New Classrooms: Welcoming Environments

The First Week of School

This week marks the start of a new school year at SEEC and I took the opportunity to walk around and see the classrooms. SEEC teachers have been working tirelessly over the past few weeks, so I was pretty excited to check out all their hard work. I was especially interested because the classroom environment has been a hot topic amongst my colleagues and over the course of the last year, I have really seen the teachers contemplating the meaning and importance of their surroundings. This shift was well illustrated in an earlier blog by one of our teachers entitled:  Rethinking the Environment

The Power of the Environment

As early childhood educators, we think about arranging classrooms in ways that make sense – i.e. put the art area next to the sink or don’t put a reading area next to a noisy music area. We also think about safety and logistics too — all important. But the environment can be so much more – it can be a comforting, soothing locale that inspires children to learn, create and gain independence. Teachers are challenging themselves to think about how their classroom can engage and empower their students. The question of environment is, of course, of much broader scope than this blog, but I thought it would be great to look at some photos of our classrooms to see how our teachers are thinking about their classroom environments.

 

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Research has proven that bright colors like red, yellow and orange, can often be over-stimulating. These colors solicit a calmer, more welcoming feeling.

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This cozy corner provides a space for reading and a nook where a child can deal with feelings of frustration or anger. The canopy makes it feel especially protected and the green pillows evoke nature and feelings of calm.

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These photos were posted along a seated area in one of our toddler rooms. It portrays something that all children can relate to from multiple perspectives adding a multicultural component.

"Computer lab" has never looked so good. The bench and the table are the perfect height for the 4's intro to technology.

“Computer lab” has never looked so good. The perfectly sized bench and table encourage the four’s to tinker with the computer.

Visual reminders of how a preK class wants to approach apologies.

These visual cues help SEEC’s preK class remember their classroom conversations about apologies.

Your Feedback

Teachers – do you have a space you are particularly proud of? Please share it with us. Museum educators – we would also love to see photos of learning spaces in your museums.

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.