Setting Up A Learning Space
Each child has a different set of needs which can help guide how to set up a learning space and what materials to add to that space. Below are some topics to ponder when considering how to set up a learning environment.
It is good to consider the light source in a learning environment—natural light being the best option. Balanced, warm light helps produce a calmer environment when compared to very bright, over head light. A great way to do this is to swap out the use of ceiling lights with lamps.
Shelving and Containers:
The way a learning space is organized helps everyone. If it is visually appealing and it is easy to see all the materials, children will naturally do better with keeping it clean and organized. This “clean-up” process is also a routine formed with consistency and persistence, but shelving and containers really help. I prefer baskets because they are visually easy on the eyes and can fit a lot in them. Choose baskets where you can see what is inside from the shelf so that children can easily find materials. If you don’t like wicker, you can find fabric lined metal baskets or woven material baskets that are a bit more flexible. Hobby stores and thrift stores are great resources.
There is a common practice I’ve noticed in school classrooms to flood the space with primary colors. Though it can be a source of conversation if the teacher chooses to use it, this style can be very over stimulating. There are many other ways to learn about colors without putting them on rugs and bins. When setting up a learning environment, it is good to remember that the learning materials will likely add benefits of color naturally to the room. When setting up the space, think about more natural tones that are easy on the eyes and comforting. What kind of space do you dream of sitting in and what would help you focus?
Layout/Dividing the Space:
The layout of the learning space will vary based on the size and desired materials (like an easel or kitchen). Generally our classrooms were fluid and open, allowing materials to flow in the room. We took the backs off of shelving units so they could act as dividers while enabling access from both sides of the shelf. We always included a reading space, art space, building space, quiet space, light space (old projectors or light tables), and a dramatic play space. You want to be sure to provide enough space for building but also not so much space that it is hard to find things. Rugs can also help to visually divide space.
As a school we shopped for our largest furniture at Discount School Supply. However, we often supplemented at IKEA. IKEA has great, affordable options where you can find almost anything you would need furniture-wise for a learning environment. Here is a visual of some options:
Some children may struggle to engage for long periods of time, while others can sit and build for extended periods of time. It can be helpful to match the amount of materials to the level or ability of engagement.
A shorter attention span requires less materials, while a longer attention span can handle more materials. This also allows you to work more on guiding the child in ways to use the materials (in our preschool this was more open ended; example: “Wow look at how the blocks can stack... I wonder what else they can do?”), as well as spending more time on the practice of cleaning up when finished (we all know this is a battle that usually needs a decent amount of time and perseverance).
When preparing the environment, you'll want to know whether you are adding a lot or a little. This will change how much shelving you'll need, how much building space you'll need, and the way you will lay out the space.
Read more About Limitations Within A Learning Space
It is possible to establish a beautiful and rich learning environment that evolves as the child evolves, meeting the child's needs at each stage of development. Observation is a great teacher, as it will help you to understand where your child is developmentally and when they are ready for a change or a challenge.