Creating Kid-Smart Spaces with Magalie René-Hayes

Last month, we were honored to have Magalie featured on the Raising smART Kids 2.0 Podcast, with Yong Pratt, owner of Elko Arts Academy. Elko Arts is a performing arts school dedicated to using dance, karate, music and other art-based programs to supplement traditional education and raise "smarter and more confident kids who become leaders for the next generation."

Join us in listening in as Magalie and Yong discuss:

  • how Kid-Smart Spaces came to be
  • why school design is so important
  • the role of design in creating joy in our classrooms
  • using various elements, like plants and colors, to create kid-smart spaces
  • entering study spaces with a mindful routine
  • tips for moms and dads on creating homework spaces
  • Magalie's experiences in individual schools
  • the Kid-Smart Spaces book! 
  • why including art in school is a must

5 Alternative Seating Options for Kid-Smart Spaces

By now, it's safe to say most of us are back in the swing of school. Welcome back!

If you and your students have returned to a classroom or learning space with those same old hardback chairs and linear seating arrangements, we suspect you'll find them antsy and ready to return to the outdoor life of summer sooner than later.

Coming back to a learning environment and staying still and focused can be difficult, even for adults! We've pulled together our favorite alternative options for classroom seating that can help even the most hyperactive kids maintain focus on what matters.

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Ball Chairs

You've actually got a few options with this route. If it's in the budget, these Modern Ball Chairs from Fun and Function are great additions to a savvy classroom. If you're working with fewer funds and have the space, go for plain old exercise balls! Not only will they help keep hyperactive students occupied, they'll add a healthy component to any learning space!

Standing Desks

If you're up for a classroom overhaul, try out standing desks. Newly praised across classrooms and offices alike, standing desks are becoming more and more popular as options for avoiding the perils of sitting all day. This StandDesk model is completely customizable, but there are a wealth of options based on height requirements, adjustability, budget and more. You can even invest in balance boards or gel pads as well to add that active component.

Bean Bags

What we really mean here is: give your students some floor time! As humans, most of us don't spend enough time on the floor, even though doing so has great health perks, both physically and mentally. Some of us do our most creative work on the floor! Why not add a few bean bags to your classroom to encourage students to leave their chairs and get innovative? Our selection is from Amazon, but bean bags are available all over!

Bungee Chairs

Even if you're not quite ready for bean bags, these bungee chairs are an excellent option for providing alternative seating, especially for kids who fidget. With a few of these in your learning space, you may just say goodbye to telling those students to leave others alone or quiet down! Check Amazon for plenty of options like this one

Bicycle Desks

Here's another option we're fond of if you can fully commit. Schools like Arlington, Virginia's Oakridge Elementary have seen nothing but great benefits from replacing stationary desk chairs with these bicycle versions. This seating option works on multiple levels, serving to give fidgety students an outlet and adding a bit of often much-needed physical movement to our classrooms. 

We suspect (we KNOW) that there are many more options for getting rid of those outdated desk chairs. We have faith that these five will make a difference, but we'd love to hear your ideas for making the classroom a little more accessible to all learning types! 

Your 2016 Guide to Finding Teacher Discounts

Whether you're in need of teaching supplies, organization, clothing, books, food, rent-a-cars,  personal care products or more we've compiled a list of over 100 retailers that honor teachers in the best place possible - their wallets. As you head full steam into the new school year check in with this round up for discounts on nearly everything you'll need and quite a few you may simply want. Happy shopping!

6 Inspirational Quotes for Packing Up Your Classroom

It's finally the end of the year, and if we know teachers, we know you're ready to pack up and head home for the summer. Like, SO ready. This part of the year can be particularly important, because if you pack up the right way, starting off next year on the right foot is a breeze. Last year's Kid-Smart expert, Tanya Kolb, has tips on how to get organized before next year, and you can check them out here. In the meantime, here's a little organizing inspiration to get you through these last few days before the glorious summer. 

5 Tips for Gardening with Kids

A number of studies have shown that plants can benefit children's health, improve mood, performance and productivity - and most importantly increase academic achievement.

Communing with nature pushes the "relax" button, reduces feelings of stress and anxiety and produces positive feelings. We consistently suggest incorporating gardening and plants to the parents and educators we work with, and as promised, we have some suggestions for how to do just that.

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Prepare them with gardening books.

