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Designing Classroom Resources: Part Two – Process & Execution Design Tips & Tricks for Early Childhood Educators

For part two of our ‘Designing Classroom Resources’ series, Chris is going to focus on process and execution; how to create engaging resources that are inspired by your own ideas or by borrowing inspiration from/putting your own twist on activities you may have discovered online.

She’s going to start by walking you through the design process she follows when creating new materials – take it away, Chris!

 

Step 1 – Brainstorm

Start by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Have I come across any interesting ideas online recently that I’d like to put my own unique twist on?
  • Have I come up with any concepts or ideas that I may not have previously followed through on?
  • Is there something that myself, my students and/or other teachers could really benefit from having access to in the classroom? 

I usually start the creative process by grabbing screenshots of any ideas/inspiration I stumble upon while doing research online. I will either jot down ideas in a notebook or on my phone and use a Google Drive folder to save screenshots of ideas I come across. Tip: We recommend looking into note-taking tools such as Notability or Evernote; they have been built with the purpose of helping you to organize notes and important information – making them easier to locate when you need to refer back to them.

 

Step 2 – Clarify your purpose and goals

Now, ask yourself a few questions that will help you to better understand your specific reasoning for deciding to create these resources in the first place:

  • What is the purpose of this resource? Why am I creating it?
  • Does something similar already exist, or will this fill the need for a resource that I’ve been looking for but haven’t been able to find?
  • What are the learning objectives associated with this resource/activity?

Once you’ve answered those questions, we recommend that you do a bit of research into other teachers’ lessons and resources online to see what has successfully worked in other classrooms. You may also stumble upon insight or feedback about a specific activity/resource that will help you to extend or improve upon an idea that may have previously had issues/shortcomings.

 

Step 3 – Sketch it out

It sounds obvious, but I always recommend starting designs/new ideas by sketching them out on paper. That way, I can quickly work out the basics of the resource, and any possible variations I might want to create.

It gives you a chance to figure out what goes where, and how much space it might take up in the final design. You don’t need to be a master illustrator to sketch out these concepts; just lay it out visually in whichever way feels right to you. From there, keep your sketches and ideas together in a sketchbook/folder, that way they’ll be handy when it comes time to review the process in planning to create the final product. Tip: keeping records of your thought process will really help to improve the quality of your future work/designs.

 

Step 4 – Time to create

Once I’ve done enough research and have sketched out a rough concept, I start building the resource in my design program of choice. Depending on your comfort level, you can use free software like Canva or something more advanced like Adobe Suite/Creative Cloud. Always keep an eye out for new software or updates that expand the limits of what you can do, and how efficiently you can do it. For example, Pages has added features that let you create interactive books. The resources section in the Sprig Learning educator portal has a variety of image assets you can use for building digital or printable assets.

 

Step 5 – Review and finalize

Revisit the goals you set in the beginning and make sure they have been met with your final design. Before you save and export your completed resources, we recommend walking through the following criteria (these are important points that I try to cover with each and every design I create):

Is it accessible?

This is especially important for resources that are in full colour. Your text shouldn’t be too small, contrast should be high, text should be easy to read and photos should pop on top of coloured backgrounds, and colours should be always used in a thoughtful, meaningful way. It’s also very important to keep those who are colourblind in mind (potential or formally diagnosed).


Here are a few examples to illustrate what accessible vs. inaccessible design looks like:

Sim Daltonism (for Mac) is a free tool that lets you test whatever is visible on your screen using filters that simulate different types of colour blindness. Get it here: https://michelf.ca/projects/mac/sim-daltonism/

Here’s a look at Sim Daltonism in action:

Is it visual? 

If it isn’t specifically a reading/writing activity, keep instructions visual, or use simple, familiar language. Consistency helps a lot, both in terms of vocabulary and imagery.

Is it versatile?

My aim is always to give teachers room to use the resources I create in a way that suits their goals and the individual goals of their students. It’s even better if a resource can be used repeatedly in a multitude of different ways. Unlike something found on Pinterest, resources that you’ve created yourself can be easily altered or adjusted to aid students who may require special accommodations, such as increased font size or an adjustment to the difficulty level.

Is it simple?

Some free resources online clutter their designs with decorative elements or fancy fonts that aren’t especially legible (we covered fonts in more detail in part one of this series here). A little goes a long way as they say; too much and you risk creating confusion that can interfere with the purpose of the resource and success rate of the activity itself.

Sample resources:

all about me

Is it effective?

Lastly, one of the final questions I ask myself before exporting my work – is the resource I’ve created effective? Does it cater to the goals/purpose I set at the beginning of the creation process? The answer to this may remain somewhat unclear until you’ve had a chance to test it out in a classroom setting. By creating your own resources this way, making edits or quick changes to an activity that you’ve created is easy.

