Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Bored with your Bulletin Boards?

If you're tired of the same-old, same-old, and you'd rather pull out your fingernails than rip off another piece of primary colored butcher paper to cover your bulletin boards -- try something different.

The holidays are upon us and it's a good time to start thinking about spicing up your bulletin board repertoire.

Here are some tips:

  • Don't use butcher paper. One way to start breaking away from this is to first experiment with other papers. Wrapping paper, wallpaper, tissue paper, cellophane, tin foil and newspaper are all good choices. Or try to find papers that are different, for instance try something with a shiny or metallic finish.

  • Don't lay it flat. Typically, teachers slap up the butcher paper and are careful to smooth it out before they staple it in place. Experiment with different textures. Before hanging it up, crinkle it, bend it, fold it... stuff newspaper under it. Tissue paper and cellophane are especially good for this.

  • Use something other than paper. Fabrics, plastics, metal, wood, paint or wall texturing (spackle is cheap), beads, string, ribbon, leather... One of the cutest bulletin boards I ever made was around this time of year. I had a classroom of three-year-olds and we were learning about the color brown. As an open activity in the art area, I would let two at a time come and cut brown paper with me in whatever shapes they wished (or could manage. At the end of the day I was left with... what looked like a lot of potatoes. So I decided to expand on that theme and talk about Thanksgiving foods. We made mashed potatoes the next day and did some potato prints and I made a bulletin board that was covered with a thin layer of straw and I fashioned a burlap sack for each child and carefully affixed their "potatoes" to the sacks.

  • Don't forget about your border. Couple a new type of border with your choice. For instance, if you find a wrapping paper with a subtle pattern that you want to use, pair it with a border of cloth ribbon. The easiest ribbons to work with are those with wire edging. It's bendable and stays in place without having to staple it to smithereens. You might also use feathers, beads, indian corn glued onto paper, bamboo, tiles for a mosaic effect, legos, old postage stamps (begin having parents save these from letters they've gotten), old fashioned pop bottle lids (like those that you need the opener for), old compact discs (like the AOL discs, glue new labels on them that have cute names of computer programs that reflect what you're learning or have your students' names on them. Let them decorate their own...)

  • Get ideas anywhere you go. Spend a few hours walking around your favorite craft store with your bulletin boards in mind. Or go to a home improvement store. Do not think about anything else while you're there, just browse the aisles and think, "Could I use that on a board?" You'll be surprised what you might see.

    For example... this month, there are already lots of things out for the winter holidays. So I might see that I could make border out of silver, gold or holly garland.

    I might stroll into the dollhouse department and see all the miniatures and find an idea for a bulletin board that involves making a house of sorts, I could use wallpaper scraps for each room, and buy or make (or have the children make) tiny furniture for each room. I could use old shingles or pieces of wood to fashion a roof and use indoor/outdoor grass-looking carpet for the bottom... And I could theme it for Thanksgiving... make an activity of it by asking the children to come up with things that we are thankful for in our homes, like electricity, running water, toilets, comfortable beds, good food or pets. I could label each "room" of the bulletin board with those things. Or maybe I could focus the theme on safety and could show how to keep each room safe — no toys on the stairs, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors, candles in safe places, harmful chemicals locked away...

    I might head to the cake-making aisle and find lots of ideas for a birthday bulletin board. The big number candles might look great if I make an individual cupcake for each child. And the cupcakes would be really eye-catching if instead of just running off a copy of a cute pattern, I use a metallic looking paper and fold it (like you would a fan) to make cupcake liners.

  • Don't buy it -- make it. Even if I don't buy those items, they can give me rich ideas. The tiny numbered candles might not be practical for my bulletin board, depending on size. And teachers are notoriously short on cash (I know I always am!) So I might make something that looks just like them instead with materials that I already have.

  • Look to nature for ideas. It's all too easy to slap up that paper border with the fall leaves on it, but why not use real leaves for a fall border? Take the kids on a walk or out on the playground if you have good trees and have them collect the leaves for the border. You can use sticks, bark, dried flowers or straw. If you have that irritating kudzu covering trees and bushes, you would be amazed at how great this stuff is for making woven borders and backgrounds. You can make baskets out of the stuff, even.

  • Involve the kids. The best bulletin boards are those that are interactive or are populated with work that came from the hands of your students. Like the above example of the potatoes, be open to expanding your daily activities into a display. It's good for parents to see what the children have been doing and it's fun for the kids to look at the board and remember the fun and learning they experienced with that activity.

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