Hey, that's a really neat idea

7th February 2003 at 00:00
Imaginative storage is the key to keeping your primary classroom tidy

Your mother was right when she sniffed: "A place for everything and everything in its place." She may have been talking about the piles of rubble in your teenage sty, but she could have been offering you a mantra for the primary classroom.

The single most important factor in keeping your classroom tidy is storage.

It doesn't matter if you are the most enthusiastic teacher in the universe or if your children are the most agreeable children ever to cross the school threshold; if storage is poorly organised, you will lose the battle, and disappear under piles of reading folders, notes from home, cellophane and assorted beads. And the key is simplicity: the simpler the storage method, the more likely you are to keep to the system.

So, how to get organised? Any seasoned teacher will tell you the best ever invention is the humble plastic storage box. These fabulous items come in a range of nauseating colours, but this is useful - you can use them to co-ordinate with subject areas. You could even be a complete clever clogs and match them to the national curriculum folder covers.

But here we come to a thorny question: who pays for these resources? I know teachers who get so fed up waiting for their turn for funding that they buy things out of their own pockets. This is laudable and altruistic, and a lot of people do it, but it is not your responsibility. School funds should already be allocated for this type of purchase.

Some well-organised schools make storage and accessibility of resources a priority. It pays dividends for the whole school in terms of more independence for the children, fewer headaches for the teacher and less curriculum time lost as 4HC plays hunt the bug boxes.

If you have no access to these boxes, be inventive. Cover rigid cartons (mushroom boxes are good; suck up to the greengrocer) in bright paper, and ask the children to add a collage of appropriate pictures from catalogues - such as bricks on the box that contains bricks - so even very young children and non-readers will match the items to the right box.

Resources for each area of the classroom should be kept on open shelves where they are to be used. You may throw your hands up in horror at the thought of open access, and if the children have not been used to it they will fiddle at first, but make your expectations clear and things will settle down quickly.

Once your boxes are in place, keep an eye on the organisation and storage of materials and equipment. Make sure your layout works. Remove excess paper or it will end up spoiled on the floor. Make sure storage is not too high, too low, or full of other materials not in use, and be prepared to adjust it as you prepare for new topics that require new resources.

On each set of tables, children should have access to all the stationery and supplies they will need. Cheap desktop organisers in a separate colour for each table, with sections for pencils, scissors and so on, are ideal.

The children are then responsible for putting thick and thin markers, scissors and coloured pencils in their proper place. This system makes it easy for everyone at the table to reach all the items, and allows you to make sure that supplies are where they should be; it's an opportunity for simple yet effective sorting and classifying.

It is worth taking time to show children how to do simple things such as cleaning a paintbrush or stacking paper. If you just bark instructions at them, without making sure they can carry them out, you will find yourself frustrated, and will create unnecessary discipline and management problems.

Now to the real horror: tidy-up time. It doesn't matter how well organised your classroom, or how well labelled your boxes, tidy-up time can be terrible. If you just bellow "tidy-up time", the class will be in uproar. Kids will be bumping into each other, hurling pencils and crawling about under tables ("We were picking up pencils, Miss - honest"). In other words, it'll be a mess. Follow my 10-point plan (above) and keep that classroom clear - and calm.

Lynn Huggins-Cooper is a PGCE lecturer

HOW TO KEEP IT TIDY

* Encourage children to clean up as they go along.

* Do spot checks to make sure mess isn't accumulating. Stop children and ask them to clear things away so they have room to work.

* Build clearing-up time into your lesson plans so you are not in a rush at the end of the day. Learning to be organised is a vital life skill for children.

* Always give a warning of transitions: "In five minutes it will be time to clean up."

* Use energising music as a signal for everyone to start tidying.

* Let the children know what happens afterwards. This gives them something to look forward to.

* Ask them to do specific jobs.

* Use a timer, with the alarm set, so the children must beat the clock.

* Designate a meeting place for children after cleaning up so they do not spend time bumbling around. Have something to do for those who have finished, such as listening to music or reading a book.

* Monitor clean-up, then call children back to summarise the lesson. This allows them to settle down so that dismissal is calm.

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