I'm not exactly sure what appeals to me about helping to create spaces for learning and exploration. On one hand, I believe that learning can happen anytime, anywhere. On the other hand, there are optimal environments for learning. If there is anything I am trying to keep in mind as I see the spaces and materials in this new environment, it is how to create an environment where choices are open-ended, and where all work is valued.
The first space I chose to work on was the art studio. It is my favorite room in the school - it is where I am sitting as I write this. This week, I have been concentrating on seeing what is in the school and organizing it. There have been so many boxes and bins to go through, and as I see each item, I think: is this a good material for exploration? Does this tell a child what to do, or is there flexibility?
For example, there are two classic math materials that I love to have available in the classroom: geoboards and unifix cubes. When I pulled them out of the cabinet, both bins had laminated cards that suggest and challenge different arrangements. I tucked those suggestions back into the cabinet: I want us to get to know the material before someone tells us what to do with it.
There are, or course, materials that are meant to be used in a certain way (board games, for example), but I am also hoping to approach even those things as opportunities for exploration. If we happen to be a community that loves to play board games, what are the implications for inquiry there? Can we learn a new game together? Can we create board games or card games and share them with friends and families? What can all those little pieces be used for outside of the context of the game?
Digging through boxes and flipping through papers, there were beautiful things that were left behind from children in the past. Some seemed like doodles, tossed aside in pursuit of something else to do. Others were commercial works, and others seemed like finished products. Regardless of their origins, I hope that every space in the school inspires. If we want to value the process over the product, we should probably share more than just finished products.