Every space could use a little refresh!

On Friday I had the pleasure of helping a Kindergarten teacher from a catholic school elementary school.  She told me that her atelier was an area of the classroom that wasn't really used by the children last year.  We started talking about some possibilities and later realized that this space exceeded The Arts (visual arts, music, drama, etc.) and allowed for so much curriculum to emerge.

I cannot wait to see how the children interact with it and what they choose to do with the materials!

It's wonderful to be writing and sharing more ideas on the blog that hopefully will be useful to educators this school year!  I started blogging in 2010 about my learning environment when Full-Day Kindergarten began in Ontario, Canada.  It took me about a year to better understand the motivations behind my classroom transformations, and to have the courage to share them publicly.  Therefore, in my archives, you can see some of these changes from as early as 2011, when my classroom had been your typical/traditional brightly coloured theme-based program. 

You can go back to all of my posts from year ago and even do a general search!

Sample of one of my first posts and transformations from 2011. 
The "Labels" section of the blog might also be worth looking through!

The blog at that time was known as "Transforming our learning environment into a space of possibilities" and later that title was also included into my Master of Education research:

Transforming our learning environment into a space of possibilities: Illuminating the path of inquiry-based learning for others working with young children (2013)

This is what the blog used to look like when I began writing.  And this is a photograph of my Kindergarten classroom.

In any event, it feels so good returning to the roots and original purpose of this blog - revealing more of my thinking regarding classroom design and Reggio Emilia inspiration.

The Kindergarten teacher that I supported in this post has been teaching for many years and is close to retirement.  We talked a lot about the materials she had gathered and saved for that special day when a child would use them in an innovative way!

Before Transformation

I could sense she had comments from visitors about having "a lot of stuff," however, quite honestly I remember (and this is still the case) people asking me the same questions... I had/have just as many and am nowhere near ready to retire!!  It's not about what you spend, but rather what you see value in saving.  And I believe that you can save a lot from even the recyclables that are collected by your parent community.

So with this being said, do not feel overwhelmed by the inventory that you see here, and rather focus more on what we did with it.  We all have these materials, but they might just be stored away in our storage rooms and cupboards!!!  Let's start pulling them out and making them visible/accessible! 

In this space, I moved furniture and materials around.  I hid some that made it feel cluttered, I organized, and I essentially worked with whatever started off in the original space!

Here is what I transformed:

  • put the tables together to make a larger space framing the shelving
  • moved the beautiful upright window mirror that rested on the wall onto the table as a surface for the children to work off
  • added two more tables to the corners of this space to allow for quieter independent or partner painting experiences 
  • neutralized what was on the white shelves by placing all white materials on the top and and earth tones on the bottom (browns, beiges, tans, etc.)
  • changed the placement of or added more lamps
  • included greenery or plants
  • selected materials that could cross over many curricular areas (e.g., book, number blocks, counters, musical instruments, alphabet, clay, wire, beads, painting, writing tools, fairy dolls to stimulate the imagination, etc.)
  • organized the side shoe wrack that was hanging by colour
  • added an art cart with what I thought any artist or writer might like to communicate with 
  • used the jars, baskets, and wooden crates that the teacher already had, but could have easily just placed the materials onto the shelf on their own or using recyclable containers/trays/tupperware, etc.

Here is what I learned:

  • it's not about how much stuff you have but rather how you present it to the children - a little can go a long way (this can also be known as a controlled palette where you don't want to offer everything all at once)
  • sometimes the less you put out, the more the students are required to use their creative thinking (e.g., try removing tape and glue or scissors and see what they use instead)
  • I personally have reflected that I continue to offer too much on the surfaces that the children might access - as I said to this teacher I try to give them the world of materials!
  • after noticing the tabletop was too cluttered and didn't photograph well, I slowly decreased and moved the musical instruments into a basket onto the floor
  • sometimes the actual space looks and feels different than what you see in a photograph or video
  • mirrors made of wood that look like windows are excellent for having several compartments similar to a sorting tray when laid flat onto the floor or a tabletop 
  • the space became messier before it all became clear - like the rainbow after a storm
  • this corner space that was newly transformed felt so cozy and calming
  • no matter how many years you have in experience, there is always something special about meeting those who embrace life-long learning - this teacher inspired me (To be honest - I was a little overwhelmed at the beauty of her existing classroom and didn't even know what I would be able to contribute!)
  • all spaces can evolve and should evolve with children and most importantly their learning processes 

I wanted to highlight a key learning in this closing section...

So often we setup or "decorate" these "pretty" classrooms in August and then we forget the most important part of education - the relationships that we create and the respect that we have for our students within them....  If your space looks nice, but isn't supporting your children's thinking and learning then what was the point?  I would much rather an educator for my child that loves them and makes their voice feel valued, as a contributing citizen of the classroom.  So don't get stuck on your blue carpet, or the rules that don't allow you to use certain furniture, hang things, etc., etc.  Focus on all that you have the power to control!  The classroom environment goes far beyond furniture and materials - it is a learning atmosphere.  A space that is carefully thought out and planned while supporting a continuum of development that considers all the following domains: physical, social, emotional, cognitive, communicative (language and literacy learning), too!

Planning, therefore, does not stop once the school year begins - it is ongoing throughout.  Everything that we do in our pedagogy actually intersects!  Even our timetable or view of children can alter how a learning environment is being used, which is why I do not suggest focusing upon it in isolation.  Don't transform your classroom and stop there!  Go deeper and think about your program and learners.  How can your space or the approach that you are inspired by shift to support learning?

Do children actually use the space?  Are they allowed to move things beyond how they were initially setup?  

Do the educators have a set goal in mind or task for the children to accomplish?  Does this limit their problem solving and innovation?

There is so much to revisit and reflect upon, that I could write for days!!

Thank again to this teacher who invited me - and please keep in touch on how the students use this newly transformed space of possibilities !!  Maybe I can share some of those insights on Instagram.  In the meantime, I hope to continue making more visits and providing practical advice to those working with young children!  

If you enjoyed reading this post, be sure to also check out different micro space that I newly transformed last week in another Kindergarten classroom.  To read "Learning spaces are always in transformation and not only before school begins!" click here.

Happy Sunday!!

Nothing worth doing 
is ever easy or clear at the very beginning.  

Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of trust and a whole lot of heart to find our life's true purpose!

-Joanne Marie Babalis

Share your thoughts :

  1. Hi Joanne, I have followed you for many years and visited your classroom and I have a burning question for you. How do you keep order? For example I set up a simple provocation of wooden numbers, pebbles and dice within a frame. Then inevitably one child takes them piles them altogether and puts them in the dramatic play area. Which also has loose parts already for them. There always seems to be a couple who make messes wherever they go. I try to provide them loose parts and photos of where to put thing but all to no avail.

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