learning spaces

Creating an encouraging workspace

Published by Lori Pickert on September 23, 2010 at 03:24 PM

One thing we mentioned in A Work of One’s Own was creating a workspace that reminds you of your goals.

Just as we create a workspace for our child that gently reminds her of her own goals, we want to make ourselves a space that

- celebrates what we love

- reminds us of our goals

- encourages us to continue working

Ideally, our workspace should inspire us daily to keep doing the important work of becoming our best selves.

Making this effort sends the same messages to ourselves that we want our children to get from their space:

– you are valued

– your work is important

– this is what you care about

– this is what your hard work looks like

– you still have more work to do

– there is joy in work and learning

Our space tells us a story about our daily life and work, about our values and priorities, about our plans and dreams.

What story is your space telling you?

We are designing the lives we want to lead by living and working where we’re happiest on projects that call to us.Jessi Arrington

New work area

Published by Lori Pickert on April 6, 2009 at 07:40 PM

My nine-year-old is still writing and drawing comics; recently we realized he had been working on this particular project for almost two years!

We moved the drafting table into his room so he could have an area dedicated to drawing comics. (As you can see, it’s still a work in progress!) We also outfitted a small ikea cabinet to organize his single-panel comics, his comic books in progress, finished projects, etc.

Lately he has been drawing full-length comic books and making plans to copy and sell them online. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

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.

Homeschooling infrastructure

Published by Lori Pickert on December 27, 2008 at 05:08 PM

What has become of our infrastructure, which is so crucial to productivity? — Thomas L. Friedman, Time to Reboot America (New York Times Op-Ed piece)

What is the relationship between infrastructure and productivity?

Reggio educators speak of the learning environment as the “third teacher”:

A Space That Teaches

The environment is seen here as educating the child; in fact it is considered as ‘the third educator’ along with the team of two teachers.

In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge. All the things that surround the people in the school and that they use — the objects, the materials, and the structures — are seen not as passive elements but on the contrary as elements that condition and are conditioned by the actions of children and adults who are active in it.

The Hundred Languages of Children

What is your homeschooling infrastructure?

Do your children have the space and the tools they need to do the work you want to encourage?

Is their environment responsive to their needs?

Look at your children’s space with a critical eye, from their perspective — their height, their ability level. What message does it send? The space speaks to your children; what does it say? Where does the focus lie?

One example:

I visited a classroom where the teachers spoke of their frustration about the fact that all the children wanted to play in the block area. They would try to crowd into this small space together, and there weren’t enough blocks for more than two or three children. They wanted to find ways to lure the children to the other parts of the classroom.

They were floored by my suggestion that they get more building materials and enlarge the block area. The classroom resources needed to be allocated fairly across the different areas of the classroom. And the children needed to learn to share, to wait their turn. The classroom should be evenly populated, and the children needed to participate in a larger variety of activities, not just play in the block area.

I asked them to reexamine these ideas and the way they were viewing the children’s behavior.

They were taking a very negative view of the children all trying to get into the block area together — the children were being stubborn, they didn’t want to wait their turn, they all wanted access to the same materials. Observing them, however, it very quickly became apparent that the children were really motivated by excitement (by work done by a few specific children) and wanting to work together — something the teachers had been trying to encourage! They didn’t even recognize it because it wasn’t happening in the way they had planned for, anticipated, and wanted.

Sometimes observation can be a way to get beyond your surface emotions and prejudices and uncover the reality of what is happening. You see that the children aren’t fighting but frustrated, aren’t stubborn but deeply engaged.

Making room for the children to work together, giving them more materials so they could do more and better work — it transformed a difficult classroom with two frustrated co-teachers into a large, energetic project with two very excited teachers. The energy from the building then spilled naturally into the other areas of the classroom, pulling in writing and measuring, drawing and painting, etc.

The environment — the infrastructure — of the children’s learning space wasn’t keeping up with and responding to their needs. Once the infrastructure changed, the work took off. But it couldn’t happen until the teachers took a deep breath and examined their own attitudes and prejudices as well as what was really happening right in front of them.

Look at your child’s learning space and look at the work your child wants to do, the work you want to encourage. Then think about what you might change. Little changes can make a big, big difference.

Inspiring children’s rooms

Published by Lori Pickert on September 20, 2008 at 09:07 PM


Inspiring children’s spaces, via mopu42. Featured room by Delson or Sherman Architects, New York.

Displaying children's art

Published by Lori Pickert on February 29, 2008 at 11:11 PM


My friend Jo asked me if I had anything to contribute to this delightful post at the Cookie Nesting blog on kids' art displays. I didn't manage to send her anything because I've been a little swamped.

(Also, when anyone asks me for something, instead of rifling through my photos and immediately sending something in, I tend to think "oh, that won't do .. I need to take new photos" and "I'll wait until the light is brighter" and etc. and etc.)