Even before you get dirty, introduce your little one to gardening through books. This is a great way to incorporate reading and learning while simultaneously getting them excited about gardening.

 

Let them contribute to the garden in meaningful ways.

Participation gives kids a sense of empowerment and makes them feel valued. The more ownership they feel they have, the more important the practice of gardening becomes and the more naturally a sense of responsibility can be instilled. Not sure what constitutes "meaningful ways?" Try these suggestions:

Let them choose the brand or color of gardening tools.

Let them decide between your list of top items to plant.

Let them choose their gardening outfit!

Have them name the plants. (Be prepared for some simple or outrageous names!)

Give them their own garden beds.

 

Make gardening activities into learning games!

Gardening isn't just a great way to incorporate nature and a sense of responsibility into your everyday activities. It's also a great way to bring a little fun to the aspects of learning that kids can sometimes find boring (Math, we're talking to you!). Try a few of our favorite ways to make gardening into a game of knowledge. 

Count the seeds.

Use a ruler to measure the space between plants. 

Play a fun game of "Name That Plant!"

Write stories about your plants' journeys.

Create gardening art projects!

Gardening doesn't have to be all about digging, connecting with nature and learning academic skills. It can also be a great opportunity to hone those art skills. Get your creative juices flowing with these ideas, or try a few of your own!

Paint rocks with the names of plants or a drawing to use as markers for each plant.

Draw labels on pots.

Make pots out of milk cartons or other creative vessels.

Paint garden furniture.

 

Establish a routine.

It can be a challenge to get kids to sit still and complete their homework and study. Create a daily routine with gardening. Have them water the plants before they sit down to study. The act becomes a subtle, physical cue to transition to study time.

Gardening is good for all sorts of reasons, and studies show that's not just in our imaginations. If you're looking for a way to incorporate learning, enhance your child's life and increase their connection to nature (a proven positive relationship), gardening is the way to go!

7 Benefits to Plants in the Classroom

As we make the move to green our inner environments and habits, adding houseplants to our home and workspaces is an ever-popular change. Though teachers and school administration seem to be catching on a little less quickly, adding potted plants to our learning spaces can have an incredible, positive effect on students.

In both children and adults, the presence of plants tends to improve health, mood, performance and activity across the board. Many studies show the positive effects of bringing nature indoors, including some of these amazing results:

- Potted plants in the classroom can reduce sick-leave among primary-aged students

- Plants in the classroom improve grades and behavior among middle school students

- Plants in classrooms improve performance and lower feelings of discomfort in university students

- Both students and staff report more positive feelings and satisfaction around learning with plants in classrooms

- Spending time in parks improves concentration in children with ADD

- Plants in workspaces can improve memory retention by up to 20%

- Plants in a classroom setting can improve spelling, science and math scores by up to 14%

With effects like these, it’s pretty clear where we should go from here: more plants in the classroom!

We’ve got a few favorite plants for just this purpose and great ideas (we think!) for ways to incorporate nature into your learning space. Check back next month for tips on bringing nature inside your four classroom walls!

5 Inspirational Quotes to Get You Through the School Year

It's finally May, and while we've appreciated the Justin Timberlake memes, we know it can be harder than ever to push through this last month of school. Teachers and students alike are craving more time in the natural sunlight and aching to stretch out from behind those desks. 

The good news is, we just have to hold on for another month, and these quotes can help you do just that!

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June (and the end of school) is just around the corner! You can do this! 

7 Alternatives to Natural Light in the Classroom

Did you know, the average student spends 40 hours per week indoors?!  That means less access to the great outdoors and the healing natural light that comes with it.  

Alternatives to Natural Lighting

Poor Lighting Can…

  • disrupt sleep patterns
  • contribute to disturbance in hormones
  • cause depression

The Right Lighting Can...

Of course, natural sunlight is the best type of light for any situation, but even when we can’t find ways to incorporate more sunlight into our learning environments, we can take care to use lighting systems that are proven to mimic the benefits of natural sunlight.

As school design becomes a bigger focus across the nation, one thing is clear: lighting is key to students in any space.

Whether you have the chance to include daylighting (bringing more natural sunlight into your school through use of skylights and the like) or need to work around a smaller budget, there are many ways to enhance the lighting in your learning space.

Pendant Lighting

Considering Renovations?

Sunlight

If your budget allows for a structural change like this and the building is set up for it, skylights are the best way to go. Installing one or more skylights in each classroom provides a healthy, much-needed dose of sunlight to students during the large amount of time they spend indoors.

