Getting ready for the new preschool year, or need to equip your classroom with furniture and resources for the first time? This is the ultimate guide to setting up a preschool classroom.
Here is my guide to getting ready without pulling all your hair out! I’ve prepared my classroom at the start of every year for the last three-and-a-half decades – a lot has changed since I started, but benefit from my experience and ensure you have all the preschool supplies to feel prepared for the coming year.
The main areas to think about when getting together preschool supplies are:
- Classroom furniture; including beds, chairs, tables and play equipment
- Consumables; such as toilet paper, tissues, sunblock and cleaning products
- Toys, puzzles, books and board games
- Craft materials; such as paints, pencils, glue and art paper
- Administration supplies; such as a locked cupboard for children’s files, stationary etc
- Supply lists for the parents; i.e. personal items the children need to bring in their backpacks
- The setup of the outdoor play area
- Learning center provisions
When equipping your classroom with basic furniture (for example, tables and chairs) there are a few important factors to consider:
Children have a way of testing the strength of classroom furniture, especially chairs. Your preschool classroom requires sturdy and stable furniture to avoid frequent replacement – but more importantly, to avoid the risk of a child being hurt (if, for example, they lean back on a chair and it gives way).
In the long run, an investment in high-quality classroom furniture will pay dividends as you will rarely, if ever, need to replace it.
It’s essential that the height and seating angles of your tables and chairs are appropriate for the children. This may mean you need different table heights to adjust for different heights of children within your class.
A correctly adjusted chair and table will improve a child’s seated posture and help their comfort and attention span throughout the activity.
For chairs specifically, the molding of the seat is important – the days of a flat slab of wood are, thankfully, behind us.
Ensure you are aware of any relevant regulations for preschool furniture in your area. Some table and chair heights, for example, are prescribed by school districts – so make sure you contact the relevant authorities to ensure your classroom is compliant!
For any preschool, budget is going to be a central consideration. You can strike a balance between cost and quality that works for you, your preschool and your students. Remember to ask for a deal if you’re looking to buy in bulk!
Chairs and tables:
A comfortable child is a happier, more productive child and they will maintain a longer attention span. There is a relatively simple formula for determining the correct seated posture – and therefore the correct table and chair height – for any child.
Start with the chair
In a seated position, the child’s feet should be flat on the floor, with a 90 degree bend at the knees. Seated back in the chair, the child should have a 90 degree bend at the hips and a straight back. The height of the chair may need to be adjusted or another chair substituted to achieve this configuration.
Then find the right table height
The general rule for table height in preschool is about 8 inches above the seat of the chair. However, the perfect height will vary between children of different heights – the ideal height is achieved when there is a 90 degree bend in the elbow, while maintaining all the above angles.
In general, for preschoolers the above calculations will lead to a 10-12 inch chair and a table 18-20 inches in height.
Typically, management or administration should provide these supplies for your classroom without you needing to ask. It can be helpful to do a quick check though and make sure your classroom is equipped with:
- Toilet paper
- Hand towels
- Cleaning supplies
- Hand Soap
Clothing, Sheets, Towels
Again, these items should be provided for the whole preschool as a matter of course, but make sure there is a sufficient supply for your classroom:
- Spare Clothes for each season (including underwear, socks and shoes)
- Rain boots
- Spare sheets
- Hand towels
- Tea towels
- Bed blankets
I like to restock at the beginning of the year. If you are new to teaching, you may prefer to do it gradually as you develop more of an idea of what you will require.
Writing and drawing
- Paper of varying colors, size and thickness
- Cardboard of varying colors, size and thickness
- Crepe paper
- Tissue paper
- Paints (variety of colors)
- Roller brushes
- Paint Brushes (shaving, tooth, stampers)
- Paint pots
- Newspaper, table cloths and plastic drop sheets
- Glue Pots
- Glue Brushes
- Glue (Variety including PVA and Clag)
- Scotch tape and children-sized dispenser
- Scissors (left and right handed)
- Pencil Sharpeners
- Dough ingredients (see my Dough product)
- Equipment for dough, such as:
- Plastic Knives
- Popsicle sticks
- Match sticks
- Rolling pins
- Oven trays
- Plastic plates
- Foil pie plates
- Pipe cleaners
- Googly eyes
Collage (a few examples below, but the list is endless)
- Collection of recycled materials
- Paper plates
- Paper bags
- Cupcake patty pans
- Pom pom balls
- Googly eyes
In the course of my teaching, I need access to the following administration supplies:
- Laminate sheets
- Stapler and staples
- Scotch tape
- Masking tape
- Permanent markers
- Tablet / Computer
- Filing cabinet (lockable)
- Post it notes
- Resource / Book catalogs
- Shelving / Cupboard
- Glue sticks
- Correction fluid
- Elastic bands
- Paper clips
- Envelopes (variety of sizes)
Puzzles address many essential learning outcomes for preschool children including cognitive, physical, social/emotional and language skills.
