Organization is not my strong suit. I have to really work at it to keep a neat and tidy space. When I started teaching 19 years ago, I had a desk. That lasted for less than a year. Why? There were always piles of paper on it. I could never find anything, but I seemed to keep everything. Getting rid of the desk helped, but now I just create my own organizational systems — or lack thereof — in closed spaces: cupboards, filing cabinets, the trunk of my car. They all work well. 🙂 At least I view clean lines and a lack of clutter. This helps with my own sense of calm, but it also seems to help kids.
When it comes to learning though, I’m all for embracing the mess. Many young children, in particular, seem to love sensory play, and it’s as they engage with the paint, the mud, the glue, the sand, and the water, that we tend to hear the best conversations and extend the most learning. I keep coming back to Instagram posts, such as the one below from last year, which could certainly cause adult stress, but produced amazing student engagement.
Trying to be respectful of the environment and of the caretaker, I’ve always believed in getting students involved in the clean-up process. We clean up too. But when a mess becomes large, it helps to have a good sense of humour and a positive connection with the caretaking team.
My comment to our amazing caretaker, Mr. Angelo after school yesterday: “If you see red anywhere, it’s not blood. It’s just paint.” He shakes his head and chuckles. We’re still his favourite…I just know it! 🤣
— 𝘼𝙫𝙞𝙫𝙖 𝘿𝙪𝙣𝙨𝙞𝙜𝙚𝙧 (@avivaloca) June 4, 2019
I keep thinking about this, for this year, my classroom is as neat as it’s ever been. The caretakers at my new school keep commenting on the cleanliness of the room. Even our young kids seem to embrace “neat painting.” I know that my caretaker from my last school would be shocked with the lack of floor paint. 🙂
For the first time in my entire life, I’m part of a Pinterest-worthy classroom … and yet, I’m stuck wondering. Despite the fact that our kids seem to love being on the floor, and we have tire tables in all of the spaces that they use, they rarely stay at these tables for long. Why?
Today, I had a wonder. Could the added beauty — thanks to the burlap — deter use? I wonder if the kids are afraid to make a mess. Could neatness, at times, hinder creativity? I keep coming back to a wonderful book by Susan Stacey that I read over the summer: Inquiry-Based Learning Environments. As I’ve blogged about before, in the book, Stacey has us thinking about beauty through the eyes of kids. Sometimes our organizational systems are contrary to what students want and need. Reflecting has me questioning if this is true now.
Earlier this morning, I went on a mission to find a log/stick. The hope is to actually use this log to break apart our big carpet and reduce the running space that is so very intriguing for kids. Thanks to a comment from our principal, Mr. Smith, we’re going to also add a painting component here. This could be a great sensory experience for kids, but also allow them to communicate through art, measure, pattern, count, problem solve, and expand vocabulary. The opportunities are limitless! We definitely have children that love this sensory painting experience, and many that chose to paint their own sticks, pinecones, and other field finds on Friday.
Please note that this table was “popular,” but with just a few kids.
The log painting will expand on this interest, but with a more collaborative piece. Now to keep the floor space clean, I’ve purchased some tarps to put down under the log. Tarps invite painting though. They are known for their dribbles of paint and their messiness. Will these tarps change the use of our floor space?
In the Kindergarten Program Document, we’re told that children can express learning by saying, doing, and/or representing. My wonders around these tire tables have me thinking about if they’ll also express why they are using them less through both their words and actions. Can I figure out more by observing the kids? What about talking to them? The Reggio approach really emphasizes “the environment as the third teacher.” The environment might look beautiful, but is it working? And if it’s not, how can we work with children to make it work better? This week, my teaching partner and I will be acting as researchers as we watch and listen to find out more. In the end, “neat” may be redefined, but hopefully the kids can own and love our evolving space!