How can I make my cinder block classroom cozy?
June 13, 2014 6:49 PM   Subscribe

My first grade classroom looks slightly like a (colorful) prison. It is white painted cinder block. It has three big windows with blinds and most of the furniture is kind of dilapidated. There are fluorescent lights. I have a few houseplants and even had a friend build some colorful curtains for the cubbies and cabinets, but I can't seem to kick the institutional feel. It also smells sort of weird. What are some of the make or break elements that make a space feel cozy, homey, livable? Especially for a child-friendly place.
posted by mermily to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not sure how much leeway you have - but my high school English teacher had us paint scenes from books we read on the drop tiles in the ceiling ( removed/painted in the floor/then let dry/placed back in the ceiling). Could you do something like that for your class? Or teach colors/shapes/animals as needed by having them painted on the ceiling tiles?
posted by Suffocating Kitty at 6:56 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

My husband has used these blue light filters in his classroom. They make the light quite a bit less harsh, and it makes the ceilings look a little less drab. Kids who had previously complained a lot about headaches and eye strain seemed to appreciate the filters. There are also cloud versions, which might be appropriate for younger kids.

Putting curtains up on the windows will help a lot, if allowed by fire code. Rugs on the floor, making a cozy reading nook with pillows and bean bags, maybe putting up a canopy like this one.

Themes are your friend, you can pick something that will tie into the curriculum like jungle or under the sea or whatever. Small elements throughout the room can really help tie things together. Consider getting a Cricut machine to use for bulletin boards, etc. Depending on how hard up for funds your district is, the powers that be might be persuaded to get one for the workroom. They are magical!
posted by charmcityblues at 6:59 PM on June 13, 2014 [5 favorites]

I'm the proud owner of a prison-like first grade room as well. I can't do too much with cozy pillow and such (we're not allowed...lice.) I do find that if you can strategically place small lamps around, either hanging or tabletop, it can create warm, homey areas. Unfortunately, I have no outlets with which to do this in my current room, but it was very soothing and comfortable in a former room. I also lowered several tables to make areas where kids could sit on the floor to gather around a table to read. They love it! Ikea, if you're close, is your friend for area rugs. Their colorful bathmats are great because they are cheap and washable!
posted by Cloudberry Sky at 7:14 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

At my school, some of the teachers have had imagery painted directly onto the walls by students.
posted by alphanerd at 7:16 PM on June 13, 2014

My classroom is also painted cinder block. I have no idea if it is specific to my room/school, but since my room remained kind of bare for a year or two before I figured it out, I wanted to let you know that if you cannot get stuff to stick to those painted cinderblock walls (especially laminated heaver things, or worse, manilla folders full of things), your solution is outdoor mounting tape. It is not actually permanent and will pull off in whole pieces when you remove it quite nicely.
posted by charmedimsure at 7:25 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

A few years ago I went to a lecture that was held in a cinderblock church basement. The basement was a Waldorf classroom during the day. It was draped with pastel fabric, and very, very cozy.
posted by instamatic at 7:30 PM on June 13, 2014

Throw rugs make a place like that more cozy. (They make the room more anechoic, for one thing.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:32 PM on June 13, 2014

I used an electric wax candle block melter thing (I've seen them recently at Target but I think mine was from Yankee Candles) you can keep the scent subtle by only using a small portion of the block and turning it on for a little bit before/after school when students aren't around.

I had a lot of sweaty kids coming back from recess/gym classes and would also keep Ozium jars/containers (that I picked up on Amazon) around in various inconspicuous spots and I found that they helped temper the smells of sweaty clothes and wet boots/coats pretty well. The smell is very neutral, but it does a good job of getting rid of funk. Additionally, since I tend to be sensitive towards smells I often kept the Ozium spray around to freshen things up quickly if necessary, but I always tried to do it when the kids were elsewhere to avoid issues.
posted by AnneShirley at 7:48 PM on June 13, 2014

I remember something we did way back in my own first grade class was, at the start of each semester, we each had big pieces of butcher paper that were a little smaller than the size of our desks down to the floor. We got to decorate them with more paper, paint, markers, etc, and some extras like old cut up landscape and animal calendars. The teacher had some things already cut out like big stars and hearts and simple geometric shapes, too. Then they helped us tape them to the fronts of our desks. I'm sure it didn't make the room look calm, or anything, but I was really proud of the ones I made; it gave me a sense of ownership and responsibility and I know I kept my desk nicer because of it. And it was fun knowing that even though I had to go back to school after winter break, I'd get to make another big picture.
posted by Mizu at 8:10 PM on June 13, 2014

Changing the light helps A LOT. Do you have an old-fashioned overhead projector? The light on those is surprisingly strong. I had a very similar classroom and in the afternoons in the winter or when it rained I'd turn off the overhead lights and use that. When it was sunny I'd just leave the lights off entirely. It made the room much more welcoming.

