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.

5 Alternative Seating Options for Kid-Smart Spaces.jpg

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. 

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!

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!  


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! 

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!