Thursday, August 1, 2013

A Space for Learning

"The Classroom"

Why is it that our classrooms have become detached from what is natural? 

In most elementary classrooms we see bright colored posters with disconnected "inspiring" quotes. We border everything with crazy colorful patterns that have nothing to do with the beautiful work being displayed. In fact, no longer is the display on the wall an effort to highlight brilliant learning that is taking place. Rather, it is distracting the entire purpose, it is distracting the learning. 

John Muir

I share this quote from John Muir - the man we can credit for having a beautiful oasis of National Parks throughout the United States. What if we took this quote to heart, and began to think about the classroom as an oasis? A place to relax, to take things in, to be inspired, a place to receive.

In my experiences:

...walking on stage at the Hollywood Bowl and imagining the symphony
...Disney Concert Hall - listening to symphony under Gustavo Dudamel
...sitting in the Spanish Mission chapels in San Antonio
...looking out into the Pacific from Palos Verdes
...stomping through the Living Desert in Palm Desert
...observing the spinning of a cacoon by a silkworm

The most common factors involved here were things of nature and things of art.

Now, realistically, these young learners spend most of their hours in a building, and not out on "paseos" around the city. So how do we capture them day to day in the mundane rectangular box called "The Classroom"?

Here are just a few ideas:

Cozy Spaces

Create a cozy space somewhere in the room. Even if you can't find a free couch, scrape up a few pillows and cover them with some old fabric. Throw them down on a rug. Your children will congregate here to cozy up with a book, write their newest narrative idea, or even problem solve through a few word problems.


 If you are blessed enough to have a classroom with windows, let that light in!!! Keep each space in your room as organized as possible. Allow the children to see opportunities for creation and learning through the material you have set out. 

Hands On

Create first hand experiences for observation by setting up a space for exploration. As your science focus evolves over the year, continually change the materials you have out. Encourage the children to bring things in from home that are related to the study. One year I had each student bring their own sample of soil. We spent an afternoon just exploring the variations and textures. 


Trade those individual seats for group gathering spaces. This creates opportunities for collaboration and community growth. It's impossible to learn most things in isolation; when we listen to others we learn how to learn.

Space to Move

Keep your space fresh, relevant, and tidy. Leave space for movement. Children prefer to get out of their seats and move about. It may seem that they aren't learning, but surely they are learning more if they are making decisions for themselves.  

Just remember, your classroom is a place of purpose and a place for community. 


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