Many classrooms have furniture and equipment that don't provide what children need.
Marlynn Clayton, a former teacher and co-founder of the Northeast Foundation for Children in Greenfield, Mass., and co-author Mary Beth Forton, say in their book, Classroom Spaces That Work, that much of what is found in today's classrooms is the wrong size and doesn't provide enough space to give students a variety of experiences.
“The sad fact is that most classroom spaces are far from ideal,” Clayton and Forton write.
The Northeast Foundation for Children (www.responsiveclassroom.org) embraces what it has dubbed the Responsive Classroom teaching approach. The principles underlying the approach include a belief that the social curriculum is as important as the academic curriculum; how children learn is as important as what they learn; and the greatest cognitive growth occurs through social interaction.
Room to move
Clayton says it's important to have furniture that is flexible and can be moved easily.
“It's important to be able to arrange the furniture so children can be partnered with different children at different times,” says Clayton.
Many teachers also like to be able to move desks and tables easily to create an open space for the entire class to gather.
“Stacking chairs that can be rearranged or moved quickly to the side are good,” says Clayton.
Many classrooms also lack the bookcases and shelving needed to hold instructional materials so they can be accessible to students.
“You want to have lots of storage space,” says Clayton. “Classrooms should have shelving that allows for a variety of things of different sizes to be stored. It has to be accessible to the children.”
A mixture of tables and desks can provide variety, but some schools overdo it by having too many desks and tables. Add in computer stations and you have a congested classroom.
Without sufficient storage, classrooms can become too cluttered. This can result in spaces that are difficult to clean, overstimulated students, behavior problems and safety concerns.
In Classroom Spaces That Work, the authors say furniture needs in a classroom vary as students grow:
At this age, classrooms need more open space than furniture. Limit the amount of furniture, especially tables and chairs. Arrange furniture to make many spacious and open interest areas.
For children at this age, create defined areas such as those for math or reading. Low dividers around learning areas can help create protected workspaces. Be sure the dividers are low enough so children can see over them.
For 6-year-olds, consider arrangements that offer plenty of open space for students to sprawl and move about while working. Not all work surfaces need chairs, and not all work surfaces need to be desks or tables.
Arrange furniture so that 7-year-old children can work with partners or alone more often than in groups. Children this age typically prefer individual desks to tables for work areas.
Arrange furniture for classrooms of 8-year-olds in groups of desks or with groups of children at tables. Make sure furniture can be moved easily.
Source: Classroom Spaces That Work, by Marlynn Clayton and Mary Beth Forton.