If you are unsure...move it and live with it for a while. The children will certainly tell you quickly through their interactions and actions whether or not the environment will best suit their needs! Children's perspectives and insight are very helpful when restructuring the environment.
- tour the learning environment
- explain the different areas and your thinking behind their location
- analyze each area: what are you noticing? what needs came up in that area last year?
- think about different noise levels (quiet/louder areas)
- think about the flow of the room? (do certain centres flow into each other? would dramatic play make sense connected to building?)
- think about sight lines (can you easily see different areas?)
- think about "saving" projects, structures, building materials (will there be space?)
- think about how children learn in different areas? (e.g., on the floor? tabletop? laying down? sitting up?)
- "control the controllable" - you can't change where outlets or windows are structurally, what can you control or move?
- less is more (do I have out enough for children to learn? do I have out too much and it is overwhelming?)
- Group Meeting Space: if you have a designated meeting space, how will it be used when it is not a group meeting time?
My partners, Cassandra, Jessica and I, went in a couple weeks ago to move in the furniture. We thought about all the different spaces we would like: book nook, small group instruction table, writing centre, art centre, paint, sand, building and blocks, math, science/nature, dramatic play and of course our carpet/meeting area.
Here are a few before and after reflections:
We had our large carpet for our meeting space by the white boards and bulletin board because it seemed like it should be there. The carpet wasn't being fully utilized unless we met as a large group and it seemed like a large area of wasted space, but we were not sure how to restructure it.
We moved the carpet to the block centre to give a large area for building and math play. We can still meet at the carpet and we even moved our reading cart there for when we do focused teaching. The children can also use the front and back of the white board/chart paper to write or record their thinking.
We had large tables clumped together in awkward shapes because we weren't sure where else to put them because there wasn't enough space. The way that we had them set up, the tables may have been too big to place provocations at because the children wouldn't be able to easily access the materials or connect with each other.
We moved and spread out the trapezoid tables to where the carpet was by the whiteboards and bulletin board. We brainstormed so many possibilities for this area: smaller tables for provocations, small tabletop building, loose parts, or nature area.
The book nook was a super small space because we were giving priority to the whiteboards for students to use.
We spread out the book shelf and placed a couple of comfy chairs so that there is room for the children to spread out and lounge with a book. It is also right beside our small group instruction table. When we do guided reading, we can have a group read there with their previously read text while we work with a group.
We are thinking about putting our word wall on the whiteboard so that students can easily grab and replace the word wall word they may need to support their writing.
On the little bulletin board we will have our family wall (inspired by Tracy and Cheryl). Last year we took pictures at meet the teacher, or had families send in family photos. We added our class photo and also our staff photo. The staff photo was great because it allowed the students to get to know other staff in the school and often the children would talk about the teacher their sibling has.
A lot of print on the walls. We had our classroom sayings on the walls but really when we thought about it, who was it for? Mostly adults because not many of the children will be able to read it.
Tracy and and Cheryl were a huge help in helping us talk though why we had something in a certain spot and thinking truly about how the children used the space. Just because it looks like we "should" have the carpet by the whiteboards doesn't mean we have to!
We also moved the furniture around, a lot. We tried different formations and spacing between tables and shelves. We even thought, what if the children want to save a block creation where we usually meet as a large group? Well, we have two tables we can just move out of the way and we can meet on the floor! We can be flexible to create an inviting environment for our students.
Having Tracy and Cheryl help to restructure the classroom was super helpful because even though I have an open mindset to change, in the back of my head is...well we did it this way, why not do it again? They were able to offer suggestions and give feedback as to why we may keep it or how we may change it.
Oh... and the pink bin.
Last year we had a number of small blocks that we just tossed in the bin because we didn't have enough space to sort them on the shelves. After moving our block area, we separated the blocks into white bins on top of the shelf. Many of the blocks in that bin still look brand new because we don't think they got used much last year!
Now that they are in individual bins that will be clearly labeled with photographs, the children will be able to see and carefully select the materials they need to build their structure or creation. One key thing I learned: as an adult, if I find it overwhelming or difficult to put away or access, how is a 3, 4 or 5 year old child going to fare?
Even as I write this I'm thinking of little changes to make the use of space more effective. And once the children arrive, we will have to see how they use the space and access materials and reflect on if it is working for our new group of students. Working with multiple educators to create this learning space for our new students has been so valuable and we look forward to welcoming our new students this Fall!
Thank you, Tracy and Cheryl!
Cassandra Hart @hart_cass14