’Tis the season for back-to-school sales at your local stores. The back-to-school shopping season can spark emotions for teachers such as “Oh, no! How can summer be almost over?” and “It’s time again to spend my own money on my classroom.”
With a simple internet search for “classroom decoration,” your screen will be filled with images of brightly colored, pristinely organized, and thematically curated classrooms. While these decor ideas are aesthetically pleasing, are they conducive to student learning? Furthermore, do they fit within teachers’ budgets?
Consider the following tips for decorating your classroom in an effective and frugal way.
4 Productive and Inexpensive Ways to Decorate Your Classroom
1. Keep it simple. When it comes to decor, less is more. A colorful bulletin board on one wall with blank space will be pleasing to the eye without being overwhelming. A simple reading corner with low bookshelves and pillows may not need to be adorned with additional decor that might distract from the task of reading.
In the 2018 Edutopia article “The Dos and Don’ts of Classroom Decorations,” Youki Terada shares research findings on how students learn in classrooms that are highly decorated versus more sparsely decorated: “The takeaway: Classroom walls should feel warm and lively but not overcrowded—keep 20 to 50 percent of the wall space clear, and fill the rest with student work, inspiring pictures, and learning aids.”
School design consultant Robert Dillon, PhD, told me, “Don’t confuse classroom decoration with classroom design. Intentional design is best on research and known best practices to allow your learning space to enhance learning, the learner, and the teacher orchestrating. Start by learning more about visual noise, cognitive load theory, and how cluttered classrooms steal attention and focus and inhibit students with memory and processing issues. All of this research is clear and growing, and it is essential learning for all who are designing spaces throughout a school. Let learning happen because of the space, not despite the space, because of careful application of the design research that exists.”
2. Seek recycled, donated, and free items. As a teacher for two decades, I have no problem asking for free stuff for my classroom. I personally like lamplight in my middle school classroom, so I posted on the social media site Nextdoor that I was seeking donated lamps for my classroom. Within a couple of days, I had collected five free lamps from my neighbors. (Nextdoor is also how I obtained 100 golf pencils for only $5.) Check out resale stores, online marketplaces, and yard sales for books, rugs, shelves, bins, etc.
Recycled or repurposed items are not only budget friendly but also good for the environment. The Classroom Key website is geared toward an elementary teacher audience; however, teachers of all levels will find its list of recycled classroom decor ideas inspiring.
If you are new to teaching, don’t be shy about asking veteran teachers if they have leftover posters, charts, or art supplies. Many will be happy to share what they have accumulated over the years.
3. Utilize technology. The boys’ restroom is located so close to my classroom that I (too) often overhear certain loud conversations. I felt inspired one day to place a poster on the outside of the restroom door that read, “Think Before You Speak.”
I began my search online for a commercially made poster, then I realized that Canva and our school laminator would get the job done faster and for free. Use Canva or another free web-based graphic design tool to create any signage or poster you need. (To save time, ask a student to create the poster for you. Many of my middle school students beg to do jobs like this.)
4. Incorporate student-created decor. The best tip is saved for last. As you plan your wall space, be sure to leave plenty of display area for student work. It’s OK if the room does not look “finished” on the first day of school. Tell the students that their writing and art will be beautifying the space as the year goes on. Student work serves the purpose of adding color and personalization, but it also boosts students’ sense of pride and ownership in the classroom environment.
To further personalize the classroom for students, use photos of the students as part of the decor. The education blog Lessons with Laughter shares a creative idea to display students’ goals. Take a photo of each student early in the year. If the students have access to design software, let them decorate and annotate their photo with their year goals. Print and pin them to the wall in plastic sheet protectors. Kids and visiting parents will love seeing their image on display—and the project serves as a nice reminder of their goals.
Keep your eyes open this summer for bargains and deals that you can use to create a welcoming and functional classroom space. With a little creativity and dedication, you can design a beautiful and vibrant learning environment without breaking the bank.