Unfortunately, this is how many children feel every day in their classrooms. Whether it’s because the chairs are too big or too small, the aisles too narrow, the tables too low, or the displays too high, the message is clear: "This room was not made for you."
The sad fact is that most classroom spaces are far from ideal. Perhaps they were originally designed and built with little or no consultation with the teachers who would be working in them. Teachers probably won’t be able to transform an inadequate classroom space into an ideal one, they can make dramatic improvements. The most obvious place is by thinking about the students. Create a physical environment that makes children feel comfortable and significant and that best serves their needs.
Make the Classroom Fit the Children’s Bodies
Too many times I have watched students struggle with attention and behavior problems that were clearly the result of being in spaces that were too small, too crowded, or otherwise unsuited to their physical size.
So, before you even meet the students, estimate the range of sizes based on what’s typical for that age. Use this estimate to:
- Choose desks, tables, and chairs that fit the children. Also, consider making modifications to the furniture you currently have.
- Select and arrange bookcases and shelves. In general, children should be able to see and be seen over any shelves.
- Determine where to locate display areas. Displays meant for children should be at their eye level whenever possible.
- Plan the amount of space needed for class meetings. When children are sitting in a circle, there should be approximately three inches between children.
- Plan enough space for table work. Keep in mind that when children sit at a table to work, they need "elbow room" and space to spread out materials.
- Plan enough space for the children to line up at the exit door. For comfort and safety, it’s best to allow about nine inches between children.
- Plan passageways—the aisles children use to move about the room. In general, a passageway should allow two children to walk past each other comfortably.
After students arrive, observe how they use the room. Make necessary adjustments and invite the students to be part of the design process whenever possible. This gives children a sense of ownership and increases their investment in making the design work.