Kindergarten Teacher


What is Your Theme?

Thanks to Patty for the above image, from her pinterest page via Aziza

I am starting to see tweets, posts, pins that show teachers preparing for the upcoming year. I love that teachers are already passionate about their new class but I am concerned that we (mainly early childhood teachers) are getting rooms prepared for kids we have not even met. How is it possible to make a behavior plan, decorate an entire room or set the year long plan for a group of kids you don’t know? I have been guilty of this in the past but this year I am rethinking things. I know it is probably not possible to start with a blank slate room (although that thought does interest me). What I am asking is when we pour our heart, energy and time into setting up EVERY aspect of a room before we even meet the kids who are we really setting up the room for? Yes, parents and kids notice the walls and the “cute factor” but is that what we want to be the focus? Of course it is important to bring your own flavor and passions into the room but that should be balanced with the actual needs of the children.

So this year my theme is Relationships. Everything I do setting up for the first few weeks of school will focused on how to build relationships with my class and parents. I’m not exactly sure what that will look like but I will be working over the next few weeks towards that goal. I want the children to feel like it is their class from the start and parents to understand we are a team from day one. A few ideas I have are below. They are not anything special but I want to make sure my main focus in on relationships instead of a separate agenda.

– Digital frame with pictures of me growing up and my family

– Photo album in the bookshelf with pictures of my family

– Welcome to my room video for kids to watch prior to first day

– Welcome email to parents outlining my philosophy

– No rules or “behavior plan” (will be posting more about this later)

– Play, play and more play

I know I have a lot to add to this and would love suggestions. I’m not saying my room will be blank and my walls empty, I’m just going to work to spend my time and energy on the things I feel are the most important in the class. Those relationships will lead me in the direction I need to go for discipline, room management, and academics. What is your theme? #relationshipsmatter

56 Responses to What is Your Theme?

  1. Matt says:

    Matt, I always started each year out with a completely bare room precisely for the reasons you mentioned. It was the best decision I ever made and would never go back. Trust me, if you try it you will love it. It truly becomes “their” room that way :-)

    • Matt Gomez says:

      I really like the idea of a blank slate. I can see the kids working together the first day to decide what they need/want in the room . I would think it would require a lot of communication with the parents on why you are doing that?

  2. Patty says:

    Really enjoyed this post. Usually my theme goes with school’s theme — since we are a Catholic School it has to do with faith, hope, & love or things like that.
    As for decorating or not decorating, I used to leave my walls blank in my last room. I had tons of wall space & explained to parents via website, newsletter, & meet the teacher day that it was so
    the walls could be filled with students’ pictures, work, etc. My current room has fewer walls, but I leave space for my K’s to put their favorite things up.

    • Matt Gomez says:

      I appreciate the comment. Maybe the blank slate is a great idea because it requires more communication from the teacher. I would also think that parents would ask more questions and thus give more opportunities to build relationships. :)

  3. Melva Herman says:

    Very well said, Matt. I have an advantage in knowing most of my students before they come to my class, but building classroom relationships and community are so important. I try for a blend of preparation – my Montessori heart demands a prepared environment – and space/opportunity for the children to make the room their own. With kinders I don’t do assigned seating, but this year the second day they sat exactly where they sat the first day! They sat for the most part in those same spots all year. I did assign seating for my grade ones, and did the year before, when I had a straight grade one class. This year I plan to invite the ones to choose their own seats also. I am always the teacher with the blank bulletin boards on the first day.

    • Matt Gomez says:

      Thank You! Seating is a great way to let kids have more freedom and choice. We only have assigned seating for snack last year but that may go away this year.

  4. Nicole says:

    Matt, Check out this great book One fantastic idea was to invite children to bring a picture of them and their family. Then you can display it in picture frames or all one family board. Also, was just at a K conference and saw Bridgette Alomes who spoke about natural learning environments:

  5. I completely relate to what you are saying. I have a colleague that asks the parents to put together a cross between a treasure box and a diary during the summer break and these become the first things that the children begin to share. So photos of their families, dry seaweed from the beach and special treasures abound.
    I have always felt communication opportunities are the key, I guess that’s linked directly to relationships. My office has a photo of me in my mothers arms with dad and my sister Sue looking on. A few days old… so many things and people have moulded me since then.
    I’m looking forward to following your work closely this year. When are you starting back?
    I’m fairly sure there is a balance to be had, but I think pausing at the start of the year and listening to the children’s voice is the way forward.

