Smart Room, Smart Child

The quest for order in a child’s room
must never replace the need to cultivate intellect.

Within the current trend for home improvement and decorating, there is an emphasis on the plain, the simple, and the unencumbered. However, the line between simplicity and visual sterility is narrow. The quest for order in a child’s room must never replace the need to cultivate intellect.

Children respond to color and contrast: Children thrive in an environment rich with visual interest. Mobiles, murals, bulletin boards, clear shoe boxes filled with collections, book displays at eye level, etc., all strengthen the neural pathways that are so rapidly forming in the child’s brain. A child’s room is the perfect place to encourage literacy and learning.

Before you begin: Sit on the floor of your child’s room. View the space from his height and perspective. Then plan, move, or rearrange so that points of interest are within his area of view.

In the beginning: It is never too soon to begin decorating for discovery. Consider bright colors along with pastels, creating contrast and encouraging depth perception. Although you will want to keep the crib away from a drafty window or mini-blind cord, be sure the child can see out both sides of the crib. Consider placing it in the center of the room.

As the child matures, decorate with his interests in mind. Although you may want to saturate your son’s room with sports memorabilia, consider his needs. Is he interested in Astronomy? Math? Geography? Every child’s room should have learning as the focus.

It’s all about awareness: Below are a few suggestions to heighten the awareness of your emergent reader. You and your child may want to make these decorating changes together. Having your child enjoy a room filled with adult-and-child creations will also strengthen his memory of the creative process. Please keep in mind that some suggestions may not be appropriate for the very young child.

The ABC’s of a young child’s room: A must for every preschooler’s room is the alphabet – both upper and lower case letters – in block printing. These letters are the tools of language and are as important to the child as a hammer is to a carpenter. An inexpensive molding placed 2-3 feet from the floor makes a wonderful shelf for alphabet flash cards. Whatever you use, be sure each letter can be held, moved, displayed, carried, and enjoyed.

It’s always about language and literacy: Additional creations include …

  • Black & white comic strips, framed with Plexiglas, provide both art and text for viewing.
  • A child-sized table top covered with newspaper and clear contact paper or plexiglass.
  • Add a mailbox to one wall and fill it with selected junk mail. Junk mail is a rich resource for language use: children love to role play paying bills, ordering articles of clothing, tools, kitchen utensils, etc. They can also use the address labels as stamps, forms as receipts when playing store, check lists as diagnostic sheets when role-playing a visit to the doctor… Include frequent notes in the mail with your child’s name printed clearly in block letters.

Decorating for discovery: Clear plastic shoe boxes go on sale several times a year. Stock up for your child’s collections. Be sure to make labels for each box – in block letters. (Timmy’s rocks, Timmy’s bird feathers, …) Literacy. It’s always about language and literacy. Include a magnifying glass, a notebook, and pencil for sketches and journal writing, even if your child can only write the first letter of his name.

Secret spaces: Just as every child needs a mailbox, every child needs a secret space. Something as rudimentary as a sheet over a table or chair will do. However, you may want to arrange the furniture so that a little hiding place is created. Put a soft blanket, quilt, or pillows on the floor. Add a flashlight, some books, and a sign in the space that has your child’s name printed on it.

Look, Mom, I’m in Kansas: A map of the United States or your country of residence, tacked low on a wall, is a great tool of print awareness. Attach pictures of distant relatives in corresponding states or provinces. Draw roads or flight paths between locations. Put a series of wall clocks side by side on the wall. Label them according to the distant relative or friend. For the older child, label the time for different countries. As the child lays in bed, he will think of his counterpart in Japan who is eating breakfast or the cousin in California who is still outside playing. A global awareness develops, expanding the child’s worldview.

A word wall: As we discussed in The Emergent Reader, logo recognition is one of the first literacy skills to emerge. Proudly display the cutout logos of the products your child can identify. Recognizing symbols is a precursor to letter recognition.

The last word: Every picture a child brings home should be treated with respect. Teachers often see works of art on the floor of a family vehicle. A wall in the child’s room should always showcase what he has produced. Because what he has produced is an extension of himself. Screw a series of wooden frames filled with Plexiglas along one wall. Be sure that the upper portion extends out a little. In that way, the child can slip his new work of art in the frame.

What he has produced is an extension of himself.


A study done 15 years ago by Juel still echoes the same ominous warning we see tested out today: The probability that a child who is a poor reader at the end of Grade 1 will remain a poor reader at the end of grade 4 is 88%. In short, remediation is not the answer. Successful readers begin as infants, surrounded by language-rich environments.

– End –


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