Let’s be honest: half the reason you became a teacher was so you could decorate your classroom to the nines. It’s so much fun! But then comes the dreaded visit from the fire marshal. It’s a common complaint in our WeAreTeacher HELPLINE group on Facebook: “The fire marshal made me take down all my classroom decorations and get rid of my cozy chairs!” What’s a teacher to do? Here are some fire-resistant classroom decor ideas that keep your students safe and your classroom full of creativity.
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1. Learn the rules for fire-resistant classroom decor.
Let this picture of a post-fire classroom remind you why fire marshals urge schools to set and follow a strict fire code. Before you start decorating your classroom, find out what your particular fire code entails. Here are some common rules regarding fire-resistant classroom decorations:
- Nothing may be hung from light fixtures, ceiling tiles, or sprinkler heads and pipes.
- All fabric items must be regularly and properly treated with fire-retardant. Often, schools simply ban fabric and upholstered furniture altogether.
- No more than a certain percentage, e.g. 20%, of the wall space may be covered in paper.
- Doors must be free of paper decorations, and walls must be clear around the door for a specified distance (such as 36 inches all around).
These are just some of the rules that your school may have in place. (Schools with up-to-date complete sprinkler systems may have more relaxed rules.) Click here to see more common safety violations in school classrooms.
2. Choose materials carefully.
Paper, fabric, and upholstered furniture are usually the biggest offenders when it comes to fire-resistant classroom decor. Try exploring other materials like vinyl clings or treated plywood. According to an extensive study, flame-resistant crepe paper (be sure to read labels) is a particularly safe choice. Urge your school to consider replacing their regular butcher paper with flame-retardant options, too.
One interesting result of that same study indicated that burlap treated with Fire Guard is also very safe for classrooms. Fortunately, there are lots of cool things you can do with this versatile material!
3. Replace upholstered seating.
Cozy reading nooks with flexible seating like couches and armchairs are a terrific way to make classrooms more welcoming. Unfortunately, these are often some of the first targets of fire marshals. In some cases, they’ll allow them to stay if they’re properly treated with a flame retardant. But often, you’ll simply be ordered to remove them. So frustrating!
But there are other comfy seating options available that meet the standards for fire-resistant classroom decor. Here are a few to try:
- Folding gym mats. Spread them out for plenty of space, or stack them for extra cushioning.
- Scoop rockers. These are perennially-popular with teachers for so many reasons. The sturdy plastic poses no fire risk, and they’re lightweight enough to easily move around.
- Adirondack chairs. Outdoor furniture is typically a good solution, and Adirondack chairs are an especially comfortable option.
- Inflatable furniture. These are fun and have the added benefit of being simple to break down for storage.
- Stadium seating. Stadium seats with adjustable backs are generally made of weather-proof (ergo, flame-retardant) material.
4. Paint your walls.
You might need to ask permission first, but painting your walls is a long-term solution for fire-resistant classroom decor. Do it yourself if you’re artsy, or reach out to your community to find artist volunteers. Even better, get your class involved. Imagine this for a year-long or end-of-year project: Your current students paint a mural on one wall of your room for next year’s kids to enjoy!
Not into painting? Wall decals are your friend! You won’t believe the selection of removable vinyl cling decals that work on almost any surface. We especially love this windowscape showing a gorgeous beach scene.
5. Decorate your windows.
There are so many window decor ideas that don’t involve paper. Check with your school rules first, though; sometimes there are restrictions on how much of a window may be covered. Then look into some of these fun options:
- Vinyl clings. There are so many fun window clings for classrooms. You can even buy a pack of clear cling vinyl and have your kids design their own!
- Window paint. Here’s another place to let your creativity loose! Glass markers are inexpensive and easy to clean up. We like this set of 30 Liquid Chalk Markers which comes with a wide variety of colors.
- Window film. Give your windows a stained glass look, or add frosted film to hide an ugly view.
- Sun-catchers. Enhance the sunshine with pretty sun-catchers or prisms. This sun-catcher promises to fill your room with rainbows!
6. Creatively display student work.
Displays of student work, especially papers taped or clipped to walls, are frequent targets of fire code violations. This is incredibly frustrating to teachers and kids alike, who want to show off their accomplishments. Try displaying work safely protected inside frames; this room divider has room for 15 items and will last years.
Here’s another fire-safe alternative: Take photos of great work, and turn them into a slide show that displays on your whiteboard whenever you’re not using your projector for something else. It’s easy to update whenever you like and allows kids to take their projects and papers home right away to share with their families.
7. Try different (fire resistant) lighting.
Many schools allow LED string lights in the classroom, as long as you’re not overloading power sockets and they’re UL listed. These can expand on themes and add interest to your classroom; see our favorite options here. You may also be able to switch out light bulbs in existing fixtures to make them more eyestrain-friendly. Fluorescent light filters are another cool alternative to look into.
How do you cope with fire code regulations? Come share your fire-resistant classroom decor ideas on the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE!
Fire safety is important, but so is bike safety. Check out these Bike Safety Smarts for Teachers and Kids.
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