    Hawes (UK)

    • Matt Gomez says:

      You are correct, part of building relationships is working to encourage or foster communication. I feel to many teachers expect it to happen but it takes effort. We start back Aug 20th.

  6. Holly says:

    I start my year with a blank slate. I have background and border up on my boards (black and white) and that’s it. The kids make the alphabet, stuff for calendar, etc. I love it!

    • Matt Gomez says:

      So cool hearing how many teachers start with a clean slate. Really making me rethink what I plan to do this year!

  7. Ryan says:

    I start every year trying to build relationships wIth students and parents. We concentrate on building a caring classroom community. The students bring in a piece of art work from home that we put
    On wall together. I have parents send in pic of family and flash it on digital pic frame. This has helped with tears too! I take lots of pics of students and post around room at their level. Why do we decorate so high that the teacher cant even use it. I love student work and pictures because gives them ownership of space. I used to decorate the door and spend money but my students last year de orated it for this year.

    • Matt Gomez says:

      Great comments Ryan. So glad to have you as a #kinderbro. I think all the pictures help parents and kids see that we are a person first and a teacher second. That is important in developing relationships!

  8. Mardelle says:

    I love that the traditional “me” theme that September often brings is shifted to a “we” theme :)

  9. Meg says:

    I love that you are reflecting on a different way to start the year and relationships is the heart of learning and community. In Head Start home visits are required before the start of each school year to get to know the families in their environment before the children come to a classroom environment. When I went on homevisits, in addition to informally chatting with the parents about their children’s needs/strengths/likes/fears/etc, I brought mini canvases and paint and had the parents and children paint their family portrait and I used a digital camera to take a family picture as well. I then asked the parents a question (it varied every year, but they were along the lines of “what does your family like to play together?” or “how did you decide on child’s name?”). I then took the pictures, the paintings, and the answers and made a family documentation board that was hung near my classroom enterance. This was the only board up other than framed pictures and “about mes” for my assistants and I. I prefered to keep the walls clean until I had documentation and work samples for the children. Oh, I did hang photos of the kids and mirrors on their cubbies to which they then added self portraits. Why impose a bunch of primary colored cutouts that looked the same all over the classroom when I could just wait and allow the classroom to grow with the students?

    • Matt Gomez says:

      Meg, I can only imagine how much those things matter to the families you serve. So powerful, thank you for sharing!

  10. Peggy says:

    Your plan for this year is that of a “Responsive Classroom”. Another thought other than “decorations”: even my shelves are empty until WE learn how and why to use the classroom supplies/learning tools. Take a picture of your empty classroom, then another after you have “decorated” and put out supplies. Kids love to see how THEY transformed the classroom into their own learning space.

  11. Julie Seidens says:


    Thank you so much for the reminder! I started my school career with this philosophy and have really been thinking about why things feel so different now from when I first started teaching and many of those points are exactly what’s been missing! My focus on THE KIDS, not the voices from parents and other teachers or my own feelings of wanting things to be cute!

  12. Julie says:

    There are some nice thoughts here. I also believe that when students come into a room where all materials are up, they tend to overlook the information; it is ‘just there’. However, when they are a part of posting of new learning materials, tools, and displays, it then becomes an anchor for their new learning and it now has meaning for them.

    • Matt Gomez says:

      Well said Julie! Thanks for the comments. You are right, when we include the kids in things they tend to take ownership.

  13. Having a classroom “theme” seems to be an American phenomenon. I don’t know any teacher in any part of Canada who has a theme or colour scheme for their classroom. Like you, I want my students to fill my classroom, not cutesy pictures of apples with smiley faces on them. Students are asked to bring a photo and a collage that they make with their families over the summer on their first day of school, so immediately, the walls have their work on them – and a connection between home and school. I have a digital frame in the classroom that I put pictures of the kids playing/learning on; I love your idea of putting pictures of you and your family at the beginning of the year. I am going to combine that with Ryan’s idea of having the families email a family picture. The digital frame will have pictures of all our families. Love it.
    I am looking forward to reading your blog throughout the school year.