Also, do you have any of those big child-friendly rugs? Google "classroom carpet" if you don't know what I mean. Those can help a lot. Ask your school to get you one if you don't have any; for first grade I expect them to be on the carpet a ton and it's a huge help. They're not cheap but they're basically necessary for that age.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:33 PM on June 13, 2014

Sorry, I feel like "they're basically necessary" was unhelpful since I know nothing about your school's location or situation. I should have said "They're not cheap but at that age they are an enormous help."
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 8:34 PM on June 13, 2014

Indirect lamps/task lighting around the room.

Colorful tablecloths/table skirts around the tables.

Cheap outdoor furniture, small lamps, and a bookshelf to create a reading nook. Or beanbags.

A theme -- this year my daughter's teacher had a detective theme in her classroom. Last year her teacher had a butterfly theme.

Colorful mobiles hung from the ceiling.

Houseplants if you have enough light. Maybe have the kids collaborate on a fairy garden or a terrarium?

Suncatchers hung in the windows.

Rocking chair for circle time/when you read to the children.
posted by Ostara at 9:05 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

My first college dorm had brick walls, and we used that blue tacky stuff to stick stuff to the walls.

Regarding the smell, please please please do not use any scented candles, sprays, etc. They don't actually do anything except attempt to cover up the smell with another smell. There are a lot of people who are allergic to scented products and you risk making the classroom inhospitable to them.

There are some products that are actual odor neutralizers. Jolie Kerr recommends this thing called the Bad Air Sponge but I've never used it. There's also this volcanic rock stuff called Zeolite. Sounds goofy but I've used it and it works. It's hard to find but I found one on Amazon.
posted by radioamy at 10:29 PM on June 13, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can you have plants? Even fake plants (Ikea sells cheap nice ones) with little flowers set up on top of a high bookshelf out of reach look friendly and natural, and then if you can have a few real plants, hardy ones, the kids can help water them and feel like they are taking care of them.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:51 AM on June 14, 2014

Also plants can filter out smells.

Another thing that my kids' classes did that was nice was to have faces of the kids up on the walls - like a classroom tree with a photo on each paper apple or a long wall with tiny photos next to names and a piece of artwork underneath. It just made it their room and was basically a bunch of 2"x3" photos printed on colour A4, cut up and laminated.
posted by viggorlijah at 1:54 AM on June 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Are you allowed to put up quilt wall hangings, like these?
posted by cadge at 8:07 AM on June 14, 2014

Go medieval with lots of wall hangings and rugs where you can place them. You can buy yards of cotton twill and, after doing a lesson on medieval castles, allow the children to paint them. You could also hang cardboard swords and shields. Allow the new class to replace the last classes' work every year.

Do the window's provide enough light to dim the over head mess? If so, you can use tulle or other see through fabric and run it across the ceiling, allowing it to dip and twist. Use several colors and twist them across one another in geometric patterns.
posted by myselfasme at 8:51 AM on June 14, 2014

For smells, a thorough cleaning; I like pine-sol - the intense smell goes away, but it leaves a clean scent. You can put cinnamon or other spices in a sunny spot, as well as bringing in orange and other citrus peels to dry in the sun. They can be strung to hang. Also, make sure the curtains are clean.

Better lighting helps - can you bring in LED string lights to decorate a reading area and a nice lamp on your desk. Ikea usually has fun lighting that appeals to kids.

I love the idea of kids decorating their desks. You can also gibe each child a piece of paper and have them decorate it with a drawing, painting, collage, or whatever, and make a 'quilt' on the wall. You could let kids change out their 'quilt block' as they choose.

If you can bring in a rug for a reading area, and maybe one under your desk, and any other fabric, it will help with noise. Fabric can be hung as a banner, or on the wall.

Plants improve the air, and bring in life.
posted by theora55 at 1:53 PM on June 15, 2014

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