Solar Tubes

If you don’t have the means for skylights, don’t fear! There is still a great option for incorporating natural sunlight into your learning space. Solar tubes, or installations that redirect sunlight from one area of a building to another (think from the roof, down through the insulation and into your classroom), are a great option for buildings where it may not be logical or possible to install a skylight.

Working with a minimal (or nearly non-existent) budget?

Sunlamps

If any sort of alterations to the building are off the table, check out sunlamps instead. These individual lamps don’t require any sort of installation, short of plugging them in, and mimic natural sunlight as closely as possible. They’re used in a variety of instances, from combating seasonal affective disorder (SAD) to providing natural-style lighting for stores and more.

Pendant Lighting

Pendant Lamps

Not only are pendant lamps great alternatives for low lighting, they’re coming into style in a big way this year! Using pendant lights in a classroom can assist main fixtures in moving light throughout the classroom without taking up any additional space (we know how valuable that is!). Pendant lighting also sends a wide pool of light down into a space, making it a great option for getting more light with a smaller fixture.

Table Lamps

One of the best things about table lamps may be exactly what the name suggests. These lamps are small enough to be situated on virtually any flat, sturdy surface and can help add light to areas of the classroom or learning space that are often overlooked.

Standing Lamps

If you have the room for it, standing lamps can do wonders for a learning environment. These stand-alone lights simply need to be plugged in and, for classrooms, placed somewhere that doesn’t impede student movement. These babies are great for corners, behind your desk and pretty much anywhere else near an outlet!

String Lights

Guaranteed to be a student favorite, string lights (think Christmas lights) can also help distribute extra light throughout your educational space. String lights are incredibly versatile, and there are about 1000 ideas floating around the world wide web for getting creative with them. Check out some of the ideas here, and aim to include students in a DIY lighting project!

While it may not be the most glamorous or exciting aspect of school design, lighting may well be the most important.

Just remember to confirm with your facilities manager before incorporating additional lighting of any sort. Once you cover that base, happy illuminating!  


Natural Disinfectants for Homes and Classrooms

Last November we talked perks of using natural cleaners in the classroom, including potentially higher test scores, improved indoor air quality and avoidance of other byproducts of toxic air indoors. These are all desirable, but so is cleanliness, so if you can't use toxic chemicals, what can you use?

Natural Disinfectants

We've done the research and created this list of environmentally friendly and kid-safe disinfectants for classrooms and homes alike. For our DIY readers, some of these substances are almost magic. Not into mixing up your own cleaning supplies? Well, we've got that covered too. 

Vinegar

Vinegar's been touted as a natural, safe cleaner for years. You can use vinegar by itself or add essential oils (since no one loves the smell of vinegar), but it's worth noting that it shouldn't be diluted, and studies show that, to be an effective disinfectant, vinegar must contain over 5% acetic acid, which is significantly higher than store-bought vinegar. For higher percentages, check online or at chemical suppliers. 

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide has been used to clean homes for decades. It's generally anti-bacterial and anti-viral, but keep in mind, it takes time to work. If you're looking to really sanitize a surface, let this natural disinfectant sit for a bit, and for an enhanced clean, try mixing hydrogen peroxide with tea tree or grapefruit essential oil, as they have additional anti-bacterial properties.

Baking Soda

Natural, inexpensive and extremely effective for cleaning and shining up your home, baking soda is the magic cleaner. It's useful in the kitchen, bathroom and virtually any other place you can think of (including classrooms). For clean countertops or desks, just sprinkle some baking soda on a cloth, wipe down and remove with water.

 EO Lavender Sanitizing Wipes

For fans of pre-sanitized wipes, EO is the organic, plant based alternative to chemical-laden hand wipes. EO's lavender wipes are moistened with pure essential oils and organic aloe and enhanced with additional essential oils to leave skin soft, clean and healthy.

EO Lavender Hand Sanitizing Gel

Another EO product, made with sugar cane ethanol, this lavender hand sanitizing gel is safe for use both for humans and on the environment and kills 99% of germs. We can't ask for more than that, but they deliver anyway, since using this sanitizer leaves behind the calming smell of pure lavender! 