  14. Wonderful post, and what a great conversation you’ve sparked here in the comments! I agree that the thematic classroom seems to be a non-Canadian phenomenon, but in Kindergartens here we still see many following a thematic approach to planning/teaching. So, given that I remember feeling nervous about abandoning year-at-a-glance themes for planning (not many years ago) I can imagine that teachers must feel some pressure to follow the thematic room premise reflected all around them on websites, at PD, etc. I don’t recall who said it first (maybe happycampergirl?) but this made me sit up straight and cheer when I heard it: “Cute isn’t pedagogy”. (Next tattoo, perhaps? Really love that).
    So although I come from a somewhat different model of teaching K (dual-aged classes, play in the ministry curriculum documents though often misunderstood, less academic creep) I do know how scared I was to give up my planning and organization to follow inquiry-based projects, some small group, when it wasn’t reflected in my immediate surroundings. I’ve since found many like-minded teachers, a number ever-growing as child-led inquiry becomes normalized in our ministry documents and PD here in Ontario. And where would we be without twitter?
    I’m glad to have finally perused your blog. May be here reading a while. ;)

  15. Joanne says:

    I use a TEAM theme all throughout the year. We talk about ways that they might be like a team, what I might be on the team….a coach….what important things that teams do. We create team pictures, hand out team hats, make team tshirts, create a team cheer based on what WE decide is important to US as a group of learners. BTW, my room is also a blank slate. Anything that goes up is created by or with the kids and is used as a resource. I don’t have any commercial items on my walls, as it isn’t THEIRS.

  16. Joni Shaw says:

    I am so glad that I found your post this summer. You seem to have a similar passion and “energy” to my own. I can’t say that I am NOT courageous enough to start the year with a blank slate, but I have been having similar thoughts about what will make a wonderful school year…giving the children an opportunity to contribute and focusing on relationships from the start. That being said I am going down the middle of the road this August ( I came out of last year knowing that I MUST “chill” and lose the control/OCD :) this year). For the relationship building a theme of mine will be stemming from the “bucket filling” books, which I am hoping will allow me some time to develop my behavior plan with the children, as the bucket filling is a great tool for positive relationship building. As far as decorations….I am an animal lover and will be bringing in real frogs into my science area(if I can get my boys engaged from the get go, the girls always follow along and boys love reptiles/frogs!!!!)….sooooooo I have gone with some frog related math/language decor, etc. Because I am at a Catholic School I am pulling in F.R.O.G. (fully rely on God) to continue theme through all subjects. My plan for all other areas, centers, and work areas is to have VERY minimal things out and develop each area with children’s input…..seems like there are also of us out here feeling this way.

  17. Betzy says:

    I love the clean slate idea. For my K-class I knew I wanted a wall for my Kindergarten Family wall so I pinned my pics of my family and placed the words “To be continued….”. I then explained to the parents that the kindergarten family will grow as the children bring their pics in.

    For my word wall…..I don’t like placing any words before the children enter the room. No names, no words. Children need to be a part of building the words and placing thier own names on the wall. I usually just put the words ” Word Wall Under Construction” and hooked construction items around the wall. Such as the construction hat, hammer, saw, etc.

  18. Marcie says:

    Just found your blog through Pinterest, but have been intrigued reading your posts :) I teach 5th grade, in some ways a total different world than kindergarten, but I don’t do themes in my room. I do have a cohesive homey color scheme (brown, blue, and green) for my bulletin boards, borders, book baskets for my library, pillows, rugs, etc. (I only teach Reading and Writing) but everything that goes on my walls will be created with or by my students. We post anchor charts, writing pieces, book reviews, vocabulary, poetry, etc and so on…We start the end of August and by the middle of September I start taking pictures of anchor charts and store them in a binder for future review as they are replace with new ones. My kids take responsibility and pride in seeing their room created as the year goes on. I find that it also helps with recalling how to do things when states tests come around because they “look” at where the chart was on the wall and have told me that it helps them remember what to do. Looking forward to reading more!

