If you build it they will come

Published by Lori Pickert on December 29, 2008 at 04:21 PM

Sometimes parents, or teachers, think mostly in terms of giving children the space that they need for the work they are trying to do — which is one great way to improve your learning infrastructure — but don’t realize they can turn it around and also make space that will support new work they want to encourage.

A child who is unenthusiastic about art isn’t likely to blossom in that area if they are simply presented again and again with the same materials and environment that didn’t spark their interest in the first place. A boy who shrugs away from crayons and scissors might be energized, however, by a set-up that includes colored tape, a supply of cardboard boxes/tubes/lids/jars, glue, interesting papers, etc., along with some inspirational photos of Star Wars ships, medieval castles, Egyptian tombs.

A writing area in a classroom that consists of an institutional school supply table with a dirty can full of pencils and a stack of wrinkled notebook paper isn’t likely to set kids’ interest in writing on fire. Now imagine that the children come to school to find a tiny wooden desk with stationery, envelopes, blank labels, a paper tray filled with a selection of papers, a date stamp, a mini stapler, a hole punch, a wooden bowl of brass brads.

You can make a gift of your focus and attention, and it doesn’t have to involve purchasing anything new. You can usually find what you need just by gathering together things you already have and then focusing on making the space as attractive as possible. This becomes a provocation, and you can simply leave it alone and let it work its magic on its own.


Comment by amy on December 29, 2008 at 05:38 PM

I love you! This was perfect!

Comment by Sarah Jackson on December 29, 2008 at 05:40 PM

I love this. As you know, I'm repurposing my living room and making it a kid/learning/play friendly space. That photo above sums up what I'm trying to do. Inspirational, beautiful, practical and not cluttered. All at once. I'm sure it'll be no problem at all.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 29, 2008 at 06:35 PM

thank you, amy!

lol, sarah. you’re right, though -- it is a challenge! and then as they use the space they continually uncover new issues you have to deal with. it’s impossible to predict what they’re going to need; you just have to figure out solutions as you go.

i’m redoing the boys’s area because in just six months they’ve started playing in a completely different way. it never ceases to amaze me how fast they grow and how quickly their interests develop.

Comment by Sherry on December 29, 2008 at 07:35 PM

Yes! Yes! Yes!
So few people seem to be able to grasp this! Even my DH doesn't get why I am so often moving things around and putting things in different rooms--even though he SEES how engaged our son can become.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 29, 2008 at 08:12 PM

i agree, sherry -- a learning space should be flexible and parents (and teachers) should be always thinking about how to shift space and materials to accommodate what they see happening in that space. how can things take off in a static environment? or, better stated -- when we keep the environment static we are trying to force growth in a particular direction and pattern. when we stay flexible and shift as we go, we’re following that growth that is naturally occurring. it‘s always easier to move with the tide instead of against it.

Comment by Aimee on December 29, 2008 at 09:37 PM

I love how simple it is to get my kids excited and interested in something. In just rearranging to make room for our Christmas Tree, we moved blocks to a new area and they have built so much in the last few weeks, and also in very different ways. I love setting up the toys in interesting ways, grouping blocks by a basket of animals or maybe rocks to see how they will use them differently.

Reading this post led me to tidy up the living room (clutter from Christmas was taking over the room), including the new sensory table filled with rice (I just stacked the things they had been using in it, like chopsticks, little woven coasters, tiny wooded bowls and some animals, all into different corners) and the kids played for over an hour just with the table; not just the 4 year old, but the 1 year old too, so very focused and happy!
Thanks Lori, for such timely posts,

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 30, 2008 at 12:12 AM

ha, aimee, i was talking about that exact same thing during one of the saturday open theads -- how just *moving* something reignites their interest. :^) also what you are saying about regrouping things in interesting ways -- thoughtfully and purposefully arranging things to provoke their interest. wonderful.

tidying is another big interest-igniter for me as well .. whenever i take the time to “refresh” the boys’ desks (tidying, sharpening pencils, fresh paper, etc.), it always jumpstarts something new. it’s a nice exchange .. my attention, their renewed energy! :^)

Comment by Dawn on December 30, 2008 at 01:05 AM

Thank you! Thank you!
I need to go clean up/reorganize/regroup now....
I just purchased shelves for the kids rooms tonight so we could free up some "learning" space downstairs. It is deciding what goes up and what stays down... that is the hard part.
The idea about looking at what they are into at the time to design the space is great. Right now everything needs to be made into a museum so she needs more space to display and label her work. That is what I am looking at provided at the moment.
I would also love a key to the forum and a little info about how that all works.. Thanks Lori!

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 30, 2008 at 01:50 AM

watch your e-mail, dawn! :^)

what goes up and what goes down .. i end up carrying the exact same things back where they were three months ago. :^P

and yes! thinking about fitting the space to what they are doing now .. and making things flexible, because you *know* things are going to change. :^)

good luck!

Comment by Sam on December 30, 2008 at 11:07 AM

I had recently moved everything round in our downstairs room, so everything was accessible and where the boys needed it, and I've been scratching my head the last few days, wondering why I was feeling the need to reshuffle.
This post, and the last one have rung a peal of bells in my head. I like to find a place for everything, and then it's done, but obviously the boys interests develop and change, so I need to be a lot more flexible.
The ideas for recharging interest in writing made ME excited, so I can see exactly what you mean. Now to do it here...somehow, lol.

Comment by greenchickadee on December 30, 2008 at 02:51 PM

OK, as usual, you reignited my homeschool fire. The holidays sucked it out of me and I was trying to figure out how to get excited again and not back to the hum-drum. We've already moved some things around and now the ideas will flow. I loved your writing idea also. Very nice because I agree, plain white paper is boring . . . Happy New Year friend!

Comment by Theresa on December 30, 2008 at 10:39 PM

Yes, exactly. And I have also found that rather than re-organizing your entire space, it can be as simple as setting out new things on a tray. I try to keep a couple of shelves open for setting out new things each week or so. And then every few months do a total re-evaluate and overhaul of the whole space.

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 31, 2008 at 12:12 AM

sam, great!! and thank you! :^)

greenchickadee ;^) lol re: the holidays sucking it out of you .. oh, i know what you're saying! but yes, rearranging and refreshing everything is starting the ideas flowing. and happy new year to you, too! :^D)

Comment by Lori Pickert on December 31, 2008 at 12:16 AM

theresa, very true -- but if you’re reevaluating and overhauling four times a year i think you have even me beat. ;^)

happy new year!

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