Classroom Clutter and Pests Go Hand-in-Hand

By Marcia Anderson

Classroom clutter attracts pests including roaches, spiders and rodents.

Classroom clutter attracts pests including roaches, spiders and rodents.

Schools and childcare centers, by their nature, are prone to the accumulation of boxes, papers, posters and books that are utilized by teachers. Unfortunately, some of the nation’s finest school teachers have reputations for being pack rats. The use of multiple materials for learning is to be applauded, not discouraged. However, materials in classrooms and storage areas left undisturbed for long periods of time may lead to pest issues.

Pests gravitate toward cluttered areas because they provide a safe environment for them to eat, hide and reproduce undisturbed from predators and people. Some cockroaches, rodents, spiders and silverfish prefer layered clutter, such as stacks of paper. These pests carry with them the potential for bites, or are potential allergens or asthma triggers. If a pest infestation occurs, all of the items may have to go anyway. The best way to save the most precious items for the future is to eliminate potential pest harborages today.

Clutter can be dangerous: The brown recluse spider prefers to hide among layered papers and within forgotten boxes in cluttered corners and similar areas. Spiders and other pests have bitten children and teachers reaching into piles to retrieve papers or other items.

Consequences of Clutter: A cluttered space can be overwhelming and waste precious time for both teachers and students. There just comes a time when you simply can’t be efficient anymore because chaos has overtaken the classroom when you can’t find things where they’re supposed to be. Searching and hunting wastes time. Alternately, an organized area helps to promote quick work starts and facilitates an efficient use of time. And once an area is organized, it is easier to keep it this way. Clutter also creates a disturbance in student focus. It is distracting and doesn’t maintain a conducive learning environment.

Keeping a school classroom pest-free is challenging, but utilizing Integrated Pest Management (IPM) can reduce the number of pests and the use of pesticides in the school. IPM is a smart approach to prevent and get rid of pests by using what we know to make classrooms, kitchens and cafeterias less attractive to them. Pests come inside because they’ve found the things they need to survive – food, water, and shelter.

Classroom Storage Tips:

  1. Reduce clutter in bite-size pieces. Allocating 30 minutes twice a week to clearing cluttered areas will allow you to get cleaned up and organized in just a few weeks.
  2. Store materials in clear, plastic boxes to better organize, eliminate clutter and prevent pest infestations. Such boxes exist in nearly every size, shape and color for storage needs.
  3. Don’t use cardboard boxes. Cockroaches love to hide in their corrugations and will hitchhike into and set up house in your classroom!
  4. Store boxes on shelves instead of the floor whenever possible. Shelves should be a minimum of six inches and preferably 12 inches off of the floor to allow for access for sweeping and mopping. This space will also discourage any insects and rodents from hiding beneath the first shelf. Leaving space helps the custodial staff to see and clean behind and under stored items. Mice and roaches love to travel right next to the walls, so if you have clutter next to the walls, they can run to and fro undetected during the day.
  5. Clear out clutter to improve pest inspections and treatment effectiveness. Clutter makes pest management almost impossible – pest inspections are difficult when the pest control technician’s access is limited and pests have no reason to venture into treated areas.
  6. Encourage children to help clean up after activities. These clean-up chores can be placed on a Classroom Helper Chart, especially in the younger grades where the help is needed the most.
  7. Keep food items used as math manipulatives, such as dried beans or toasted oat cereal, in tightly sealed containers. Likewise, store animal feed in tightly sealed containers, clean up spills immediately, and clean cages regularly.

Reducing unused items, eliminating clutter, and following IPM practices will improve the air quality in your school, reduce pest problems, and improve the learning environment. It’s time to clean house!

To read more on de-cluttering the classroom, review Purdue University’s recommendations on reducing pest problems by reducing clutter and the University of Arizona’s articles on clearing up and cleaning out for summer and clutter control.

 About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.

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