  19. Cindy M says:

    I have always my students to take ownership of our room. Most of my bulletin board I will cover with fabric and borders but that’s it. I find otherwise I have. No room for anchor charts that we make as a class. I will be prepping one board where each child will have a spot for their work and they will finish that first day. I teach gr 4/5 so we will be studying Canadian government. Instead of rules on the first day we will come up with a Charter or rights and responsibilities. I think that my time during the summer is better served making sure things are organized and the room has a good flow.

  20. Melanie says:

    Hi Matt!
    I was extremely intrigued by your post. I love how you are a thoughtful and reflective teacher! I was particularly interested in your classroom theme ideas, since I am in the business of creating classroom themes and classroom decor. Like you, I have an early childhood background and believe the environment should be created by our students. I had to laugh at your DJ Inkers comment because, like you, I can’t stand those cutesy images! :) I create “inspiration” rooms on my blog to give teachers ideas with color schemes and themes. With that said, I still believe a room should have something in it when your students arrive. I have seen first hand the joy that comes from my students when they have walked into one of my classrooms that I’ve created for them. Actually, when you have spent the time and effort into preparing the environment, they DO notice. I created a classroom for a teacher last school year and she emailed me to tell me that her students were “ooohhhing” and “ahhhhing” the entire time they were there. She also explained that students would stop by her classroom just to tell her that they liked her room. It was an exciting place to learn each day! I do believe that we need to cover the boards with paper, add border, use nameplates, label centers/tables/workstations, label cubbies and student supplies. These are just organizational things that absolutely need to be addressed otherwise, your school year will be out of control. I’ve taught Kindergarten and first grade for 14 years and know that a well organized classroom is essential to classroom management. In an effort to not confuse teachers about classroom decor, I wrote a book explaining how the walls should be bare and how the classroom “decor” needs to be the work displayed by our students. Decorate with the essentials, then leave the rest up to the kids. Of course, there is so much more to that book, but that is certainly what I want teachers to understand about classroom decorating. I am so turned off by the new decor packs that I see out there. It has everything but the kitchen sink at an incredibly low price. In my opinion, teachers are purchasing chaos and unnecessary products that have little value in the early childhood environment. Teachers are under the impression that they need all this “stuff” to be a great teacher. Overall, I love your reflective thinking, however, don’t bash the decor thing too much – it really IS a good thing for kids if you do it the right way! :)

    • Matt Gomez says:

      Thank you Melanie, the chaos and unnecessary is what I am trying to bring up. I am glad you added this comment!

      • Candace Roberts says:

        As I switch grade levels (from 1 to K) and classrooms (from upstairs to basement) what I wonder about most is how do I want my students to feel on the first day… is it OUR room or MY room? If I have all types of decorations and charts up and going, it sends the message that it is my room that the students are “oohing” and “ahhing” about. To me, it is far more meaningful when they “oooh” and “aahhh” over their own work.
        I remember when my son was in Pre-K. He brought me to the wall where his artwork was posted. He hadn’t yet seen it hung up and when he did, an audible “OOOOHHHH!!” came from him. He was so proud to share that with me. He will be 16 in October, and we often talk about that moment when I am getting ready to go back to school.
        Another aspect I would encourage others to think about is the brain research that indicates neutral, uncluttered environments are more conducive to learning; especially for early childhood classrooms. The bright colors and over-stimulating environments actually make it more difficult for children to concentrate and allow new learning in; the exact opposite of what we want! This is an interesting article on the subject. At least something to back up our decision making when communicating with parents, administrators and colleagues.
        Thanks so much for your post! Can’t wait to see more of what you write… And we return on 8/20 as well. I am with you in spirit!

  21. lessonswithcoffee says:

    Hi Matt. I love your theme. I my theme is mostly colors but because I teach all girls 6th grade math, it is also “Love yourself.”