Seventh Generation Disinfecting Multi-Surface Wipes

For something a little stronger, Seventh Generation's disinfecting wipes boast the ability to kill 99.9% of germs, including those that cause the flu, staph, salmonella and more. It's not likely you'll be battling raw chicken in a classroom setting, but these wipes are certainly a winner for this month's cold and flu struggles! 

Just in case you're wondering just why bleach won't cut it and these natural disinfectants will, check out this great article on the negative affects of bleach on children. We'll be here when you get back. 

For our DIY moms, dads and teachers, the first three cleaners in our list aren't the only tried and true ways to disinfect naturally. In fact, here are 42 more DIY recipes for cleaning pretty much your entire living (or teaching) space!

 

Real Kid-Smart Spaces: Immersive Suite

Imagine if every time you needed to learn a lesson or skill, you were able to immerse yourself in that environment and live the experience as you learned it. Our newest Real Kid-Smart expert does just that for each of the children in her 2nd grade class. Take a peek inside her inspiring methods!

Kid-Smart Spaces Immersive Classroom

Name: Sian Thornton

School, City & State: Holy Family Catholic Primary School, Surrey, United Kingdom

Years Teaching: 4 Years

Grades: 2nd Grade/Year 2 (6-7 year olds)

 

In 2013, the school introduced the innovative concept of an Immersive Suite and a whole new style of learning. 

 

WHAT IS AN IMMERSIVE SUITE, AND HOW DOES IT WORK? 

The Immersive Suite provides children with an opportunity to learn in a completely different way, in an exciting environment that plays with the standard classroom space.

Lessons start off by immersing the children in the environment that the teacher has set up using computer-driven imagery, visuals and audio to create an interactive, sensory learning experience.  

Children are stimulated by the images, colours, sights and sounds of the world, offering a beautiful enhancement to cross-curricular learning. 

They truly forget that they are in school and not, for example, on board a flight to South America. 

HOW HAS THE IMMERSIVE SUITE ENHANCED THE LEARNING EXPERIENCE FOR YOUR CHILDREN?

Children can now go to the moon with Neil Armstrong, travel back in time to a Victorian workhouse, explore the ocean with sea creatures - the possibilities are quite literally endless. 

These dynamic lessons impact students’ work and enable significant progress. Children who are usually difficult to motivate come alive in the suite. 

The Immersive Suite has also provided some fantastic lessons for children with Special Educational Needs, who benefit from its sensory nature. We invite children in from a local Special School each week and it is delightful to see their reactions to their environment. 

Kid-Smart Spaces Immersive Suite

WHAT HAS THE IMMERSIVE SUITE TAUGHT YOU ABOUT THE TEACHING EXPERIENCE, AND HOW HAVE YOU ADAPTED YOUR METHODS TO THIS ALTERNATIVE SPACE?

Seeing the children respond so positively to a space that contrasts with the traditional, restrictive classroom environment has made me change my whole classroom! 

Each topic we cover now has a dedicated area in the classroom where children can go to immerse themselves. 

When we learn about the moon landing. I spend an evening with a colleague covering the whole area in aluminum foil, and it becomes a space station. 

When we learn about The Great Fire of London the area is transformed into Pudding Lane Bakery. They pretend to run the bakery, and especially like the drama they can create when they pretend it has caught on fire! 

Best of all the children are more interested in the topics and often come into school with extra research to share and display in the area. 

THERE ARE THREE PARTS TO THE KID-SMART SPACES PHILOSOPHY: 

  • The places children learn in shape them, and help them shape the world.  
     
  • Space, light and movement are integral to wellness and success.  
     
  • Every child deserves beauty and inspiration in their daily life.  

WHICH RESONATES WITH YOU MOST, AND HOW DO YOU SHARE IT IN YOUR CLASSROOM ROUTINE?

I believe that ‘every child deserves beauty and inspiration in their daily life’ is a great philosophy to have. 

As a teacher, you get to know students so well, and you are made aware of those whose home lives are far from beautiful. Creating a comforting, exciting, positive environment for these children is essential to ensure that they are able to spend a significant portion of their day in a happy place. 

A positive learning environment makes a positive learner, and if you can foster that in a child with some tinfoil and a cardboard space rocket then you absolutely should!

Kid-Smart Spaces Immersive Suite

WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST SPACIAL CHALLENGE, AND HOW DO YOU OVERCOME OR MITIGATE IT? 

It’s finding the ways to fit in the ‘essentials’ as well as the extra, exciting things to my classroom – like the cardboard boxes that have been made in to a bakery oven or an Egyptian pyramid!