The beauty of puzzles is that the level of difficulty can be scaled according to the abilities and progress of each child. This ensures engagement and challenge for the individual child. For example, start with a simple peg puzzle with 3-4 pieces, then move to an interlocking puzzle (with 3-4 pieces) and increase complexity with more and smaller pieces. Finally, work with layered puzzles for a greater challenge.
Puzzles offer children the opportunity to develop cognitive skills. They can focus on one skill, or several, depending on their ability.
Most puzzles designed for pre-schoolers offer a combination of the following learning experiences:
- Identify colors and shapes
- Sort and classify
- Visual memory
- Visual discrimination
- Match shapes
- Match patterns
- Task completion
- Understanding ‘whole/part’ and turning pieces over
- Spatial awareness
- Problem solving
Puzzles also vary in the degree of physical dexterity required. Simpler puzzles sometimes have pegs or small handles for the children to grasp to move the pieces. The sizes of the puzzle pieces also vary, as well as the complexity of the puzzle piece shape.
Puzzles are an excellent way to practice fine motor skills such as grasp and release, manipulative and hand/eye coordination.
Social / Emotional
Puzzles help develop children’s confidence as they are able to work independently, accept assistance positively and are encouraged to learn from mistakes.
When puzzles are completed in pairs or small groups they can promote turn taking and cooperation.
Puzzles can be used to develop language through:
- Asking questions to help the child clarify
- For Example, “Where might the head go?”
- Labelling pictures in the puzzle
- For example, “Where is the horse?” or “What animal goes here?”
- Maths language
- For example, talking about the corner of the puzzle, ‘turn’ around, ‘on or in’ the puzzle, ‘next to’
- ‘Scaffolding’ vocabulary – building upon foundational language that the children currently possess
- For example, talking about the colors and shapes and then conversing about the scene that the puzzle is depicting.
By the time children are two years old, most have developed the concentration skills and grasping ability to place a single large piece onto a board. With age and ability, the child can master puzzles with smaller pieces. The matching picture also assists self-correction.
Children can then be challenged by increasing the number of pieces as well as introducing the concept of ‘direction’. This requires the children to use their visual discrimination skills.
Inset Picture Puzzles with No Pegs
When the children are ready to complete puzzles that require more coordination, we can move to pegless puzzles. Typically I progress to puzzles that are inset with the picture behind as this allows self-correction.
Simple Picture Inset
Our next progression is to simple puzzles of 5-6 pieces that form a basic picture. Support is provided as the children can see the outline of the image.
Challenge and perseverance!
When commencing interlocking puzzles, my tips are:
- start with 4-6 pieces,
- start with straight edges and corners, and
- increase complexity over time by changing from a typical square/rectangle shape to a curved line.
Interlocking Puzzles with no Base
Next we introduce interlocking pieces that have no base at all, generally from 6 pieces upwards.
This level of complexity introduces spatial awareness, such as how many pieces/inches are between the corner pieces, as there is no base for guidance.
Layered puzzles challenge and help develop children’s sequencing and logical thinking skills. Puzzles can vary in the number of layers as well as straight or curved frames.
Increasingly, puzzles can be completed online. Using iPads or other tablet devices children can drag and drop to complete puzzles. While this activity brings a lot of benefits, it is a completely different activity to the puzzle progression outlined above.
Choosing Board Games
I love playing board games with my preschool children. It’s a great activity that can be played with educators or small groups of children can play them independently. I also encourage parents to actively play board games with their children at home for the learning and benefits they provide. It’s so much fun too!
Generally, preschool board games can offer the following benefits:
- Matching, identifying and naming colors and shapes
- Observation skills by sorting and classifying
- Memory recall
- Resilience; e.g. accepting second place in the game.
- Matching and identifying numbers and letters.
- Visual discrimination; e.g. identifying and defining characteristics of shapes, such as distinguishing a square from a rectangle
- Sequencing; e.g. continuing a repeating pattern of shapes
- Social skills; taking turns and sharing resources
- Mutual respect, courtesy and fair play
- Talking and conversing with other players; children need to work together to make the game enjoyable in a friendly, supportive environment
- Following directions; to comprehend the instructions for playing the game or using their imagination to reinvent the instructions
- Developing finger and hand muscles; e.g. rolling dice in a controlled way or moving the counters along
- Developing hand and eye coordination; e.g. a magnetic fishing game with moving parts
If you would like to see the board games I recommend, please read my article at: http://www.tictacteach.com/preschool-board-games/.
