Saving Time on Classroom Setup

Over the years, I have always flown into school as early as I possibly could, the moment those floors were waxed (sometimes even having to test the floor's stickiness with a toe...shhh!!!). And so would begin days and days of classroom setup.

I would work feverishly, obsess over all the little design details, and keep coming back to do more. I just LOVE setting up my classroom each year. But I found I was doing more and more each summer because I had given myself the time to do so...I was starting way too early. Then, last summer, my sister and I had quite the challenge. We had to move everything out of her old classroom at a different school, set up a classroom in her new school, then set up my entire classroom (to my picky, type-A specifications). It was a LOT of work for us last summer...and I really regretted not taking the time to prep things more in advance so I didn't have to spend quite so many days in school.
This summer, I have not set up anything in my classroom yet (!) and we start in early September. Instead, I have been prepping as much at home as I possibly can ahead of time, in efforts to streamline the setup process before I even get to school. My goal has been to have everything ready to go, packed up in an organized fashion, and above all:

Remove the need for unnecessary thinking.

So I realize that might sound a little weird. I mean it's not like I want to get to class and totally zone out. I DO want to be thinking. I want to be thinking about the important things as I set up my room...going over the beginning routines in my head, mentally checking off everything I need for the first day. Not thinking about where I stashed a missing label or unpacking endless boxes of crayons.

So I wanted to share what I have been working on this summer to streamline the setup process. I realize many of you are already back at school (and probably much faster at setting up your classrooms!). But I hope this will be of some help to those not starting back quite yet, or unable to get in until that very first teacher workshop day (as I know many of you have shared with me in the past).

Many of these strategies are things I have done for years, while a couple are new attempts at saving valuable time.

Strategy One: Laminate Only What Must Be Laminated

Oh, laminating. While I absolutely loathe cutting all of the plastic pieces until my fingers go numb, I do love how bright and shiny it makes everything look. But the truth? There is very little in my 5th grade class that truly needs to be laminated.

I have kept laminating at a bare minimum by asking myself one question: 

Is this item handled often?

So yes to student supply drawers, toolboxes for community supplies, nameplates, and library bins. These things are handled by students often and I don't want to be replacing labels all year.

But for the first time in my career, I WON'T be laminating our cursive alphabet line, posters, anchor chart titles, station cards, and anything else that adorns our classroom walls and is hardly ever touched by students.

How does this help? Well, I am already done laminating for the summer and it only took one session:
(Student Number Labels)
With less laminating also comes less cutting. Which saves my hand from a bit (who am I kidding, a LOT) of pain and frees me up to tackle other projects. This brings me to my next strategy...

Strategy Two: Use Scissors as Little as Possible

This sounds a bit crazy I suppose. I mean, cutting is a necessity for setting up the elementary classroom, right?

But there are shortcuts. Say hello to three of my best cutting friends:

These cutting tools are an absolute godsend and time-saver (um, hand-saver?). 

The circle cutter really is my favorite and I've blogged about it several times over the years:
It can be tricky to get used to initially. The key is to line up the guide by the exact measurement first. So this circle is 3.5", and I have the 3.5" guide lined right up over it. Then, I make the cut just one measurement down, so it is guaranteed to cut within the shape and not outside of the circle accidentally:

Not only does it cut perfect circles, it saves your hand from cutting them out with scissors. And it only takes a moment once you are used to it:

Equally helpful is my paper cutter:  
Any straight lines are cut with this tool. It's quick and easy to line up cut, with very little pain...even when you have to tackle a huge pile of decor.

This last one isn't really a cutting necessity, but it is a great little tool if you want to finesse your decor and give any squares and rectangles a bit of rounded shape:

This little corner-rounding tool is also a painless option. Simply put the corner in the guide and punch:

It'll give you nicely rounded corners, again saving cutting time and any unnecessary pain.

Strategy Three: Use Numbers to Label Everything 
If you are a teacher who numbers students, then this truly is an ideal way to prepare many materials, well before you get in to your classroom. All labels can be printed, cut, laminated (only if needed!), and ready to go ahead of time! This is useful if you are unable to get into school until the starting day, or if you do not have a class list yet.
I also like to use numbered stickers to set up bags for our reading and science materials:

(Student Number Labels)
I blogged a great deal about how I use numbers to organize my entire classroom recently, you can read more about it here:

Strategy Four: Organize All Signs and Labels
Of course I always pack my labels together by kind before I head in. But I have learned it is also helpful to organize them as much as I can before I bring them to class. So those numbered labels? All stacked in order, EXACTLY the way I want them to appear on my students' number drawers, so I can just glue them down right in order:

I even pack up our daily schedule in order, so I do not have to think about what to place where...I can just hang it right up, from top to bottom.

Strategy Five: Pre-Organize Student Supplies

When I was a young teacher, I used to bring in boxes and boxes of markers and crayons and sit and blissfully unpack them, marveling at their colorful beauty and lovely new-school-supply-smells.
Those days are over.

Kind of. I still love the smell of our new crayons!

All joking aside, I have found it extremely helpful to unpack everything, recycle those cardboard boxes:

 And sort all supplies as they will be arranged in class:

Since we use Student Toolboxes, I group the supplies by drawers and elasticize them ahead of time. Then I bag them up by each table's toolbox:

And box them up:

This saves me a ton of setup time when I get to class and frees my mind to be thinking of more important things, as I fill each toolbox quickly.

Strategy Six: Pre-Tape and Pre-Velcro
I am big, big fan of hot gluing signs and labels. Especially those laminate ones I want to last all year (or for years!). But I don't always have time to hot glue everything during that first day of setup. And taping things to the wall really does take forever, doesn't it? Please tell me I'm not alone in thinking this!

So I am using these adhesives to pre-adhere as much as I can:

The Velcro I am using for the name tags on our chair pockets:
(Editable Name Tags)

I am cutting the Velcro squares apart, but leaving the plastic on one side. That way, I can stick the Velcro to the name tag, peel the plastic when I get to class, and attach to the chair pocket:

The removable mounting tape is a new one for me...I will have to let you know how it goes. I am using this on our cursive alphabet line and daily schedule. This will allow me to quickly stick these items up on the walls that first day of setup, yet move things around and make adjustments if needed.

Just like the Velcro, I am cutting around these adhesive squares so I can leave a bit of plastic to be peeled when I get to my classroom:

Please believe me, I am certainly not an expert when it comes to this kind of setup. Remember, I'm the one who usually takes forever in the summer to get my room to the absolute ideal I envision! 

So my two questions I leave you with are:
1. Do you have setup tips to share with us? Ways to cut corners and save time in classroom decorating? 

2. Would you like to read more about this? I can feel a "part two" coming on as I continue to get things ready at home this week.
Thanks so much for stopping by! I truly hope this was of help to some of you!

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