I’m learning to manage clutter better, but as long as I have a keen eye for creative learning then I think it’ll always be a work in progress.

WHAT'S THE NUMBER ONE LESSON OR TIP YOU'D LIKE TO PASS ALONG TO FELLOW EDUCATORS ABOUT CREATING A KID-SMART CLASSROOM?

Keep it budget friendly! I (and every other teacher I know) could spend a fortune of their own money on things for their classroom, and I definitely have over the years. 

Working with a low budget can make it difficult to buy lots of new and exciting things for your learning environment, but there are ways around it. Thrift shops or eBay…there are so many ways to make your classroom environment more exciting without breaking the bank. 

Decide to make it a part of your teaching style and you won’t ever go back to a ‘normal’ classroom again!

Keep checking back for our next interview with Real Kid-Smart Spaces, and if you know an amazing mom or teacher, let us know! 

3 Study Space Colors to Help Kids Concentrate

Color matters, in most cases, and especially when it comes to creating a perfect space for your little ones to learn. Go too bright, and you may find your student suffering from an inability to concentrate. Too light, and you could end up with a frequent napper on your hands. Check out these tips for striking the perfect balance, with the perfect colors.

In general when considering paint colors for learning spaces, medium to light shades of colors are best so as not to overwhelm. Striking that ideal balance between engaging and relaxing is important, so lighter colors can be accompanied by accents of deeper shades via art, furniture and decor.

These top colors work best for concentration, critical thinking, focus, analytical skills, and retention. They’ll all do the trick, but we prefer them in this order

Blue

Blue lowers blood pressure and provides a calming space for excellent focus and concentration.

Green

Green is linked to nature and growth and elicits positive reactions, making it a great option for a learning space.

Yellow

Yellow is reminiscent of sunshine and associated with happiness. Yellow is energizing and can encourage communication and discussion, making it an excellent color for moving spaces, like hallways, play areas, cafeterias or gymnasiums. In paler shades, yellow is comforting and warm and makes a good option for learning spaces as well.

4 Schools Encouraging “Holiday” Values Year-Round

Tis’ the season when we make special efforts to impress the importance of empathy, kindness, generosity, equality and joy upon our children.

The most impactful learning environments, however, seamlessly incorporate these themes into their design year-round, making positive values a part of the way children begin to see the world, literally and figuratively, daily.  

These are some of the designs we are inspired by and a few we’ve incorporated in our own designs.

Kid-Smart Spaces

These are excellent examples of utilizing values-based design across campuses, classrooms and entire school systems. 

Pave Academy Charter School

If these are too large-scale for your scenario or budget, don't fret! Decals are a simple alternative to up the “happiness factor” in your school or classroom. (More on that in an upcoming post.)

Check websites, teachers' supply stores or make your own encouraging, impactful decor. 

 

Real Kid-Smart Spaces: Selin Gasa

If you think it's tough to organize a classroom or playroom, imagine the challenge for a traveling ArtBus that accommodates hundreds of children. That's what Selin Gasa, our next Real Kid-Smart expert, deals with regularly. Check out why and how she inspires us!

Name: Selin Gasa

School City & State: We operate in Simi Valley, CA and surrounding areas. We have a 35 miles limit but bend that rule every now and then. 

Age Range: We serve all ages! But mostly 4 - 12 year olds.

 

HOW DID THE IDEA FOR ARTBUS ARISE?

My husband and I were trying to come up with something to add to our party business. Something different and fun. I thought of food trucks and video game trucks... but I'm more into art, and creating things... and I think the kiddos need more art! So I thought it would be pretty cool to convert an old school bus into an art studio. I mentioned it to my husband and he made it all happen.

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WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ART PROJECTS OR ACTIVITIES YOU DO ON THE BUS?

  • Kids paint the actual bus! They love that. The bus is white and they get to paint on it with washable paints.

  • We do a lot of eco-crafts... We turn recycled material into works of art!

  • Some parties we have a main project like tie-dying or painting ceramics, etc.

  • We also have a mirror in there so they can do face art with the face crayons we provide, hair coloring with hair chalk and tattoos.

HOW DO YOU STAY ORGANIZED WHILE KIDS USE THE SPACE?

