The ultimate guide to creating a more harmonious learning space
[A five minute read]
The start of a new teaching year is the perfect time to stop, take a breath and have a good look around you. What’s the plan for your centre’s walls? What about the space in between where you’ll spend a fair chunk of your daily life this year?
If you’re looking around and heaving a sigh of ‘here we go again’, we feel your pain! That’s why we’ve put together the following simple guide to developing a more harmonious learning space that encourages creativity and learning.
First things first: Do a quick stocktake
When it comes to our work space, we’re sometimes slow to see the need for change, especially when the muddle contributes to a well-worn routine. Taking the time to evaluate whether the look, feel and layout of your teaching space is working for or against you (and your learners) is a great place to start.
Assess the stuff around you. What impression does your learning space currently give? Furniture, materials and displays, storage choices and design can have a surprising impact on the way children play, learn and collaborate. Not to mention the way you and others feel when entering the room. What does it say about your approach to teaching, to the children, to learning?
To find out, ask yourself:
- Is there confusion or clarity?
- How does this environment support me, and the children who learn here?
- What sort of additions and eliminations will create a better environment?
- How do I bring in elements that feed discovery, learning and play?
- Does the environment feel like a home?
“Early Childhood environments are public statements about the educational values of the centre and the teacher. Arrangement of space— including furniture, materials available, and what is displayed on the walls—conveys messages about the relationship between teaching and learning, the image of the child held by the teacher, and the expectations for behavior and learning within that setting.” - Rinaldi 1998
Feel like you’ve got a lot of work to do? Start slow. Simplifying your space to find some balance doesn’t have to be stressful, expensive or time-consuming. Remember, just take ‘one bite at a time’. To get you started, we’ve outlined the following four simple tips to help you reboot, refresh and rejuvenate.
1. Clear the clutter
Just like home, an early childhood childcare centre or classroom needs regular clearing to sort out accumulation of all the objects, piles of stuff and extras that seemingly turn up out of nowhere. Clutter encourages confusion, indecision, procrastination and a lack of focus.
Gain some clarity by:
- Tidying up the piles – recycle, eliminate or give things away
- Investing in simple storage solutions like bamboo baskets
- Using wooden containers or display boxes
- Repurposing or finding a new home for less-used furniture and toys
- Introducing storage bins to contain runaway toys like balls.
2. Say yes to beautiful
While beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there’s something to be said for teaching children an appreciation of beauty and uniqueness. Give some thought to how the design and layout of your room(s) exposes children to this idea. You could:
- Create new and changing indoor or outdoor playscapes using natural resources
- Introduce a mix of new and old – by having both new and used toys and objects on offer for play
- Choose some hero pieces that stand out and draw your attention.
- Encourage heuristic play with a beautiful blend of recycled and repurposed items – treasure baskets of everyday objects made from stone, marble, shell, wood or metal.
- Phase out consumer goods that perpetuate stereotypes and do little to reflect children’s lives and interests
- Create a cosy reading nook to encourage exploration of books and shared reading.
3. Re-think visual busyness
You need to consider the impact that visual displays on your walls have on learners. Wall displays can become dumping grounds for poorly curated materials. Does it reflect their lives, families, cultures and interests? Does it link clearly to your planning? Decorations lose impact but displays that reflect what’s happening in class invite participation and involvement. Honour children’s work by involving them in the way their work is displayed. Think about the atmosphere you’re creating for the learners and their whanau and consider whether some of your wall real estate could be re-housed to journals, frames, booklets or folders. It’s not just about wall displays.
“Documentation differs from display in that it includes explanatory text and children’s own words, helping the viewer understand children’s thinking and their processes rather than just end products. Documentation is ongoing and part of planning and assessment. It encourages children to revisit an experience and to share a memory together. It can provide opportunities for further exploration or new directions” - Gandini 1998
4. Keep up the good work
Encourage children in the art of decluttering. And, if you’ve invested in some beautiful products or storage options to enhance your space, remember to teach staff and children how to look after them. Leaving valuable wooden toys in the sandpit and water trough isn’t part of the plan. Try to find a balance for indoor and outdoor resources. Create a culture of caring about resources and the environment and teach the value of things by sorting, tidying and storing well.