When we picture a conventional elementary school classroom, we often envision the usual suspects: desks neatly aligned, a teacher’s workstation, the steady rhythm of a wall clock, and the quintessential blackboard, adorned with chalk and erasers. The blackboard, hailed for its simplicity, stands as a cornerstone of revolutionary educational tools.
Interestingly, while blackboards dominate traditional elementary classrooms, they remain surprisingly absent from early childhood learning spaces. Amidst the clamor of activities performed on horizontal surfaces, the potential of vertical classroom walls often languishes untapped, relegated to mere decoration for adults or a showcase for children’s artwork.
We extend to you an invitation—an invitation to metamorphose your classroom walls into dynamic tools for learning. To perceive these walls as more than just flat canvases for children’s work or repositories for laminated charts, posters, and informative materials. Step into a mindset where classroom walls are valuable real estate, an extension of the growth-conducive floor space. Begin by critically assessing your walls’ purpose and ponder these queries:
- What adorns the walls presently, and what’s the rationale behind it?
- How does the material posted contribute to learning?
- Do the displays celebrate both children’s achievements and the classroom’s collective work?
- Do the walls resonate with the children’s interests, forging meaningful connections?
However, the pivotal question is this: Do these displays lean towards interactivity or passivity? In their illuminating book, “Through a Child’s Eyes: Inspiring Learning and Wonder through Classroom Design,” Dr. Sandra Duncan, Jody Martin, and Sally Haughey urge educators to transform passive wall exhibits into interactive hubs for young minds. Reframe walls not merely as platforms to exhibit items, but as zones for children to interact, collaborate, experiment, and learn.
Envision a vertical learning environment—an upright surface adorned with two- and three-dimensional elements that beckon children to explore, manipulate, interact, and construct knowledge.
These vertical learning spaces cater to all age brackets, even the youngest of learners. Their design flexibility allows for quick setups or intricate arrangements, using resources ranging from the readily available to those demanding a bit more investment. The materials encompass an array of textures—wood, PVC piping, metal roofing, fabric, magnetic boards, carpet fragments, and curtain rods. Here’s a glimpse of strategies and ideas for crafting engaging vertical learning spaces:
- Elevate Accessibility: Position installations at children’s eye level, ensuring easy reach and engagement. For side-by-side activities, provide at least 40″ width for infants, toddlers, and twos; 50″ for preschoolers; and 60″ for young school-age children (Readdick & Bartlett, 1994).
- Authenticity Reigns: Opt for natural and genuine materials that resonate with the child’s world, steering away from plastic artifacts.
- Sturdy Craftsmanship: Construct robust surfaces and fixtures capable of enduring enthusiastic interactions from many young hands.
- Strategic Placement: Install these learning havens away from high-traffic zones and entrances, ensuring safety and a focused environment.
- Age-Appropriate Materials: Prioritize safety by selecting materials suitable for the children’s age and skill level, fostering unhindered exploration.
As educators nurturing early childhood development, we comprehend the significance of hands-on, experiential learning. A substantial share of these immersive encounters occurs on flat surfaces—tables and floors. Yet, why limit engagement to the horizontal plane when the vertical expanse (i.e., walls) beckons? Below are four reasons advocating the integration of vertical learning environments into our classroom dynamics and design:
- Midline Mastery: The act of crossing the midline—a virtual line bisecting the body—facilitates interhemispheric communication in the brain, pivotal for holistic development. This crossing primes children for reading, necessitating smooth left-to-right eye movements. Difficulty in midline crossing can impede coordination and hinder advanced cognitive skills, including reading.
- Spatial Intelligence: Interacting with vertical surfaces fosters spatial awareness, acquainting children with concepts like left-right, up-down, high-low. The elevation of the surface at eye level sharpens their grasp of spatial relationships.
- Fine-Tuning Proprioception: Proprioception, the body’s unconscious understanding of spatial movement and orientation, finds enhancement in sensory-integrated experiences. Vertical interactions bolster this kinesthetic awareness, promoting stability and body orientation.
- Affordance Awakens Curiosity: Psychologist James Jerome Gibson’s notion of “affordances” suggests that environmental cues invite actions. Vertical learning environments extend an irresistible invitation to explore, offering objects to manipulate, investigate, and ponder.
Crafting vertical wall environments encapsulates innovation and excitement. Draw inspiration from these concepts to transform discarded furniture, worn-out pieces, or modest construction materials into captivating vertical learning spaces.
1: Metallic Magic
Metallic magnet walls, suited for both young and older learners, stand sturdy against inevitable childhood zeal. The tangible engagement between the two boys, absorbed in conversation, exemplifies the cognitive engagement fostered by such spaces. A sheet of metal roofing, procured from the local hardware store, serves as the foundation. Cut it to size with tin snips, securing it to the wall using heavy-duty screws. Trimming edges with a furring strip conceals sharp edges.
2: Baking Pan Brilliance
Designed for young children’s innate attachment and detachment drive, this vertical learning arena celebrates the allure of metal cookie sheets. These are mounted with metal screws, showcasing magnetic tape-clad puzzle parts. The result? A captivating platform encouraging pincer grip practice as children manipulate farm animals.
3: World on the Wall
Reflecting children’s fascination with minuscule worlds, this concept transforms a wall into an immersive canvas. Dollhouses and barns, mounted with precision, cultivate creativity, decision-making, and exploration. The drawer below the dollhouse, repurposed from an end table, doubles as a storage space, marrying practicality with imaginative play.
4: Pipes & Curves
Large PVC pipes, meticulously assembled, fashion an educational haven for infants and toddlers. The rhythmic act of dropping balls and observing their trajectory nurtures cause-and-effect cognition, spatial understanding, and core muscle development. Installing this environment is straightforward—purchase pipes, clamps, and screws, and let a battery-powered drill complete the job.
5: Sculptural Learning
Recognizing children’s intrinsic drive to explore through movement, this design hinges on curlers, transforming them into vertical learning elements. Constructing spatial understanding, dexterity, and motor skills, this approach resonates with Dr. Magda Gerber’s philosophy of embracing natural learning through exploration.
A Vital Edge of Vertical Learning Spaces Educators often grapple with spatial constraints in classrooms, making efficient utilization of space imperative. The remedy? Vertical learning environments, transcending floor boundaries, unleashing the often-neglected wall potential. When space is scarce, verticality proves the savior, marrying innovation with purpose.