team lead, coaches, etc. what you'll NEED to have up. For instance, the ELA curriculum we are currently using requires us to have questions posted daily – in addition to our standards and vocabulary words. The two boards I have that I used to switch out are not dedicated to the curriculum.
One thing that I decided is to use other spaces in the room to always have student work on display. I have used the same clothespins that are hotglued on the board for 6 years now, and just put a new label on top with the new name. Each month I switch out their work and they LOVE it. I have a space on the door where I do the same thing, and they begged to add clips to the outside of the bathroom door too – so we did! It's inexpensive, and makes a big impact.
10. Chair Pockets or a place to organize unfinished work
Have I mentioned I love organization and systems? Oh, many times you say? 🙂
Think through what you are going to do when your kids are working on something, and don't finish. Where do they put that paper? Most will walk to you and say, “here.” So…where are you going to put unfinished work? I used to have a large mail slot I got from an office supply place and they would all head there at the same time. It didn't work as well as I'd hoped, but we made do.
Then, covid happened. Remember that individual supply need I mentioned earlier? Well, they couldn't all cram close together at the mail slots any longer. I put the big ask out to my parents to help with chair pockets. It's something I would have used my PTO or other supply money on, but that had already been spent on plexi glass dividers. Now, I don't know how we made do without them.
Unfinished work? Chair pocket. Brought a notebook from home? Chair pocket. We need to store a notebook for guidance classes? Chair pocket.
They aren't cheap – but consider them for a wish list if you could use that extra organization.
Anything I forgot to mention?
There are a ton of other things that make our kindergarten classrooms special, cozy, unique, and a home away from home for the day. But these 10 must-haves are the meat and potatoes of the room. They are the jeans and the basic white button down in your closet. Things that aren't glamorous but you will use time and again and will help your classroom run smoothly.
Anything I forgot to mention? Any ideas or questions you have? Send me a message or comment below – happy to help you think through your classroom or share a great idea that YOU have! Now…hit the sales and have a GREAT YEAR!!