It’s about that time again - a time when educators think about sprucing up their classrooms, moving and changing the furniture around, creating new bulletin boards, cleaning out drawers and closets, and even throwing away some stuff in the dumpster. We begin finding new ways to decorate the environment and maybe searching for some clever ideas on Pinterest to fix up the space. Too often, though, in our zealousness for creating just the perfect environment, there is a tendency to overdo and overdecorate, especially when it comes to the classroom walls. Read on to discover the signs of over-decorated walls and why less is more.
Are your classroom walls overdecorated?
Think about your classroom walls for just a moment. Other than paint or wall covering, what is on them? Most likely, there is the traditional array of commercially purchased laminated posters, children’s artwork as well as a calendar, weather, and all sorts of wall charts that supposedly help children learn about the alphabet, colours, shapes, and numbers. Although posting all this stuff on the classroom walls is well-intended by teachers, there is research that proves heavily decorated classrooms disrupt young children’s attention, learning, and focus. There is also evidence, on the other hand, saying that sterile and blank walls are not the answer for optimized learning environments Nobody - including adults or children - want to spend a good majority of their day in an institutional-type and hospital-like environment. So, what’s the answer? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere between sterile and overstimulating. Perhaps the answer is to forget about the idea of decorating your classroom and embrace the idea of becoming the curator of your environment.
“We are not decorating learning spaces.
We are designing them to amplify learning.”
- Robert Dillion
Be a curator - not a decorator
We need to stop thinking of ourselves as teachers who simply decorate classrooms. Rather, we must begin assuming a more important role similar to curators of art galleries or museums. Museum curators are responsible for the design and arrangement of displays and exhibits and, in essence, are the guardians of the museum’s walls and the work of the artists. Just as museum curators carefully consider where each piece of artwork or object is placed on the wall, so should teachers curate their classroom walls with intentionality and purpose. Be a curator and not a decorator.
Strategies for curating classroom walls
The easiest strategy for curating classroom walls is to break the traditional aesthetic code and overcome the compulsion of most early childhood teachers, which is the need to put everything but the kitchen sink on wall’s surfaces. Answer the questions in the table below to see if your walls are curated (or not).
If you answered “yes” to all six questions, you are well on your way to being a curator of classroom walls. If you answered “no” to any of the questions, there is work to do. Try some of these next design strategies.
BE A CURATOR
Design strategies for classroom walls
It’s been said that no one thinks their classroom is overdecorated. If this is true, we have a big problem because without even being aware of it, teachers are unintentionally using valuable wall space for insignificant materials. Teaching concepts from commercial posters that are posted on the wall (for months and months on end), for example, is an ineffective pedagogy because we all know children learn from hands-on and three-dimensional experiences. What good, then, is a single dimension poster? You would be better off if all the “learning” posters were removed from the wall and, in their place, create vertical learning spaces. Please see the images around the article of some ideas to get you started.
For more information on vertical learning spaces, go to Community Playthings at https://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/2019/Vertical-Learning-with-Classroom-Walls
About the author:
Sandra works to assure the miracle and magic of childhood through indoor and outdoor play space environments that are intentionally designed to connect young children to their early learning environments, communities, and neighbourhoods. Dr. Duncan is an international consultant, author of seven books focused on the environmental design of early childhood places, designer of two furniture collections called Sense of Place and Sense of Place for Wee Ones, and Adjunct Professor at Nova Southeastern University. Sandra has designed and taught university courses on built early learning environments, collaborating with architects, interior designers, and educators to create extraordinary places and possibilities for children and students of all ages. Books and articles include:
- Inspiring Spaces for Young Children
- Rating Observation Scale for Inspiring Spaces
- Rethinking the Classroom Landscape: Creating Environments that Connect Young Children, Families, and Communities
- Through A Child’s Eyes: How Classroom Design Inspires Learning and Wonder
- Bringing the Outside In: Ideas for Creating Nature-Based Classroom Experiences for Young Children
- The Honeycomb Hypothesis: How Infants, Toddlers, and Two Year Olds Learn Through Nature Play (Available Spring, 2022)
- Designing Inspiring Environments for Infants, Toddlers, and Two Year Olds: Lessons from Nature (Available 2023)