3 Tips for Designing a Multi-Purpose School Space

I was once tasked with re-designing a school space that housed both the teacher break room and a student tutoring intervention space. (Teacher break, huh?) The main problem was obviously the two very divergent needs taking place in one shared - and small - area. Account for sub-activities (like coffee/tea/food preparation, eating, sink use, socializing, testing and instruction), and we're actually talking about seven or eight different activities, all in one space.  Here's what I learned from that design challenge:

Divide the Space By Individual or Grouped Activities  

In this case, the space was small enough that it required grouping related activities together.  We split the room into halves, based on the primary functions and then split each space again by micro-activities.

Think Vertically

Too often we plan with only the floor space in mind.  Using walls maximizes and multiplies the amount of useable space you have to work with.  Whether you use walls for storage, use them to display art, or just let the teachers climb them, when possible, take it all the way to the ceiling for a strong visual statement and more space.

Make Use of Corners

Use corners to organize the space. Corners are a natural starting point to design our thoughts and objects.  Creating activity centers in the corners works as an easy way for students to identify tasks areas and as a common sense way to keep organized. Activity centers also double the space for the tasks.

Help! My Classroom is Too Small

It’s easy to offer organization and design tips when there’s a large classroom space to work with.  Things get really challenging when teachers need to fit everything into small classrooms. Though there’s not much we can offer by way of fixing social issues like overcrowding or cost per square foot, there are a few basic ways to keep your small classroom organized:

image credit: pixabay

Minimize Visual Noise

In graphic design the amount of white-space (or empty space) is as important to the viewer as the subject itself.  That’s because the image, in its entirety, affects the viewers' ability to process what they are seeing.  Think of your classroom walls as a blank canvas. If the canvas is covered with too many subjects (in this case instructional tools and classroom decorations) it all becomes visual noise. Remember that every item placed in the room competes for your students attention, so display wisely.

Swap It Out

How can you avoid over-stimulation and limit the information students focus on when there’s so much they need to learn? One way to keep visuals from competing for attention is to swap them out as needed.  Use magnetic whiteboards, magnetic paint, velcro or colored paper to make your decorations or instructional tools interchangeable. This allows you to better manage the room's focal points and, by extension, the focus of your students.

Keep Your Shelves Concealed

Concealed shelving is an excellent way to minimize the clutter that shrinks a space.  Unless they are holding books or house items that require constant access, shelves should hide the items they store. Doors are ideal, but if closed cabinets can’t be managed, use alternatives like curtains, table skirts or storage bins to hide the clutter.

Create Activity Zones and Define Them Visually

“A place for everything and everything in its place.” That age old adage never gets old, especially where classrooms are concerned. The best way to maximize the space you have is to use it wisely. Give each activity its own zone. In small classrooms, several activities may need to share a zone.  In those cases, the tips above (like concealed storage, swapping items out, storage bins) are especially key. That way, once one activity has ended, the zone can easily be packed up, prepped and transformed for the next use.

What methods do you use to maximize the space and effectiveness of your small classroom? We'd love to hear in the comments!