It's chaos during a party! Glitter and paint everywhere! But we try to contain it the best we can and try to clean up as they create. All art supplies are in bins.. pipe cleaners, poms, glitter, etc. Kids paint and do their projects on trays. For tie-dye parties we prep little tie-dye stations... We have bins with cookie cooling racks on top and have them squirt dye on shirts or bags on top of those.

HOW DO YOU ORGANIZE ONCE THEY LEAVE?

We have a whole lot of drawer bins and storage containers to keep things organized. Once they leave we just collect all the left over art materials and put them back in their proper bins. For the main projects, we separate them in large clear storage containers. We have a birdhouse project container, superhero container, fairy container, ninja turtles container... Every project has it's own. For example, for the fairy project we have 4 clear shoe box containers (Jewels/stick ons, bows/ribbons, flowers and beads) and we put those in a large container with the wings and crowns.

For all the dirty stuff like used brushes, trays and smocks... we pack them up and take them home to be washed.

THERE ARE 3 ELEMENTS TO OUR PHILOSOPHY HERE AT KID-SMART SPACES:

  • The places children learn in shape them, and help them shape the world.

  • Space, light and movement are integral to wellness and success. 

  • Every child deserves beauty and inspiration in their daily life.

CHOOSE THE ONE THAT RESONATES WITH YOU MOST AND TELL US HOW YOU INCORPORATE/SHARE THAT IN YOUR CLASSROOM ROUTINE.

Space, light and movement are integral to wellness and success... We keep things as organized as possible so the kiddos have an easier time creating. We try to give them a happy stress free environment.

WHAT'S THE NUMBER ONE LESSON OR TIP YOU'D LIKE TO PASS ALONG TO READERS ABOUT CREATING A KID-SMART SPACE?

Less mess = Less stress!!! Which I know can be difficult to do with kids... But if each thing has a home, clean up is much easier. Use those containers!

I have always been quite messy. I leave things laying around and throw my supplies just anywhere and everywhere. My husband is the awesome organized one. It actually used to annoy me. Haha. But I appreciate it now. I realized I'm more relaxed and can think straighter when my things are organized.

Keep checking back for our next interview with Real Kid-Smart Spaces, and if you know an amazing mom or teacher, let us know! 

Natural Cleaners in the Classroom

Unless you’re living under a rock, you know about the huge push across the world to switch to greener, more sustainable cleaning practices, everywhere from homes to offices to dry cleaners and beyond.

We’re passionate about schools, so here’s a few tips on how, and why, to switch to natural cleaners in the classroom.

Standard Cleaning Products and Indoor Air Pollution

In 2009, The Environmental Working Group found that, in California alone, cleaning supplies release 32 tons of contaminants (457 different types) into the air each day.

Why Go Natural

  • Clean naturally because the air inside a space can be up to 4 to 5 times as toxic as the air outside. With a 6-7 hour school day, that’s most of a child’s day spent in a toxic atmosphere.

  • Clean naturally because it’s been proven that indoor air quality (IAQ) greatly affects a student’s ability to perform.

  • Clean naturally because a recent study found that test scores significantly increased with greater ventilation of outside air into classrooms.

  • Clean naturally to avoid the byproducts of toxic indoor air quality like:

    • Direct effect on classwork and learning

    • Increased health problems

    • Missed school days

The Fix

Like conquering bad habits, it’s easier to replace them with positive habits than it is to kick them cold turkey.  

So, take a look around your classroom and swap out harmful, traditional cleaning supplies with legitimate green options.

We’ll make it even easier for you and share a few of our favorite natural cleaning products and DIY recipes in Part 2! Stay tuned!

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.

Real Kid-Smart Spaces: Tanya Kolb

Kid-Smart Spaces is launching a new series featuring moms and teachers from across the nation who inspire us every day to keep doing what we do. First up, Tanya Kolb from Brooklyn, NY!

Teachers Tips Interview Header

Name: Tanya Kolb

School City & State: Brooklyn, NY

Years teaching: 14 years

grades: Pre-k, K, & 1st grade


IT ONLY TAKES YOU 1 TO 2 HOURS TO SET UP YOUR CLASSROOM AT THE START OF THE YEAR. WHAT'S YOUR SECRET?

What I do at the end of school year sets me up for back to school, but technically I have two secrets: Purging and Organizing.

4 Steps to My Quick Classroom Set Up:

  1. Create Ideal Layout - During the school year I experiment constantly with my classroom furniture, moving things around until the space is laid out just the way I like it.  

