I’ve recently felt like the lad who lunches. In preparing to move to North Carolina to start my new teaching position, in between runs to Bed, Bath and Beyond and stopping at Mrs. Green’s for a freshly made beet, carrot and lemon juice, I’ve been trying to catch up with as many of my friends and family in Connecticut as possible before I leave on Monday.
While dining one night with friends and family at Bartaco in Westport, my friend Iain introduced me to Bob, a friend and teacher from Weston who teaches junior high school. We exchanged teaching experiences and discussed the teaching practices of Montessori and Steiner. Then Bob introduced the concept of ‘the wall’ to me. “It has to do with how you structure the classroom,” Bob said. “As children grow, you gradually allow the classroom to grow with them. It can’t be too big or too small.”
I considered Bob’s words carefully, and concluded that they made sense, in both literal and figurative terms. From a teacher’s standpoint, we physically arrange our classroom to create a space that will encourage classroom participation, exploration, and safety. We use our surroundings, coupled with developmentally appropriate learning materials, to teach our students about cause and effect, counting, fractions, colors and Shakespeare. But we can’t do this in a broom closet any more easily than we can at a Chuck E. Cheese’s. We have to find and make use of a space that fits the bill for our objective.
Of course, as any teacher can tell you, there is not a one-size-fits-all method to this. We experience an ongoing education in the art of trial and error when it comes to the physical use of space. One year we may have students who like to run around the classroom even more than the previous year. So we arrange the furniture in such a way that it discourages running. Or we might find that because we have less students in our room than the year before, it might be better to arrange the desks in a circle rather than in rows, so that the first row of desks is not constantly empty.
There are many ways we can make good use of our space, both at school and at home. How do you, as a teacher, parent, or both, use your space at school and at home to best suit your students and children?