There is nothing quite like the very first day (or week) of the school year. You spend hours, days even, planning out the best ‘first week of school’ activities for your brand new, eager, and bright learners. You shop for supplies, rewards, photo-copy worksheets, prep for center stations, create your “welcome” packet, and plan as best as you can for a smooth and successful first week of school. However, before you start stocking up on sharpened pencils, Kleenex, and jamming the school’s copy machine with your packets (guilty!), let’s talk about the most important precursor to setting yourself up for a successful school year (drum roll please…) = setting up your classroom environment.

In this blog, when we speak of ‘environment,’ we’re discussing the decorating, desk arrangement, wall bulletins/displays, color schemes, knick-knacks, and ambiance of your classroom. In “Part 2”, we will cover systems, procedures, and management techniques that will add to creating a culture and climate conducive to learning. Are you smiling yet? Good! Let’s jump in.

happy kids sitting at cluster of desks in a classroom

Think Brain-Compatible

Although we all love cute rainbows, sparkly and shiny borders, and enchanting wall displays, research tells us that children learn best in calm, distraction-free environments. This means when selecting your butcher paper and borders for your wall displays, stick to neutral or earth tones. Some of our favorites include soft blues, light greens, pastel yellows, light browns, and shades of white. Opt-out of polka-dots and rainbow-colored displays; stick to simple borders (leaves, clouds, wooden panels…anything calming). If creating titles on your wall displays, use solid-colored alphabet letters to create text/titles for your displays. Finally, measure your walls using a ruler or yardstick. Convince a family or friend to help you put up your wall displays. Invest the time in setting up your wall displays the correct way before the school year begins. This shows your scholars that you care about the classroom setting and that their classroom will be a neat, organized, brain-compatible learning space. Need some inspiration and visual aids? Check out our Pinterest board titled: Brain Compatible Classroom Settings.

Kids interacting with their teacher

Smells & Sounds

Research continues to tell us that certain light scents can be calming for little learners and positively activate the brain. When selecting an air freshener or plug-in, stick to soft scents (In our classrooms, we always use lavender). Have only one air freshener or plug-in in your classroom and keep it set up on a wall near the entry or exit (We like to use the plug-in closest to where our scholars hang up their coats and backpacks). Now that your room smells lovely, let’s discuss sound. Invest in a Bluetooth speaker or small boombox for your classroom. Why do you ask? So you can play calm, instrumental (no lyrics please) music during morning entry, morning seat work, and/or during silent, solo, independent work throughout the day.

kids and a teacher in a classroom wearing protective face masks

Desk Arrangement

Depending on the grade level you teach, and your personal preference, you will need to decide if you want to place your scholars in groups; or, at individual desks. Personally, to support a collaborative learning environment and practice necessary character traits such as teamwork and friendship, we always place desks together in groups (we call our groups “teams”). Of course, due to COVID-19, this option is not available to us at this time. For now, we’ll keep our scholars safely separated by at least 6-10 feet. When we return to our new ‘normal,’ and it is safe to resume student groupings and in-person, collaborative learning environments, we recommend 4-5 students per team which should give you a total of around 5 groups. If you have a class size closer to 30, stick to 5-6 per group…you get the idea. Strategically separate the groups so that you have enough space to walk around each group and each student comfortably. Make sure that every student can see the board or place(s) that learning takes place. Once you get to know your students, you can strategically move and place them next to partners and classmates that will support the variety of behaviors and learning abilities represented in your classroom. Check out some of our favorite desk and group arrangements here.

a classroom with kids and a teacher and decorations on the wall


Let’s circle back to brain compatibility—earth tones and nature-themed décor is always the go-to choice. In addition, you also want to make sure that you have a print-rich classroom. Fill your classroom with positive affirmations and growth-mindset text. Spend time setting up your library, reading corner, or series of bookshelves stocked with books and reading materials for your scholars (age-appropriate of course). Need visual inspiration? Check out our brain-compatible, neutral Classroom Décor board here.