The layout and design of any space can impact the mood and productivity for the individuals intended to use the area. Prior to becoming a teacher, I studied interior design at Michigan State University for three years. I have come to learn how critical ergonomics and aesthetics can be when designing a space, especially for children. For those interested in reading more about how the brain relates to design in the field of education, I recommend checking out the work of Susan Kovalik at The Center for Effective Learning.
When I thought about my own classroom space, I went to sit in one of my student’s desks. Though I’m larger than the average second-grader, it was soon easy for me to realize how the furniture and layout did not lend itself for collaboration and comfort. I wanted my students to gather on the carpet, sit in nooks and work with one another. I had a vision of children using the space freely, as needed, to do meaningful work with one another. However, I had not given them a proper space to facilitate these sorts of activities. Instead, the over-sized, cold and hard desks were taking over every square foot of my room. This furniture was chunky. Even though I had the desks in groups to encourage discussion, they were still so far from one another just due to the sheer size of the table tops. When children tried to turn eye to eye and knee to knee to work with a partner, they were separated by the massive, steel desk compartments. Why can’t my classroom look like a creative play space in a museum or the children’s section of a Barnes and Noble?
I worked all summer long to redesign my learning space, creating a more inviting environment for my learners. As a former interior design major, planning an aesthetically pleasing area was important to me, as was keeping brain-friendly ideas in mind.
Due to the limited square footage in my classroom, I decided to replace the desks with a few pieces of non-traditional furniture. For example, our reading area is outfitted with rocking chairs, benches, and patio chairs, and in the back corner of the room, a breakfast nook is nestled beside a floor lamp and a large artificial tree.
My main goal in designing my space was to create an environment where students would feel comfortable. I knew I had to provide materials that would be easily accessible and organized. Supplies are kept out in containers and baskets for the children to use as needed. Everything should be at their level. This meant lowering posters and charts. I also wanted to keep the colors calming in an effort not to distract from the content that would soon be posted on the interactive white board, walls, and bulletin boards.
It was important for me to select a theme that would appeal to both boys and girls as well. Since we have a garden outside of our classroom, I thought it would be a good idea to bring the garden into our room. Thus, the nature theme became my focus. Muted colors of brown, green, red, and gold started to fill the space.
I set up various sections of the room to serve different purposes. This gives the students more options to work and keeps them moving. In our room, we transition a lot. I feel it’s important to allow the children to have opportunities to walk around and discuss topics with their peers. One area I set up this summer was a small group meeting place.
As I got more serious about the idea of changing my classroom space, I committed to the idea of making this vision a reality. I knew this would be a wonderful change for my students, so I had to support the idea and make it happen. I continued to get student’s input and facilitate the necessary changes to transform our learning space into an environment that allowed comfort and encouraged creativity.
If we don’t make the change happen, who will? We are not just teachers. We are responsible for supporting all children so that they can be the future. That is a big responsibility, and I do not take it lightly.