Lil’ Jems Makeover, Toddler Room

And so it begins… My very first classroom makeover happened last weekend and I am thrilled to tell you about it! The post has many photos and explanations to illustrate our team’s choices (and by “our team” I mean  the management, the teacher in that classroom, and myself).

While the post has a “before-and-after” structure, I was trying to share more of “in-between” photos to convey the thinking and reasoning for the changes we made to address both functionality and aesthetics of the classroom. 

I arrived to Lil’s Jems in Yarmouth on Friday afternoon to spend a few hours with children and staff at the centre and they made me feel safe and welcomed in their space. It was filled with positive energy, laughter, conversations, jokes, and lovely messy toddlers… It was the perfect vibe to inspire a creative project!

Lil’s Jems Child Care Centre, Yarmouth, NS

We planned to work on the Toddler room for 12 children. When they went outside, I walked around the classroom imagining children’s interactions with their environment. Later that day, we spent some time with Jodi, the centre’s owner and director, and Macy, the toddler teacher, discussing challenges, behaviours, issues and possible solutions for them. 

The next morning, we came to the centre, rolled up our sleeves, and started moving things around. Our first goal was to open up the locker space that seemed too small to comfortably fit 12 self-dressing toddlers and two staff members. We also wanted to make it more welcoming for the families during the drop off times.

Small dressing area with 12 lockers

Below is the view from the back of the lockers. On the left side, there is a shelf with large plastic trucks and on the right side there are two lockers for the teachers. 

More lockers on the other side

We arranged all lockers into an L-shape with the shorter side taking up space between the door and the wall, and the longer side extending into the classroom. It immediately created lots of space and we added a neutral coloured carpet to visually outline the area. 

After we took down the name of the room and re-centered a lovely drift wood shelf, the corner became less visually busy on the eye level. Two medium-size cork board will be placed on the empty wall to display children’s artwork, pedagogical documentation and/or important information for parents. We also agreed to put an adult-size chair and a small table (with a basket of books) as an invitation for families to sit down while helping their child with their outdoor gear or to establish a positive good-bye ritual (reading a book together). The books could also be used to help with transitions and waiting times.

In progress…

The unexpected benefit of the new locker arrangement was a space for the changing table in the classroom instead of the fold-out table in the washroom. Now the teachers can observe the whole room while changing diapers, see and guide children who are using the washroom, and it is close to the window (important and self-explanatory).

We removed the bathroom door to create more flow in the area and gave ourselves a pat on the back. Using the changing table also created more storage space for diapers and change of clothes and freed some of the cupboard space in the washroom.

Next, we moved a large (and not very pretty) cupboard and beds to create a block area in that corner. 

Before
After

The black shelf that housed large trucks became a divider and we filled it with the beautiful, local, hand-made wooden toys that support more sophisticated type of play than large plastic trucks.

New block area with people, animals, cars, trains, and wooden blocks
Vehicle Set by Toymakers of Lunenburg
Farm Animal Set by Toymakers of Lunenburg
Diverse Family Set by Toymakers of Lunenburg

And we added tree cookies and a train set that is very popular with toddlers. There is a small doll house on the side of the shelf, too. 

The beds from the corner and the bunny cage were placed under the stairs, together with pet supplies. Now it is out of sight but conveniently hidden in one spot. We put the small sensory table next to the window, opposite the changing table in case there is a bit of a line up to the washroom. Now children can watch the bunny or explore some sensory materials while waiting. 

Before
After: small sensory table
After: convenient storage

Inspired by our success, we tackled smaller but possibly more time consuming projects. We looked at the art shelf and agreed that it needed an easel and a chalk board, which Jodi promptly ordered from Ikea. We turned the art shelf and filled it with thoughtfully arranged materials that toddlers can choose, use, and tidy up independently.

Before
After

 And in-between the art shelf and the block area, we placed a Loose Parts Spot. The shelf contains various activities that can be used either on top of the shelf (to maximize the play areas) or on the small table between the shelves. It looked very cozy and inviting, just enough for a few children to explore.

Manipulatives Area

The play kitchen was well-stocked but maybe a bit too well for toddlers. We removed some shelves, reduced the number of items, and created more space by using smaller tables and chairs from other parts of the room.

Before
After
Dramatic Play Invitation

As we worked, we talked about our priorities, goals, ideas, values, children, their play, and our responses to their needs and behaviours. Every toy and every wooden crate was discussed and tested, and there was this amazing freedom to say what we meant. We were fearless in our openness to each other and yet we felt safe (at least I did) to have a very kind, yet honest conversation. The “before” piece was discussed as past experience, the “after” solutions brought hugs and smiles. At times, we would point to the same item and say almost in unison “Oooh, I love this!” It was awesome!

Just before I left, we practiced setting up invitations and creating defined play spaces that give toddlers peace of mind.

Sensory Play Invitation

Also, Jodi wrote down all ideas and materials that were needed to finish some of the transformations. I left Yarmouth, and later Jodi sent me these photos that made my heart swell with joy. The teachers used two beautiful wooden shelves to share a part of themselves and proudly display what matters to them — art and music, local rustic charm, drift wood, colours, softness, lightness, and harmony. 

Proudly displaying art materials
Inspiring display for musical instruments
And it all comes together!

It was a privilege, a joy, and an exciting adventure to work with you, guys. I am looking forward to coming back and spending some time with you again. 

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