Managing and Maintaining Coveted Classroom Spaces

Managing and Maintaining Coveted Classroom Spaces

It’s no secret that kids love cozy corners, special chairs or seating and any of those other coveted spaces in the classroom. It is without a doubt every year that the students will race for those things, knocking desks and chairs out of the way to get the best spot or the last spot or whatever it may be. And if they aren’t racing, they’re potentially arguing over who had it last, who always gets to sit there, or even going so far as to ask the teacher first thing in the morning if they can be guaranteed their spot because they “never get to use it”. 

Does this sound familiar?

Thus pushing us to pull from the toolbox, our best classroom management strategies for giving kids a fair chance at the cozy corner, wobble stools, beanbag chairs etc…Such strategies may include pulling a popsicle stick with a kids name, or moving a paperclip down the list of student names to indicate whose day or turn it is. These strategies and methods work, I’m not here to say they don’t. But they are also WORK. 

Small work - sure - but these days, with the workload feeling more demanding, the students who seem to be more needy (I said what I said), and the curriculum so jam packed every minute needs to count, those small work things can feel just as big as others. 

You could assign it as a student’s job. Yes. Work smarter, not harder, right? But if you have a classroom that may not run on student jobs (like mine), there has to be another way to work smarter not harder and still manage the classroom spaces that kids want to use the most. 

I used to have an 8x10 rug in my classroom. It would get trampled, walked on, pulled at and I’d find myself buying a new rug every year or at best every other. It became a gross eyesore that collected students who wanted to chat, not students who wanted a quiet and comfortable space to work. So... I did the unthinkable.  I got rid of the class rug. (gasp!) 

My students last year complained that there wasn’t a nice cozy corner to work in and they wished there was. So that’s what I did. This year I created a cozy corner with little chairs, pillows and a much smaller yet more plush rug. Except I’m the kind of person who likes when things match. I make a theme and the room follows the theme. This year’s theme was warm, cozy, calm. So my corner needed to feel warm, cozy and calm and it also needed to fit the color scheme I was working with. Neutrals. 

Cue the white chair cushions and white shag rug. 

What was I thinking?

Kids and white furniture just don’t mix. Everyone, and I mean E V E R Y O N E even the students, walked into my classroom and said, “White? Really? Was that a good idea?”

No, people, it probably wasn’t, okay? But my need to match overrides my practicality, so white it is!

The next thing I needed to figure out was how to best manage the space. It can fit maybe five fifth graders. I was recommended a lot of great ideas - such as popsicle sticks and paper clips on names, but all of those required I either implement class jobs (which I don’t do  because of my schedule), or would give me another job to do each day. 

I was laying in bed one night staring at the ceiling, thinking about all the things (we’ve all been there, amiright?) and suddenly it hit me. Dot stickers. 

If I put one of six different color dot stickers on each desk, and the dot color was associated with a letter day (we follow a six day letter rotation), then the students use the reading corner on their dot day. Letter A day: red dot, B day: pink dot, C day: green dot and so on. Anywhere from three to four students have that color dot on their desk for that class period. If their dot color doesn’t match with the dot day, they don’t get to use the corner. So essentially, if a student sits in a desk during reading with a red dot, and a different desk during writing with a yellow dot, they have access to the cozy corner for *that* one class on their dot color day. 

You might be reading this and saying, huh?

Here’s the thing: my students have two different seats in my classroom because I see them at different times during the day. Once for reading and again for writing, each for 45 minute periods. They use lockers to hold their materials and don’t have name tags on their desks. I recognize this isn’t the standard. Our fifth grade in my district is stationed in the middle school, so we follow a middle school, 8 periods a day, schedule.  This is what made popsicle sticks and paper clip names so tricky. I have four different classes to organize and manage effectively to use the corner, it isn’t one set of 20 something students all day long. 

For those teachers who DO have 20 something students all day, this dot system can still work for you. If you have 20 students, assign 5 dot colors, and the students with the day’s assigned color get to use the coveted space. If you want to keep it interesting, you can still use popsicle sticks that have each dot on them, and pull a stick to assign the color for the day. This, to me, is still added work, but it keeps things interesting for the kids. To each their own. 

Okay, so the management of who gets to use the corner and when is out of the way and out of my hands. How on earth does a space with white chairs and a white shag carpet stay clean?

I spent the first week of school building the anticipation for the corner. Every day kids asked, “Can we use the corner today?” 

“No, not just yet. The corner isn’t open for use yet because we need to set some ground rules,” I’d say. I waited for several days before deciding it was time to make some cozy corner rules. I wanted the class to see the corner, want to be in the corner, and find value in the corner being there. Wanting something that's just out of reach, up-sells the value tremendously. 

However, when the time came we set some rules. In class rule setting, I generally let the students guide the rules because I feel like the more ownership they feel they have, the more seriously they will take them. That being said, I’ll pop my opinion in there from time to time if an important rule is being overlooked. 

The kids all unanimously agreed that no one should be allowed to eat or color in the cozy corner. They also felt that if it was a wet and muddy day outside, all shoes should be checked before walking into that corner. Additionally, the students felt that if the corner wasn’t cleaned up before they left the class for the day, they shouldn’t be able to use it. Sort of like a time out from the corner.  The rule that I put in place was simple, no pillow fights and the pillows stay in the corner, they may not move about the room.

I was happily surprised that students covered everything I would have said. Once the rules were set, I agreed that at the start of the next letter day rotation, the corner would open. 

Here’s what happened:

It was an A day, which meant anyone with a red dot was able to move to the corner. I reminded them the corner was open, reminded the students of the dot color, and watched as they grabbed their books and reading notebooks, made their way to the corner (without running, shoving, arguing or racing), and lay down or sat in a chair. It wasn’t the best friends corner - which often happens at this age. Two or three friends find their spot and always meet there during independent work. 

Nope, it was a quiet working corner. The people who went there didn’t choose who went with them, so they were focused and on task and happy to have a comfortable space. When it was time to clean up, they fluffed the pillows, propped them back up, and went back to their desks to grab any other materials before walking out. 

It was like seeing a unicorn. 

I think because they wanted to use the corner so badly, and they knew they needed to take care of it because that was what everyone agreed to do, it became more of a privilege to have and therefore more respected. 

I am pleased to say that we have been in school for six weeks. Five of those weeks, the corner has been open to the students. The chairs are still white, the rug is still the color white, the pillows are still in great condition and the kids still LOVE to use the space. 

Even if by the end of October this was all a moot point and everything’s gone to shit, I made it far longer than I anticipated with white furniture. Add to that, from a classroom management standpoint, I feel like I’m definitely working smarter not harder. I’m not moving a paper clip, not pulling a popsicle stick, and I don’t have to manifest class jobs just so this one can be a job I don’t have to do. 

I call that a win.

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