It’s easy to forget what type of impact the learning environment has on a child, how it influences them, impacts their learning activity and nurtures their creativity. As such, learning spaces have to be many things to children in their early years as well as being a safe place to learn and play.
When we think about how the environment affects learning, we try to take into account the specific requirements and needs of not only the children, but of the teachers too as they also spend a great deal of time in these spaces.
Young minds are invariably inquisitive ones. They always want to know what’s happening around them and how they can do things that are exciting, challenging and interesting, especially when it comes to getting creative. A youngster’s inventiveness can often be helped or hindered by the environment around them, especially in schools.
Bring the outside inside
If we’ve learned anything from working with as many teachers and children as we have, it’s that a drab, lifeless classroom does nothing for inspiration. One of the most important aspects for any creative learning space design is light, particularly natural light. Research from Hathaway et al shows that this is because natural light provides the spectral energy distribution required for all of our biological functions to operate properly.
Classrooms that include large windows or sliding doors, specifically positioned to provide the best possible view of the outside space and let light in, will stimulate children's minds to encourage their learning. Conversley, poor lighting can negatively affect the general atmosphere of the classroom. (Landscape for Learning: The Impact of Classroom Design on Infants and Toddlers).
Children like to be able to see outside while they’re in the classroom and, whilst some teachers might think this would be a distraction to learning, research collated by the Guardian shows that in fact children's view of the outside world aids their ability to think in diverse ways whilst working out problems or working in groups to find solutions.
Being able to have windows and doors open whilst learning also helps to provide a stimulating and ever-changing environment to learn in. Having a versatile space for learning where the outside can be brought inside nurtures creativity and we know that children love being able to get fresh air whilst they play and learn inside the classroom.
In fact, the effect of fresh air on healthy learning is huge as found by Lyons when he researched the impact of school facilities on children's learning.
Light, bright and inspirational
With what we know about light in mind, we also need to take into account the décor of the classroom itself. Starting with the walls, we’ve found that neutral shades or pastels work best to create a bright and airy space while the inclusion of light furniture is the ideal way to add a splash of colour. This can bring a life to the area that children love whilst leaving space in the surroundings for children's own documentation to become better highlighted and validated.
Furnishings are the ideal way to get creative with space, but it’s not just about looking nice. It’s important for children and teachers to feel comfortable too. Seating such as ergonomic chairs with sufficient back support can help to boost posture and tend to be more conducive to learning than rigid plastic chairs, which can be much less comfortable, and can age quickly from general wear and tear. Beanbags are great for promoting a sense of fun and are great for helping stimulate conversation.
In addition to décor and furnishings, we’ve found that making other practical changes to the classroom can go a long way. For example, the addition of energy efficient, air source heat pumps can be used as both a means of cooling and heating, ensuring teachers and pupils are working in a comfortable environment regardless of the weather outside.
We’ve also found that daylight dimming lighting has proved to be very useful in creative classrooms, as these can maintain ample light in the space, even on cloudy or dark days. The lights only come on when the sensors detect low light, so they cause minimum disruption to lessons and they’re energy efficient, too, which is great for our environment.
In early years especially, it’s important for teachers and children to be able to move around the room easily. It might seem obvious but any creative learning environment needs to be as practical as it is inspirational. This means being able to quickly and easily move the furniture around without getting in to too much trouble with the caretaker!
Moving furniture is important because it allows the space to be opened up for different types of learning, from story-telling to group lessons. Otherwise lessons and learning end up being designed to fit around the space rather than the needs of the learner with the aim of providing the most engaging learning experience.
Usually having time for the preparation of the space is what many teachers lack. Therefore, its worth considering chairs and tables that have wheels or castors attached which are more conducive to open plan classroom layouts, as these can be moved quickly and without too much effort. It's also safer as flexible furniture then removes the possibility of back or other physical injuries.
We encourage teachers to avoid allowing spaces to either become too cluttered or too minimalist and sparse. A messy space can inhibit productivity, while a minimalist space can appear sterile and bland unless designed specifically to show off the children's work.
Being practical and accessible
It's clear that many teachers have practical requirements which need to be fulfilled in any creative learning environment. These include simple things such as storage solutions to keep the space both practical and tidy, and easy access to vital elements like sinks and toilets whether people are fully mobile or have restricted movement. The same goes for entering and exiting the building too.
While open plan layouts aid creative learning and can go a long way to help children feel more comfortable in their environment, we would also stress the need to have some secluded, quieter spaces too. For many children this can aid focus and concentration, reduce stress, increase feelings of security, and enable children to work and play free from distractions.
We’ve also found that incorporating specially designed acoustic ceilings and walls into classrooms is particularly useful in creative spaces and noisy classroom environments. This reduces the overall volume, which has proved to be particularly beneficial to children with hearing impairments and language delays.
Implementing a creative learning space is possible either by making a few small changes or through a complete renovation of a room. It’s worth bearing in mind that the more stimulating and versatile a learning space is, the more likely that it will encourage and nurture creative thinking, whilst also being a safe and flexible environment to learn in. A positive solution for teachers and children alike.
About Pod Space
Pod Space is a Halifax-based company that sells bespoke outdoor ‘pods’ – spaces which can be used as outdoor classrooms, play sheds, home offices, or additional learning areas. The pods have sleek designs, making full use of natural light and containing enough room for everything from a bookshelf to a beanbag.