    One thing I was going to do was have a bulletin board that stays up all year. It will not change but rather get modified. It is true one of the reasons we make such “cute” classrooms is that we are there so long in a day! I want to make an I LOVE MY… bulletin board. I am going to start it with a picture of my puppy, one of my boyfriend and me, and one of my parents. Then I am going to invite my students to put something that they love (be it Justin Beiber, or (hopefully) their family). I miss my “family” when I am at school. I am sure students do too, so I am hoping that this will help. Perhaps because you are kindergarten, children will for sure be missing things from home, you could do something like this. I like this idea also because it shows that we all have SOMETHING or SOMEONE that we love.

    I always have students come up with the rules but post the SCHOOL rules (Punctual, Participate, Polite, Prepared) and what my expectations mean for them.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Lessons With Coffee

  22. Brandi says:

    Hi Matt. We had a 3,4,5 teacher at our school who started the year with nothing in his room. Not even tables, chairs, paper or pencils. As a class they decided what they needed and how they were going to get it. They borrowed paper and pencils from another class and built almost everything else. You couldn’t do that with k, but I found it intriguing.

  23. Mr. P says:

    Like your post: It’s a little different for secondary teachers like me, but it’s just as important to have a consistency about your approach to environment and to use the environment to engage students and community. Thanks for giving those thoughts in my head a little stir — once the custodians finish up in my room this week, I’ve got the same challenge in front of me! :-)

  24. Amanda says:

    Love this-I was thinking of making a short video introducing myself and telling the kids how excited I am to meet them during Open House. I thought I could make a QR code of the video and attach it to the postcard I mail out to them the week of Open House.

  25. mollyg2011 says:

    I too have come to that decision. I usually have empty bulletin boards and walls except for disposable calendar, paper and matching border. For multiple reasons: 1. too many borders are busy and its too distracting for my special needs kids (and me) to focus when room looks so crazy. 2. I think things that are already on the wall are just that, “things already on the wall!” The kids have not connection to them and thus won’t take ownership of them. 3. if the “posters” on the walls are made with the children, then they think it pertains to them. I often have my kids make mini signs to take home as reminders for when they are doing homework or reading.

    Blessings on a good year Matt

  26. Jangmi says:

    Matt, I taught at the Canada Maple International School in Incheon, Korea and I found the same thing: newbie knowitall elementary school teachers (who would never have the guts to work with real Canadian kids in the SubArtic) overused cutsy owls and cartoons in their classroom to impress the parents but not really the kids. I worked at a private school so it was very important to laminate and make everything “look nice.” But that didn’t amount to a culture of environmental stewardship or any “rich” Learning.

  27. Lisa says:

    I start the year with a blank slate, as well. You are correct in thinking that it takes some communication with parents. I tell them that no kids live here yet and that we will build the classroom together as we grow and learn.

  28. Heather says:

    I started doing the bare room approach several years ago. I do leave up my word wall letters, my number line, my bulletin board fabric and black borders. My first year doing this was met with blank stares and looks of ‘You gotta be kidding me?!’ No one asked questions and I felt like I had to over explain myself. Over then next couple of years it got a little better until last year. A dad walked in during our Open House (we have ours the Sunday before school starts) and slowly looked through my room. Afterwards he came up to me and said, “your room is very Zen and well planned.” He then smiled really big and walked out. It was the first time I felt that a parent ‘got it’ without my explaination. After that I have no doubt and no longer feel guilty for not following the norm of my grade level. Thanks for sharing your wonderful ideas with all of us. I have sent several of my teaching buddies to follow you. :D
    Teacher of 1sties in East TN

    • Matt Gomez says:

      Thanks for sharing. I’m sure parents get more comfortable over the years. Hopefully those that experience share with other parents what to expect and why it works. I appreciate your comment

  29. Camille says:

    Great post because it made me reflect on my practices. Reflection is always good! I love the idea of having photos of the families. I always have photos of the children, but this year I will ask for family photos. Plus, I am now wondering how bare I can start – time to Be BRAVE, right? Oh, something I did last year was add a photo of myself in kinder. My kinders loved it, of course, but there was an unexpected result. It put that shy, scared, five year old Camille into my thoughts daily. Remembering myself as a kinder caused me to be a more compassionate, empathetic teacher.

