How to set up a 2 year-old preschool classroom

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Toddlers thrive in a space that provides variety, age-appropriate toys, freedom to move around and opportunities to learn through doing. Ideally, a classroom designed for 2-year-olds will cater to the toddler's need for quiet play, active play and group activities. Although 2-year-olds still have a limited attention span, most are ready for short bouts of teacher-led activities. At the same time, worksheets and overly structured schedules can interfere with a toddler's need to learn through play. The 2-year-old's classroom should provide a mixture of structure and choice.

Hang pictures and artwork at eye level for the children. Photographs of animals, nature, people from a variety of cultures and even pictures of your student's families make ideal wall decorations for your classroom. Feature your students' artwork on walls or hanging from the ceilings, making sure to keep hanging artwork high enough that the children can't reach the supporting wire or string.

Build a cosy reading nook. Toddlers need a place to enjoy picture books or take a break from active playtime. A set-up as simple as throw pillows and a book basket will do. Include a variety of books, including soft books and board book that feature a selection of themes and ideas. Exposure to stories that feature families, friends playing, animals, colours, textured surfaces, feelings and emotions contributes positively to the toddler learning environment. While a selection of books with cartoon pictures is fine, include some with photographs of real people, animals and settings, as well.

Set up play centres around the room, leaving open spaces for toddlers to move and explore. Possible play areas might include a dramatic play centre, block centre, science centre, music and math centre. Dress-up clothes, toddler-sized appliances, play food, tableware, tool sets, a child-sized table and chairs, puppets, dolls and action-figure-sized people are all appropriate for dramatic play centres. Include wood, cloth and stackable blocks in your block centre. Science toys might include plastic insects, animals, trees, magnifying glasses, seashells and a sand and water table. Shape sorters and counters such as oversized dominoes make good math toys for 2-year-olds, as do simple number puzzles, measuring tools and large pegboards.

Design an area for circle time. Large rugs or carpet squares that can be pulled out for children to sit or stand on during circle time are ideal for defining the space, whether you use it for group story time, learning activities or show-and-tell.

Designate an area for activities that require a table and chairs, such as puzzle time, modelling clay and art activities. You can use this group space to help children plant seeds, paint a group collage, investigate the inside of a pumpkin or any activity that gets messy. This can also serve as your art centre.

Place an area near the entrance for toddlers to keep their personal belongings. You might place plastic tubs labelled with your students' names on shelves accessible to the children, for instance.

Once you have added all the components of a successful toddler classroom, test the layout to make sure children have space to dance, move around safely and enjoy options without feeling overwhelmed. The room can look busy, but you don't want it to feel chaotic for the children or the teacher. One tendency is to include too many toys, when toddlers are happy with five to ten each of blocks, dolls or puppets. You can always add or reduce the number of items once you get a feel for how your students respond to and use the space.

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