Rethinking the Environment

Posted on behalf of SEEC Educator Amber Simatic:

For the past several years, my classroom left much to be desired: white walls, fluorescent lighting, and undefined spaces. However, at the beginning of the school year, I set a goal to create a more comfortable and inviting environment and to truly utilize the classroom as a teaching tool. I tried everything — changing bulletin boards, hanging art prints, displaying children’s drawings; but having mismatched, bright, primary colors everywhere was just not cutting it.

Early in the school year, I was unable to focus on the environment as much as I would have liked, given the challenges of settling in with a new class of students and getting to know a new team of teachers. However, within a few months we found our rhythm and I was able to focus again on the world around me. That’s when I noticed another SEEC center had used magnetic paint on a large wall to hang art with magnets instead of tape, which caused the wheels to start turning and brought me to my current realization: that I could expand the definition of changing my classroom beyond that of simply rearranging bulletin boards; that I could begin to think of my classroom as a home away from home and put just as much thought and care into it as I do my own home, because, after all, teachers and students spend a lot of time in their classrooms!

Once I realized my classroom’s potential, the possibilities became limitless.
A particularly challenging area of my room, above the changing table, could use some magnet paint, I thought:
“If that area can be magnetized, why not the whole wall?”
“And if I can use magnetic paint — why not colorful, magnetic paint?”
“Why not paint the whole room?”
“And if I can paint the whole room — what other changes, big and small, could I make to turn this classroom into a home?”
Each day at nap time, when the room was quiet and the soft music played, I would pat the kids to sleep and look around at the white walls, dreaming of color and comfort. For people who know me well, this concept is not a novel one: every apartment in which I’ve ever lived has been painted, if the lease allows.
I love having the creative outlet to change a space, but until recently I had never thought of applying it to my classroom.

To begin, I reflected on how the space worked, where the kids congregated, and how the placement of furniture influenced traffic patterns. I made several lists of what I liked and what I didn’t like; what I could change and what I couldn’t change; words that would describe my room and words that I would like to describe my room. These lists were extremely helpful in determining how to start the process.

There are a lot of things to consider when it comes to the physical classroom environment, the basics include: color, line, texture, form, and space. These five elements work together to create the physical environment.
Color can evoke certain moods and emotions. We even use this idea in our daily lives with sayings such as “green with envy” and “feeling blue”. Generally, when painting walls, cool colors like green and blue are calming while warm colors like red and orange tend to be stimulating.

Line can also set the emotional mood. Horizontal, vertical, curved, and diagonal lines all evoke different feelings. For example, diagonal lines suggest motion while curved lines relax a room.

Texture, both tactile and visual, engages learners and creates interest.

Form and space relate to how a room is set up. For example, does the placement of shelving units create symmetry and balance?

Baskets

Thinking about all of these items at once can quickly become overwhelming. I started with color by painting the walls then branched into some of the other elements, such as line, by adding a curved curtain draped along a window, and texture, by replacing plastic toy bins with baskets. Other things started falling into place too; I brought in plants, made slip-covers for brightly colored pillows and bought rugs.

Full view

If there is one thing I’ve learned throughout this entire journey it’s that reinventing the classroom is indeed a process. It’s a transformation that doesn’t happen overnight. Plans change and the project must adapt to fit our needs, and, more importantly, those of the children.

I’ve also learned to be vulnerable. Parents, kids, other teachers, and any one who walks into our center will see my classroom “unfinished” and that’s okay. As it turns out, the process is about figuring out what works best and feels most authentic for you and your classroom.

One thought on “Rethinking the Environment

  1. Amber, you are so quickly becoming a master teacher! So happy your first concern is the children! Your room is beautiful and so inviting! I love it! If I get to D.C. one day, I would love to visit! You are your mother’s daughter no doubt! The teacher gene is strong in the two of you! 🙂 A teacher’s work is never done and the background of that work is constantly changing! Every year, a new group of students and a new approach to learning keeps our job uplifting, challenging, and energy sourced! You make Penn State, Greene County, and JM very very proud! “I am not a teacher, but an awakener”!
    Great Job,
    Debbie Lubich

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