‘The days of traditional classrooms are over’
Ben Evans, headmaster at Edge Grove School, says we owe it to pupils to create learning environments that encourage independent thinkers to take responsibility for their learning
Learning environments in education are changing beyond all recognition today. In many cases, gone are the traditional classrooms filled with uniform tables and chairs, and in their place are new cutting-edge learning zones, all inter-connected allowing more free flow around school buildings. Learning spaces today are all about encouraging greater independence and creating exciting, bright and modern environments for children to thrive in that are both engaging and innovative.
Even the colour shades on classroom walls can create a different atmosphere in school. Drab and bland colouring can impact mood just as using different muted colour shades on the walls and floors can promote a calming atmosphere in school. But it’s not just about the cosmetics, furniture and lighting matter too. Using natural wood and high-quality lighting in the learning space supports maximum concentration and creates the most pleasant and refreshing environment possible. Having access to fresh, free-flowing water in all learning spaces is a simple notion but one that is hugely important for children to stay hydrated especially when engaging in physical activity.
Experimenting with space
Schools are really starting to experiment more today with their learning spaces; for younger children, science and mud-pie kitchens are popular and across many schools today you will also find cutting-edge computer suites (complemented by banks of iPads) with the latest technology. Upholstered and illuminated reading nooks are becoming more popular and are ideal for children to nestle into with their favourite book, a chance to rest, relax and be on their own at certain points in the midst of a busy day. Equally, creating small learning pods in school libraries are becoming a great use of space too.
Experimenting with creative zones can be useful for inspiring freedom of thought, a place to take risks, deal with failure and success. Horseshoe-shaped tables are very helpful in these kinds of learning spaces as they allow teachers to work with small groups of children and also in collaborative learning sessions. Innovative ideas to encourage children to express themselves and let their imagination flourish are also becoming more common in schools today, ie large walls developed specifically for children to mark-make and draw or write to their hearts’ content encourage independence and creativity during the school day.
Music departments are also looking at new ways to develop their learning environments, from using larger rooms to allow children to move around more easily, to specialised areas developed to play musical instruments, role-play areas, studio set-ups, interactive screens and more.
Part of creating a positive learning space is about creating environments that are safe, inviting and support general health and wellbeing. As such, many schools are developing sensory experience rooms.
In some cases, ceiling-mounted projectors are being used to illuminate the floor with different colours and shapes to enhance the zone and sensory experience further.
Outdoor play and learning environments are crucial too, so use of the school’s grounds has to be carefully incorporated and developed to complement the indoor zones and further enhance the children’s learning, creativity and independence. From den-building areas, sandpits, outdoor stages and seating to interactive activity areas, climbing frames and balance beams – the outdoors is a great place for children to learn a whole variety of skills from sharing and taking turns to working collaboratively while letting off steam.
Inspired learning everywhere
Many schools are looking at developing multi-use halls to use for drama productions, assemblies and productions. Using smaller, quiet areas in the school can be great for small group teaching and learning, intervention work, individual study and breakout areas, which can be very beneficial and ensure the whole building is used to its maximum potential with learning happening everywhere.
Children thrive in stimulating environments that encourage independence but also inspire learning. Learning spaces should make education more accessible to children, not hinder it. Evolving learning environments must consider what children need to support their learning, the days of traditional classrooms and theatre-style lectures are indeed over; we don’t teach like this anymore. We encourage independent thinkers that are resilient, take responsibility for their learning and challenge themselves, so we owe it to them to create learning environments that reflect our teaching aspirations. An inspired learner is a successful learner.
You might also like: Children reap benefits of outdoor learning