Congratulations – you’re now ready to start creating fun, engaging, and effective resources that are sure to be a hit in the classroom! We hope this design series has helped to make the process more approachable and stay tuned to the Sprig Blog for more design-focused content in the future!

Note: We do not endorse nor receive any monetary rewards for including links to software, programs, and/or tools recommended within this blog post. We have used them personally, so we have experience in using them and have found them all to provide the additional layers of protection for ourselves and our staff members.

About the Author

Chris Hough, Graphic Designer for Sprig Learning

Designing Classroom Resources: Part One – Fonts Design Tips & Tricks for Early Childhood Educators

Interested in creating your own classroom resources for early learners? Not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered! Sprig’s in-house graphic designer is sharing a design education series just for you; to give you access to the tips and tricks you need to design your own teaching tools and classroom resources.

Part one focuses on one of the most important elements to consider when designing resources for the classroom – fonts.

 

Why is it so important to choose the right font?

Choosing the right font is absolutely essential when creating classroom tools and resources. The wrong font can result in children misunderstanding content, or in some cases, being unable to fully process or understand the information being presented to them.

Our first piece of advice is to resist the urge to choose cute, playful fonts. These fonts are most likely to confuse and trip up young learners. The ‘Disney’ font, for example, is adorable in appearance but would be terribly difficult for children at this age who are learning to both read and write.

 

One-storey vs. two-storey letters – what’s the difference?

One-storey (or single-storey) letters are the ones we first learn to write as young children; they are most commonly used in handwriting, traditional calligraphy, and even in many italics. On the other hand, some letters have two-storey (double-storey,) versions used by almost all serif fonts (like Times New Roman), and many sans serif ones, too (like the one this blog is written in).

The best example to illustrate this is to look at the letter ‘g’. The letter ‘g’ comes in both single- and double-story variants, either coming with a loop, or tail. We are taught to write single-storey g’s as children because it’s most common in handwriting and is the easiest to replicate for early learners. The letter ‘a’ also looks significantly different when you compare the one-storey and two-storey versions.

Take a look at the visual below. Keep in mind that two-storey a’s are far more common than two-storey g’s. Keep an eye out for the tail on the letter ‘t’ as well – it could also be an issue depending on the font you choose.

 

So, how will I know if a font is going to be right for my students?

We recommend you start by typing out every letter of the alphabet, all of the numbers and all commonly used punctuation, using both uppercase and lowercase characters. Take a look at each character carefully and ask yourself if they could be difficult for a young child or someone with impaired vision to read. 

Sprig tip: Create and save a text document on your computer that includes the full alphabet (upper and lower case), punctuation marks, numbers, and a few example sentences. From there, copy those and set them into a few different sizes and styles (italic, bold). You can also include a white version of the characters on a dark background to see how it looks reversed.

Here’s a comparison of two different fonts, one that is much easier to read than the other:

The second font in this example (Freckle Face) is fun from a design standpoint, for sure – but it’s more likely to cause confusion with your students. To further illustrate this point, we tested out the font ‘Duper’ that we really liked here at Sprig, but ran into problems with the letters ‘a’ and ‘g’ presenting as two-storey (circled in red below).

Once you’ve settled on a font that you’re happy with, ask yourself these questions before finalizing and printing out your classroom resources:

  1. Are all the characters easy to recognize?
  2. Does this font include all of the characters that you need?
  3. How legible is it, especially at smaller sizes?
  4. Does it have a variety of styles?

 

Design software can be very expensive – do you have any free resources to recommend?

There are a ton of free resources out there, and we’ve put together a quick list of our favourites that are easy to use with little to no experience required:

  • Google Fonts: A huge catalogue of free fonts you can download
  • Canva: Design tools and templates for creating resources, or for organizing the classroom (Canva Pro gives you access to more stock images and photography, as well as useful design tools – although it comes at a monthly cost);
  • Unsplash, Rawpixel, Pixabay: Free stock photography sites that also have a good selection of illustrations (more on copyright, fair use/fair dealing, and creative commons/attribution to come in a future post – stay tuned!)

 

That’s it for Part One on fonts as part of our brand new ‘Design Tips & Tricks for Early Childhood Educators’ series! Keep an eye out for Part Two in the coming weeks where we’ll cover the design process, planning through to execution to ensure the classroom resources you produce are accessible, visual, versatile, and functional.

Have questions? Get in touch with our team at letstalk@spriglearning.com for more information about what we do or visit www.spriglearning.com to learn about our unique holistic approach to early learning.

 

About the Author

Chris Hough, Graphic Designer for Sprig Learning