Decluttering Starts Now!

How much of the stuff that’s cluttering your classroom could be gone before school starts up again? Teachers keep all kinds of stuff we never use. Why do we keep these things? Lots of reasons: Scarcity of resources can turn us into hoarders. Or we engage in “someday” thinking, as in “Someday I’ll use those tissue squares for an art project.” Or people give us things (like a stack of egg cartons, or a pile of old magazines), and we feel bad about getting rid of them because they were gifts.

Or we inherit things from teachers who came before us. When I started teaching, I was given a classroom full of previous teachers’ stuff. Before school started, as I sorted through things, unsure about what I’d be using, I discovered an anatomically correct pregnancy doll.  It had everything one might need to teach children about how babies were delivered.

I freaked out. Had I missed something? Was I going to have to teach my first graders about pregnancy and birth? When I calmed down, I talked to my administrator and discovered that fortunately, the doll didn’t have anything to do with the first grade curriculum: years ago, a pregnant teacher had used it with her students and left it behind, and no one who’d had that room since had the heart to give it away.

The secret I learned that day was liberating—classrooms are full of stuff that is seldom or never used. Even if, theoretically, some of it may come in handy “someday,” cluttered classrooms are hard for teachers to keep organized, and they keep children from finding what they need.

This is the perfect time to start decluttering. Every year on the last day of school, my students helped me cull through markers, crayons, and colored pencils so that we could donate the ones that were still in good condition to a local child care center. Later, I joyously threw away board games that were missing pieces and directions. I more reluctantly said goodbye to books that few children in my room were able to read by putting them on our school’s community “throw-out table.” Another teacher was thrilled to find them there.

So, this summer, I challenge you to throw stuff out, share (useful) items with colleagues, or donate things you’re not using to local day care centers, after-school programs, homeless shelters, or Goodwill.

Margaret Berry Wilson is the author of several books, including: The Language of Learning, Doing Science in Morning Meeting (co-authored with Lara Webb), Interactive Modeling, and Teasing, Tattling, Defiance & More.

Tags: Classroom Organization, School Breaks, Summer