Books are the single most important aid for teachers, as well as parents, in guiding a child’s learning. In my experience, there are ten main benefits of reading books with children. These are to enhance children’s:
- Expressive and receptive language
- Literacy skills
- Recognition of letters, words and symbols
- Research skills
- Respect and Care of books
- Love of Reading
It is important to have read the book beforehand. This helps ensure that when reading it to the children it flows with appropriate tone and volume of voice. It should be dramatized using different voices for each character. This way you hold the children’s attention and interest throughout.
Shorter books can be read through a second time, enabling a discussion about relevant concepts and themes. A second reading also allows you to assess the children’s recall and comprehension.
Books can be an effective way to engage less vocal children. I find the best way to do this is by reading books that the child is familiar with. The child may engage by other means, for instance, by pointing to the interesting parts.
The first thing to keep in mind when purchasing toys for preschool children is that expensive toys are not necessarily educational toys.
In my opinion, the most important considerations are:
- Ongoing value
The best approach is to invest in toys that are appropriate and adaptable for different stages of development.
We want to provide children with toys that can be used independently. For example, stacking rings: these rings are designed to be stacked in order of size but can be stacked in any order. One child may be arranging them by size while another child maybe developing fine motor and eye hand coordination skills by simply stacking them.
Toys that provide a visual guide will allow the child to work independently and at their own pace. For example, take a puzzle that has a picture for reference. The picture may be on the board where the puzzle is being assembled or on the lid of the box.
Toys in the Preschool Environment
Parents should note that a toy that is appropriate for home may not be suitable for a preschool. A toy in the preschool setting needs to be durable as it will be explored by lots of little hands.
When purchasing toys for preschool we need to consider the safety aspects of the toy and the age group, interests and needs of the children. Are the children going to put the toy in their mouths? What materials and allergies do we need to be aware of?
Some important considerations include:
- Sensibilities of parents (e.g. religious toys)
- Superhero toys (suitability for role playing)
- Guns (especially in today’s world; however, may be appropriate in a farming or rural community)
- Gender-specific toys
- Toys that are suitable for a variety of play experiences; individual play, quiet times and small groups for shared and cooperative play.
Respect for Toys
An important part of early childhood learning is that we are instilling respect for people, our surroundings and our belongings. Part of this is for the child to be responsible for taking care of the toys. For example, I included a delicate China tea set in the home corner for the children to use. The children had respect for the tea set and understood “If you drop it, it will break”. There were many special parties where food was served on the tea set. It is still being used with all pieces intact to this day.
Playground setup and equipment
These days we are moving away from the fixed structures of the 2000s and back into more ‘natural’ surroundings including trees, boulders, logs, etc.
I agree with this move as traditional playgrounds do not lead to imaginative play anywhere near as effectively. In my opinion, it is better to use natural surroundings (e.g. going into a sensory garden) than using restrictive playground equipment. Using the environment for outside play encourages hiding, balancing, creativity and resilience.
Using natural surroundings instead of traditional playground structures also addresses the quality issue that has plagued preschools for the last 15 years. Plastic weathers and needs to be replaced within a few years as well as just generally looking aged. It is also more affordable (both in the short and long term)! For example, you can prop up a log for the children to walk along for balance. This is much more sensible than spending money on metal trestles that strive for the same learning outcome.
A natural playground allows children to experience their environment while being introduced to concepts of sustainability.
When redesigning your playground, involve your families and community. You would be surprised at the contacts people have and their willingness to donate both materials and time. Use wood, logs, plants and rocks to make dry creek beds etc. Children also love to be involved in creating a vegetable garden.
When you purchase playground equipment, make sure it satisfies the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) guidelines.
There are some aspects of preschool playgrounds that are difficult to make from natural materials. I have included the most common below, alongside some recommendations.
We can all recall the fun we had sliding down a slide as children. It is wonderful to watch the joy a child experiences by continually climbing up and sliding down. This gross motor activity builds children’s confidence, muscle strength, balance and spatial awareness. It can be used in imaginative play, as a prop in a bear hunt or a treasure hunt.
We need to protect the little ones from the harsh rays of the sun as they are exploring the great outdoors. Even though most elements of the playground can be natural, we can’t always rely on trees for consistent shade cover! Natural looking shade covers can provide shade over cubby houses, swing sets, climbing areas or quiet areas.
Tee Pees can be used indoors and outdoors. They can be used as a quiet reading area, a prop in dramatic play, within home corner or in teaching about Native Americans.
Dance Stage / Theater Area
Children love to perform and dance. They love to dress up, especially in heeled shoes where they can hear themselves tapping away on a hard surface.