So, up above is my favorite way we displayed children's art at the T.P.S. — in a hanging room divider of plexiglass frames. These are two pieces of plexi sandwiched together with two pieces of art in the middle — so you can see something different on each side. We drilled holes in the corners and used circle clips to attach them together and make a huge display, but you could easily have the plexi cut smaller (they will cut it for you at the hardware store) and hang them singly or maybe three in a row vertically. A smaller version would look beautiful hanging in a window.

And here are some of my favorite kid art displays from my peeps:

Estea's houses on the windowsill, rickrack art line, and wire book/art display shelf.

Geninne's son Daniel's window art

Kajsa's beautiful kid art line in the kitchen

Eren's drying rack gallery display

And, technically this isn't kids' art, but what a great display idea:

Hannah's little brother's stop sign as magnet board (awesome!) (totally stealing this for the boys' rooms!)

Let me know if you have something cool to share!


Children’s art studio

Published by Lori Pickert on October 3, 2007 at 06:52 PM


Our Reggio-inspired art studio.

Hanging from the ceiling, children's artwork in handmade plexiglass frames, forming a see-through wall of art.

The shelves are inexpensive fiberboard shelves, screwed together, and then backed with galvanized tin, the same material used in the country to roof outbuildings. Eight dollars a sheet.

Shelves displaying art materials and works in progress, handmade by us from simple boards, and mirrored with cheap dorm-room mirrors laid horizontally ($5 each).

Candy-colored lights hung from the ceiling to mitigate the sometimes harsh feel of fluorescent lighting.

Reading nooks

Published by Lori Pickert on September 4, 2007 at 01:36 AM

The art of organization

Published by Lori Pickert on September 2, 2007 at 03:55 PM


Don't worry, I'm not going to pretend I can cover the topic of organization in just one post.

After all, "Real Simple" talks about it in pretty much every issue.

However, we're getting ready to gear up for the school year, we need to organize our classrooms, and parents have many of the same concerns at home. (In fact, more and more bedrooms and play rooms are drawing inspiration from classrooms.)

I am not one of those people who keep only the things which I feel to be beautiful or know to be useful (paraphrasing William Morris). My closets and drawers are crowded with the less attractive, the downright ugly, the obscure, and the "maybe some day".

At home (see above), we had a major organizing shift this year in the play room. I purchased a couple dozen of the clear bins shown, which have permanently attached lids that, when open, hang neatly at the bin's sides like a hinged open door. These were purchased at Wal-Mart when they were on clearance, and I made a second trip to get more. Bless the person who thought of the permanently attached lid.


Clear bins and containers are so nice for showcasing their contents. If a child can't see into it (e.g., open baskets and trays on a low shelf), clear containers allow them to see what materials are available.

With limited storage, it always helps to go up ... clear containers on high shelves mean materials that aren't needed everyday are still in sight, so children don't forget what you have. High shelves are also a nice way to display completed projects.

paintcan.jpgOne of my favorite finds for organizing pens, pencils, markers, paintbrushes, etc, is paint cans. The paint store sells them (new, unused) in different sizes, about 88 cents for the quart size. These are a natural material, sturdy, and .. bonus .. magnetic -- so you use magnets or magnetic labels on them.

Martha Stewart uses paint cans turned on their sides to make excellent cubbies. It's not hard to imagine these repurposed as student mailboxes in the classroom (drawings can be rolled!).

More organizational inspiration for today:

Colanders instead of baskets

Pegboard desk (Martha Stewart Kids)

Baskets, chalkboards, and cork boards (Pottery Barn Kids)

Slat shelves

A writing place

Published by Lori Pickert on August 30, 2007 at 03:08 AM


As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. Or so the saying goes.

We want to encourage reading, writing, and drawing as daily activities, so we purposefully have several spaces that are very inviting for curling up with a book, drawing a picture, or writing a letter. (Or, this week, drawing a comic book.)

In preschool and Kindergarten classrooms (and sometimes, if you're lucky, older grades), there are usually "writing centers". Sometimes these areas are a bit school-ish (institutional) and perhaps big enough for several children.

A great writing space is big enough for two children to work side-by-side, so you can work with a sibling or a friend. You can use a thrift-store or garage-sale desk or table and stock it with all the things you would find in a regular desk: stationery, envelopes, stamps (blank labels cut into squares can be decorated by the sender), address book, etc. We like old-fashioned rubber stamps. And writing isn't only about mail -- we always offer small handmade books with decorative covers (the easiest of these are just folded and stapled copy paper), clipboards for taking surveys and doing pretend office work, and etc.

Even the smallest space can fit in a tiny corner for a desk that will beckon to children to sit down and write a letter, a poem, a book .. or a comic book. And small spaces are nice, even when you have a lot of space to work with. There’s nothing like a cozy nook to draw children in, whether it’s a single floor cushion half hidden behind a curtain for reading or a tiny desk with cubbies stuffed full of found papers and office supplies for writing.

soulemama's corner of my home: his desk

geninne's studio/homeschool

israel's desk

little birds' new drawing corner

maisie's desk

syko's drawing corner

duchamp blinks' desk