When Lots Of Kids In A Small Space Make For Success …

When I started teaching, I rarely read about education, unless I was doing so as part of a course or for some school professional development. In the past few years, that’s changed, and I’ve found myself interested in finding out more. I always add some educational reads to my holiday reading lists, I read blog posts and articles every day, and I try to partake in conversations online about educational topics and issues. I’m even one of those teachers that enjoys reading curriculum documents — including the front matter — and I tend to memorize what I read, so I also think about and reflect on these documents a lot. The more that I read though, the more that I see situations from various perspectives, and then what doesn’t make sense in one way begins to make a lot more sense in another.

My teaching partner, Paula, and I experienced one of these strange situations this past week. While we made some very deliberate choices about our classroom environment back in September, the kids have helped us change the environment since then. Their needs and interests dictated these changes, and often they helped co-create this space with us. The room looks similar to how it did before, and yet, a bit different. 

There is one space that continues to surprise us: the block area. Most of what you read about the successful organization of a block space is contrary to what we’ve done. Due to recently adding some painting into our dramatic play area, we moved the green table into the block area for a different building surface. While there’s value to having a table in a block area, our block space is already quite small. This table makes it even smaller, and way more confined. We have quite a few different block and construction items in this space, and while we’ve tried to move some to another area (for example, the creation of a different domino space), children are not drawn to these items elsewhere. They want them here. 

A contained space with so many people building together should be loud. It should be chaotic. Most educators — me included — would probably question the sanity of this decision. And yet, it works! Not only does it work, but it actually seems to be an area that many children go to self-regulate. What?! Again, it’s questionable how anyone could be so productive in such a confined area, and also, see it as a calming space. This past week, Paula and I spent a lot of time discussing why this might be true.

We’ve tried a block area with more space, but it’s always loud, busy, and often, dysregulating. While the research might question our decision to have so much happening in such a small area, it’s hard to argue with our observations. The photographs in the post above do not even do the area justice. At one point, there was another child weaving in and out of the block building, and even with the action at the table, the creations in the shelves, and the structure on the floor, this space was like a breath of fresh air. 

We’re wondering if some of what we know about Self-Reg might support our observations. Many children seem to search out small, covered areas. It’s why they like sitting under a table, working in a tent, or even learning in a shelf. 

We’re wondering if all of the people in this block space almost act like a human cover for the area. Does the closeness help create a feeling of calm? While research on classroom set-up may be contrary to the success of this space, we wonder if research on Self-Reg might support it. It’s hard to know for sure, but there’s so much value in having these conversations to try to make sense of our observations, for when we do, we can also plan with these theories in mind. When has research been contrary to your observations, and how do you then make sense of what you’re seeing? Why might this process be beneficial? And then again, different kids with different needs might make the success of this current block area much less successful. I wonder if this then speaks to just how personal Self-Reg can be.


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