Some props that I usually add to this area are:
- Musical instruments
- CD player
- Mirror, so the children can see themselves – just like a dance studio!
- Wide variety of dress-up clothes
It can be used as a home corner if the grass is too wet.
A trampoline is such a fun way to exercise! By using a trampoline children are learning to balance, to jump with both feet and improve spatial awareness. Some trampolines have a handlebar at the end which can be removed as children gain competence and confidence.
A more comprehensive list of supplies you will need to set up an exciting outdoor play area includes:
- Sand pit cover
- Sand pit equipment and toys – these can all be donated or recycled
- Outdoor rugs and blankets
- Water trough
- Bikes and helmets
- Basketball rings
- Baseball set
- Construction blocks
- Carpentry bench with associated tools
- Walking stilts
- Mud Kitchen area with kitchen supplies (recycled)
Learning Center Equipment
A learning center’s lesson plan is incorporated into areas set out in your room.
The learning centers that I like to use are:
- Creative Arts
- Math and Science
- Manipulative Learning
- Library, Writing, Drawing
- Computer and Sound
- Children’s Interests
Each center has a choice of 4-5 activities that may change or be added to daily, weekly or fortnightly according to the children’s interests.
This type of lesson planning encourages independent choices by the children.
For each learning center I would provide resources for a small group of children to play with. The idea is that once they have finished playing, they pack up and place the resources back on the shelf. This gives them the responsibility of choosing, playing and packing away. They learn to leave the area clean and show respect for the next child who will be involved in this learning center.
Some suggestions to get you started for developing your own learning centers:
- Ribbons and Scarves
- Puppet Stage
- Puppets (Hand and Finger)
- Dress Up Clothing
- Musical Instruments
- Sound System (for CDs or iPod)
- Play Stove
- Play Fridge
- Hand Basin
- Tea Sets and Kitchen Accessories
- Any other play appliances appropriate for your children
Preschool Checklist for Parents
As Early Childhood Educators, part of our role is preparing children, and parents, for commencing preschool. This can be quite daunting for both parties as often it is the first time the child has spent extended periods of time in someone else’s care.
A key part of the orientation pack that I provide to parents includes a ‘Preschool Checklist’. This list typically serves to reassure parents that their children are prepared for preschool. It will need to be adapted to the specific requirements of your preschool but will generally cover the types of things that I have outlined below.
I like to provide the below list to new parents to prepare them for the preschool year ahead. Parents can be sometimes quite nervous for their child to start preschool. It can be comforting for them to know exactly what they need to provide for their child.
- Preschool backpack
- Hat – wide brimmed to provide adequate sun cover – Unless this is provided by your preschool
- Sunblock– Unless this is provided by your preschool
- Water bottle that your child can open independently
- Lunch box that your child is able to open independently
- Change of clothes – please choose clothing that your child can manage on their own; for example, elasticized pants, etc. Also, provide clothes with sleeves, in case they go out into the sun.
- Please label all clothing with your child’s name.
- Bedding (sheets, pillow, blanket, soft comfort toy) if required
- Shoes that are supportive and comfortable – consider your preschool teacher and avoid lace-ups!
- Socks – these are important to avoid unpleasant foot odor during rest time!
- Specific items as requested by your preschool
All of the above items promote independence. Your child should be able to take care of their own clothes, put them on and remove them independently.
Choosing preschool backpacks ahead of the preschool year is exciting and can make children feel very grown up. I also provide these guidelines to parents to help them as they purchase a preschool backpack for their child.
My most important tips for choosing a backpack for pre-schoolers:
- It is very important to allow your child to have a say in the selection of their backpack and ensure they’re happy with the final decision.
- Narrow the selection down to 2 or 3 for your child to choose from.
- Try the backpack out and make sure your pre-schooler-to-be can use it all on their own. Zips can sometimes be tricky!
- Children will feel a greater sense of ownership and respect for the backpack if they feel it expresses their personality.
- Make sure the backpack is comfortable and well-adjusted to your child.
- There needs to be enough room in the backpack for all of your child’s items to get them through a preschool day. For example: lunch, hat, water bottle, book and sweater. Please make sure it’s not too big or heavy!
- A separate side pocket for a water bottle enables easy access.
- A separate section for a change of clothes is easier for both the child and the teacher.
- Check with your preschool to see if there are any restrictions; for example, appropriateness, uniformity or size.
- Also consider (if relevant) locker size and make sure the backpack will fit, with room to spare in case other items also require storage.
I trust this guide has been helpful to you – Like you, I want to ensure that your children start the year off in the best way possible. Having a well-stocked, well-arranged classroom environment is a really big win that will ensure you aren’t playing catch-up the rest of the year.