Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Little to the Left

At the start of each new school year Lauren and I rethink the classroom environment, making changes from previous years, so the space feels new and invigorating. When we first started teaching together back in 2002 it was all about creating the most colorful atmosphere possible.

Our walls were covered with so much multicolored paper that visitors commented it looked like The Partridge Family tour bus. We spray painted old furniture in bright hues, hung Crayola colored alphabet letters from the ceiling lights and added vibrant borders to our bulletin boards. It was an overstimulating feast for the eyes and we loved it.

As time went on we started to realize that perhaps this approach was a tad overdone. We began to study the Reggio Emilia philosophy from Italy that suggested a more toned down, sedate learning space. Out went color and in came the plants, mirrors to reflect natural light, bulletin boards covered in plain brown paper without borders, table lamps and twinkle lights. It was a relaxing respite for the eyes and we loved it.

But, as with all things, the pendulum is beginning to swing once more. This year our classroom (see above) is colorful without being overwhelming, natural tones and primary colors are juxtaposed throughout and we continue to provide open but well defined work spaces.

Room arrangement is a truly collaborative effort between Lauren and I that usually takes place during the first days of the new school year. However there was one space that I had envisioned during the summer and couldn't wait to set up.

This is a reading 'nook' anchored by the Chicka Chicka Boom Boom coconut tree that I have on loan from my friend Dawn. This was the first area we established and then build the rest of the room off of that. So far it has proved a popular area for the students to go and read books of their choosing; from comic books (that basket is full of them) to chapter books.

We also decided to repaint our beat up blackboard with something called Blackboard Paint. This stuff can be used to cover a variety of surfaces to create an instant blackboard. The can invites you to cover kitchen cabinets, closets and any blank surface that a child might like to scribble on.

I used the left over paint from our blackboard to make a drawing area on the back of a metal fire door. We also plan to record student heights on this door. Just another fun, novel idea we stumbled upon quite by accident.

Now, once again, we consider our classroom to be a welcoming oasis where exploration and learning can proceed in a purposeful manner and we love it.

I wonder what ideas the next year will bring.

14 comments:

Lora said...

I love it all! Seems you do your classroom the way I do my house- completely different and amazing whenever you get the chance to change.

LadrĂ³n de Basura (a.k.a. Junk Thief) said...

What a pleasure it is to say that I've now been to that oasis of learning in the middle of the big city. Those kids are so lucky to have you and Lauren who will carry a part of what you have shared with them for the rest of their lives.

Mikey T said...

For our Halloween party we are theming all of the rooms of our house and really transforming them. I am currently mid-transition on my bedroom creating instead a nightmare zone envisioning "what if Sarah Palin becomes president" - its pretty scary. But if you ever wanna do your classroom that way to teach your kids the importance of voting, let me know and I'll pass on some of the props!!

Gary said...

Lora - Thanks for reading and for your comment. I used to be the same way with my bedroom when I was growing up. Always changing it up out of boredom. My classroom changes are partly motivated by boredom with the same ol' thing and partly out of what's best for the 'environment'. But I agree with you it is 'different and amazing' each year - in my humble opinion.

Gregg - Things have changed a bit since these pictures were taken and since your visit but the spirit is the same. Thanks for the kind words.

Mikey - I am bummed that I will miss this party. Please take pictures or video so I can relive the experience with you on some level. BTW - What are these props you speak of?

Kellyann Brown said...

Kewl room! <---middle school spelling

I have decided to go with an "Hawaian theme" in my office/room. The grass skirts around some of my shelves keep the kiddos from getting into therapy materials that they shouldn't. I really love your chalkboard door. Was it hard to paint?

Barbara said...

I want to come to school in your room! I think bright colors make people of all ages feel happy and alive. I especially like the reading corner. I also like the idea that your classroom is always a work in progress. That way you will never take it for granted. I'm wondering if all the teachers in your school are so creative?

This makes me wonder if the homeless shelter would let us volunteers fix up the reading room to make it more appealing. There is absolutely nothing attractive about it right now. I'll bet those kids would really love a reading corner with a coconut tree!

Dumdad said...

What a great environment to encourage the kids to discover the wonders of learning. A far cry from the intimidating and austere classrooms in which I was taught.

mouse (aka kimy) said...

you guys create such wonderful learning environments ....but it's not just the beautiful decorated environment, but the environment created by your and lauren's passion, energy, commitment and love for the kids!

I hope I get to visit again this academic year! there's not many places where I can use my special signed name!

ciara said...

now that looks like a room sure to stimulate learning and imagination! i love it. thx for making a difference in the lives of children and can you thank lauren for me, too? :)

Gary said...

Kellyann - A Hawaiian theme sounds fun! (and serves a purpose.) The blackboard paint goes on easily. I only used one coat but think I should have used two on the door because of all the erasing. It gets a bit smudgy but is still holding up quite well.

Barbara - Bright colors are 'happy' inducing. Our thinking a few years back was that it was too stimulating for some kids with limited attention spans and while I think that may be the case, there must be some color and life.

I just bought more twinkle lights today and the room feels even more homey. I love it. Maybe the simple addition of these lights or simple organizing will turn the reading room at the homeless shelter into a more appealing space. Keep me posted.

Dumdad - Well, you turned out okay so I guess the drab rooms in your education did not have long lasting negative effects. But I wonder what would be different if they had been more spectacular.

Kimy - Yes, please come back to visit. We have a new class who would love to meet you!

Ciara - What can I say? You're welcome. (Lauren says hi.)

lettuce said...

i'd like to sit on that little red sofa and work my way through the books.

all of them

blackboard paint - what a brilliant idea! i want some!

Reya Mellicker said...

I'm all for taking the Goldilocks approach to any situation. Not too colorful, not too serene ... it's JUST RIGHT.

Your students are so lucky! BRAVO dear one! Bravo!!

Gary said...

Lettuce - Perhaps you would find a few titles that you recognize that were brought over special from England. :)

Reya - Perfect instance to bring up Goldilocks. I am ashamed that I didn't think of it myself.

WAT said...

Dat's a nice comfy classroom sir. You enjoy your profession and it shows.

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