  30. A clean slate is an interesting concept! I can not imagine how that would look, but I agree with you on scaling down on the themes. I {finally} got the hang of this about 3 years ago. I was so tired of reinventing the wheel every year to match a school wide theme. Now my room is just filled with bright primary colors that make me happy (and yes a little polka dot). But I don’t have an overall theme. We write our classroom rules and expectations together in the first few weeks of school. Thanks for your insightful posts!

    • Matt Gomez says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment. Teaching is a journey not a destination. My goal is to constantly question the “why” of everything we do. Glad to see you are on that journey as well. Have a great summer.

  31. Cheri says:

    Love this conversation. The family photo wall – I saw an idea on another blog that the pictures can be a focal point and springboard for writing. I’m so excited about the idea!

  32. Bare walls all the way! For open house I just add a brightly colored note on each of our three walls explaining why they are bare. When I first started at my current school other staff members kept coming in to my room to ask if I needed help with my walls. Ha! I had fun explaining to them my reason for bare walls (student created charts, not store bought). It’s also fun to see the faces of parents and students when they come to realize there are no assigned seats. I always hear the argument that kids “need to feel that they have a space that belongs to just them” but I haven’t found that to be an issue in my 17 years of teaching. The entire classroom belongs to them. No teacher desk either. It’s fun to see kids mix it up when selecting where to sit in the room. I try to emulate an “at home” feeling in the classroom– easy, relaxed, full of choices. I’d love to incorporate more family pics in the classroom (our school family as well as students’ families too). I always enjoy your posts, which always seem to ask us to be reflective and intentional in our decisions.

  33. Wes Pokorny says:

    I am in the same boat. I am not into fluff! I like function! I like to give kids ownership on what they want our room to look like. I am very interested to see your behavior plan. I like your “Be Brave” I think I am leaning to “Win The Day”! I use a lot of Love and Logic in the classroom. Keep up the good work!

  34. Kimberley says:

    Last year I went to work at a school where theme seemed to be the expectation. I panicked and spent an insane amount of time painting things to be the same color and decorating. By the end of the year, I had removed almost everything and replaced it with ‘our’ things. I framed covers of books we loved and put plants we’d grown around the room. I even had the kid re-make our schedule cards so they could reflect on our schedule and activities throughout the week. This year I am looping to 2nd so the parents know my style. I am sending an email to them with my typical expectations, but I’m also going to ask each child to bring in something for our room: plants, a book, basket for markers, etc. I want them to feel like they contributed to our world the same way I do. I’m looking forward to watching them admire and share with each other.

  35. Angie says:

    I think a prepared room environment(decorated and organized) is motivating and exciting to students. The room should focus on the grade level of your students and be inviting and welcoming. I don’t think you have to decorate every nook and cranny for the room to be welcoming. A blank room in my opinion is boring and unattractive especially the first week of school. A prepared room environment sends a message that this is a learning environment where learning will be fun and engaging.

  36. mandeebee says:

    I think these ideas are wonderful and having a student-centered classroom is very important. I do need to mention that I have had a theme in my first grade classroom for the past 8 years or so. I’ve had bugs, camping and space! I love themes in my classroom and my students absolutely love it as well! They really get into the theme and enjoy making connections during the year. They don’t always understand at first but they are so excited when they understand and say, “Oh, I know why the math board is called “Martian Math!” and proceed to explain exactly why! I make sure they help with some of the decor so they feel ownership of our room. I always have spaces on my walls for student work and I feel like they are proud of our room. I told my class last week that next year I’m going to do a country western/cowboy room and they were so excited! All week they’ve been giving me ideas for all the different things we do, switching it to a cowboy/girl theme. “You can have cacti instead of rockets on the word wall! You can decorate the background like the desert! You can put horses on the tags for the lunch choice graph!” They are able to do this, in my opinion, because they have had the opportunity to see this modeled all year. Sorting and categorizing are skills they need to learn but more importantly, for the most part, they love coming to school and to me that is priceless.

  37. Pingback: Creating Classroom Environments: Starting the Year with Empty Walls | TWO WRITING TEACHERS

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