Sunday, October 18, 2015

Designing Classrooms for Learning

This past summer early childhood educators in Somerville took part in a workshop: Creating Beautiful Environments for Learning.  Teachers were asked to think about the question: Where do you do your best work? They tackled topics such as what to put on the walls, minimizing overstimulation and clutter, setting up rooms to provide learning areas, and making materials accessible to children. Most participants said that one of their main goals was to create distinct areas in their rooms, as well as eliminate the "sea of tables" that was usually the focal point of their rooms.

We know that people respond to color, things on the walls, and the way materials are set up. Teachers learned about elements of design that create beauty and a "homey" feel to classrooms - so important in making young children feel safe and comfortable at school. As part of the workshop teachers practiced their new skills by giving four lucky teachers a room makeover. Here are a few highlights from the workshop and the changes some teachers have begun to make, and possible entry points for your room arrangement journey.

The Early Education Department in Somerville is available to help Somerville early educators with their classrooms via our instructional coaching services.  Contact

1.  Conduct a Furniture Inventory

As teachers worked, the furniture piled up in the halls.  Everyone was amazed to see how much they didn't need and that less was indeed more. What can you do without?  How many chairs do you need, beyond one for every child?  What are you holding onto that you can put into storage, or offer to another center?


Without all the extra furniture the room took on a more open, expansive feeling. It also created a "clean slate" so that children's work could be the foundation of the decor. This more minimalist approach can feel strange given the preponderance of catalogue decorations, but it allows children's work and learning to be the first thing we put up. 

2. Create Inviting Spaces - Boost the "Cozy Factor"

The over abundance of furnishings made the group reconsider the need for chairs at every table. Tables where children can kneel help develop a stronger core, more children can fit around them fostering collaboration, and the space is more inviting.


Placing materials in clear containers and carefully sorting makes the shelves more attractive, less cluttered and draws children to the space.  Aa an alternative to posters, choose something simple that is calming to the eye creates a soothing environment. 

3. Bring the Lighting Down - Create a "Homey" Feeling 

Small table lamps are a wonderful contrast to harsh or dull fluorescent lighting. Teachers reported increased visits to areas with this kind of lighting. 

4.  Make Displays Authentic and Reflect Children's Learning


Which of these photos might help children better understand the properties of a triangle? What can you create with children to display rather than spending money on catalogue items?


While it is easy to put all children's identical work in a grid-like arrangement on a bulletin board, think about adding photographs that show how children created the work, hang things from the ceiling, lose the colorful borders and overly bright backgrounds to make children's work "pop".

When teachers thought about the question, Where do you do your best work?, they said things like uncluttered spaces, good lighting, comfortable furnishings, quiet, time to work, and places to be creative.   Don't our children deserve the same?