  2. Document It - Once it looks the way I want it to, I take section by section photos of the room from different angles (from front looking back, from back looking front, etc.).  I also photograph each bulletin board and each wall.  Referring to these photos when I’m setting up the room makes set up move quickly.

  3. Purge Before You Pack - Teachers are natural hoarders! We don’t like to waste things, because we know how valuable and costly supplies are, but our downfall is, "I might use it next year" and finding things another teacher made and thinking, “I can totally use that.” Those are traps!  In reality, if we didn’t make it, we have no attachment to it and little or no memory of its use. If you didn't use it this year and if you didn't make it - throw it away! I know so many teachers who have boxes but don’t even know the contents inside.

    My purging trick is to pack the stuff I don’t currently use in a separate box.  At the end of the year, if I still haven’t used it, I throw it out. 

  4. Pack It Right - I limit myself to 6 to 8 boxes, but no matter the number you have, the key is to pack and label only items that belong together in the areas where they live in the classroom.  It can be as easy as “Front of the room - Left Half”  

THERE ARE 3 PARTS TO THE KID-SMART SPACES PHILOSOPHY, WHICH RESONATES WITH YOU MOST, AND HOW DO YOU SHARE IT IN YOUR CLASSROOM ROUTINE? 

  • The places children learn in shape them, and help them shape the world.  

  • Space, light and movement are integral to wellness and success.  

  • Every child deserves beauty and inspiration in their daily life.  

The first one is most meaningful to me.  Children are not necessarily organized by nature, but they mimic what they see.  They know how important organization is for me, so they follow suit and mimicry becomes habit.  Our habits shape their habits.  For me, I think creating surroundings they can value helps students value themselves and hold themselves to higher standards.

WHAT'S YOUR BIGGEST SPATIAL CHALLENGE AND HOW DO YOU OVERCOME IT?

This year I’m very lucky to have a large classroom but in the past, struggling in smaller classrooms, I found excess furniture got in the way of activities and wasn't aesthetically pleasing.  Flow is important, so I always opt to remove any furniture that takes away from the space when possible.

WHAT'S YOUR #1 LESSON OR TIP FOR CREATING A KID-SMART CLASSROOM YOU'D LIKE TO SHARE WITH FELLOW TEACHERS READING THIS?

Get rid of the stuff!  That goes for bulletin boards too.  If there’s too much to look at, the intention is lost on the kids.  Minimize the physical and visual clutter.

Keep checking back for our next interview with Real Kid-Smart Spaces, and if you know an amazing mom or teacher, let us know! 

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! 

Your Child's Brain on Good Design

As adult guides, it is our responsibility to create nurturing, inspiring learning environments that foster academic achievement and creativity. Places where students can thrive and discover the special skills and gifts they’ll someday use to make meaningful contributions to the world.

Good Classroom Design Brains

Design - Schools Vs. Offices

There's so much focus on office design but considering how much more impressionable a child’s brain is compared to an adult’s (neuroscientists use the term “plastic”) it's shocking how little we're discussing school design.  If it’s already widely accepted that office design greatly impacts the productivity, emotional state, and physical health of adult employees, it stands to reason that the relationship between children and design is even more critical.  More and more experts are listing school design as a key factor in a student’s success, and rightfully so.  Genes provide a blueprint, but the construction of a child’s brain is formed by environment and experience.  

School Design Impact - UK Study

Researchers out of the United Kingdom found that classroom architecture and design significantly affected academic performance: Environmental factors studied affected 73 percent of the changes in student scores. The year-long study suggests that a school's physical design can improve or worsen children's academic performance by as much as 25 percent in early years.

Clutter Impact - Princeton Study

Another study, by the neuroscientists at Princeton University, found that when parents had to deal with their belongings their stress hormones spiked. Similar to what multitasking does to the brain, physical clutter overloads the senses, causes stress, and impairs the ability to think creatively.  Children then, suffer doubly. Once from their own battle to keep focused in cluttered spaces, and again when the parents and educators they rely on for guidance under-perform due to disorganization.

Even without research to back it up it seems an obvious conclusion that children’s surroundings can have a negative impact on their ability to focus and process information.  But the research does exist - and as interest in school design and tactile, design-based learning increases, so do the number of studies. They paint a clear picture: alongside key factors like home life, inspired teachers and school location, a child’s success is also linked to the spaces where they learn.