Our school year started with teachers returning for staff team-building and professional development August 1, about three and a half weeks before students were scheduled to start. Returning for our second year as a school, with a new grade level added, as well as many new staff, we had a lot of rich dialogue to be had, such as identifying our priorities for the year. As an inquiry-based school where we expect children and adults alike to take risks and innovate, our top priority is to cultivate a safe and supportive culture for learning and growing. Much of our staff development time was spent discussing how to achieve this. How would our values reflect this priority? How would we live out our values? How would the school and classroom environments give evidence to our values?
In our kindergarten classroom, our teaching team agreed that we wanted a beautiful and organized space, a space in which all members of our community would feel welcomed, seen, heard, and loved, and a space in which children could use their imaginations, their powers of play, and stretch themselves cognitively. We felt that the organization and beauty of the learning environment would speak volumes to the children about how we value them and how we expect them to value school.
We decided to use our large Natural Pod table at our most dynamic area in our classroom, in which we organized our materials for inquiry, science and art endeavors, near the blocks and the dress-ups. The flexibility to use the table with the benches or raise it up to standing-level seemed perfect for an area where we are currently studying materials and cause-and-effect of how objects move. At other times of the day, it is where children sit for more structured times like math or reading workshop. We made a choice to give each kindergartener the sense of security in having their own select seat with their name on it, so they always know where to go during our structured workshops.
The play stands became the place to display the dress-ups. It was our hope that students would come and go from this liminal space, transformed into a new character that they took with them to another work (play) area in the classroom.
When the doors opened for the first day, parents and children immediately responded to the beauty of the wood furniture in the classroom. (And we in turn were grateful to the parents who assembled the furniture for us). We also received many comments and excitement about the bright, colorful rug chosen for circle time. They were definitely excited to be members of an inviting, pleasant community!
As the beginning weeks of school unfolded, the routines and expectations of the school community were most often the focus of group conversations. Our beautiful furniture definitely supported our goals to impart the values of respect and kindness. For instance, when our classroom community needed to discuss the problem of someone in our school writing on the bathroom wall, and the importance of respecting all of our school and each other’s property, our young student Leo emphatically replied, “I would NEVER write on our furniture; the wood is so beautiful!” The children have also given themselves a beautiful name: The Magical Unicorns.
Another focus during this first month of school has been on keeping an inquiry mindset as teachers. We learn about the children by observing them. While giving them invitations and choices, we watch their learning styles and preferences emerge and we think about how best to use that data as we make curricular plans.
The new piece of furniture itself has offered us an inquiry challenge. When the children have been invited to choose their play space, half the class chooses to go to the dress-ups first before moving to another area dressed as their chosen character. It is one of the most well-loved spots in the classroom.
Ms. Chloe reflected, “Admittedly, I was hesitant at first about the play stands. To me it looked like a jungle gym and I worried the kids would try to climb them. I was wrong; that hasn’t happened once. And now I wonder how else we can use them, if we’re using them to their full potential. It will be good to explore and test that out.”
And it will be good to keep learning alongside the children, thanks to an inspiring and provocative piece of furniture!
Photos by Chloe Langon and Alyssa Currie
Learn more about how Natural Pod’s furniture works to create beautiful, playful, collaborative learning environments – download our catalog.
The New School of San Fransisco