Redefining the classroom set-up post-Covid

Written by: Shahana Knight | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

We must not revert to the status quo post-pandemic, we must instead embrace the lessons of Covid if we are to increase engagement with learning. Shahana Knight suggests we begin with our classroom set-up and offers some ideas for mixing it up...


The last year has been a difficult one and, although it has been unsettling for both teaching staff and children, we have also learnt some great lessons that we can apply to the classroom in the future.

For the first time in a long time schools have had to break old habits and teaching styles, embracing the changing world more quickly than ever before: teaching virtually, adapting expectations and being more creative.

The truth is, it was about time we shook things up in education, because our conventional ways of teaching are outdated. It is understandable to want things to go back to how they were pre-Covid, but let’s not be too hasty to revert to the status quo.

If we really want to meet the needs of today’s children, growing up in this 21 century world, then this is a perfect time to redefine our expectations of how children learn, our classrooms and our overall offer.

Classroom set-up

During lockdown children have been learning on their dining room tables, in their gardens on blankets, sat on their floors and from their sofas. Similarly, adults have been working from many of the same places. And even before lockdown, many very successful entrepreneurs and business people were working from coffee shops and front rooms.

Why then do we promote learning in the classroom while sat on hard chairs and at tables, facing forward? Does this cultivate an inspired, engaged learner?

It is true that many children have adapted to learning in this way, but that doesn’t mean that this is the optimal way for them to learn, nor that their engagement is at its highest in this format.

When I teach children in the classroom, I find myself sitting on the tables or the floor. Sometimes I lie on the floor on my tummy to teach. Why? Because this is how I am most engaged with the children and feel most connected.

We need to begin to think outside the box and create a culture whereby learning is creative, fun and engaging. One of the simplest ways to embed this message is to connect how pupils feel to what they are learning. When a child feels physically comfortable and when they have autonomy and control over whether they can move and adjust how they are sat then they are more likely to associate learning with pleasure.

Many children in our classroom are not developing self-awareness about how they like to learn. This can have a negative impact on their learning experience, especially for our more vulnerable children who have large amounts of stress hormones running round their body.

Our expectation for them to sit on the same chair for most of the day is unrealistic and often highlights a lack of understanding regarding adverse life experiences and how they affect mental health and wellbeing.

So what can you do? Introduce flexible seating in your classroom and think outside the box. Here are some tips to get you started.


Replace chairs and tables with sofas and coffee tables

Yes, we are pushing the boundaries in this article but stick with me! Imagine you walk into the classroom and instead of seeing tables and hard plastic chairs, you see clusters of small sofas and armchairs arranged around the room. Maybe some are against the walls facing outwards, others create a circular group around a table. Some have small side tables fixed to the arm rest for writing. They are cosy and welcoming and create a feeling of security.

Dotted around the room are plants, shelves full of books, and backboards covered with wallpaper and framed photographs of the children.

What with school, homework, clubs, social media, gaming and (for some) difficulties at home, there is very little time for children to actually feel relaxed and calm.

This is a real issue in our society and is causing children to struggle with concentration and hyperactivity. If the classroom feels cosy, safe and welcoming then you are not only supporting their wellbeing and mental health but you are also turning on their thinking brain and decreasing the levels of stress in their bodies – thus creating an environment that is conducive to learning.


Have break-out zones

Create zones around the room that allow children to experience different seating and learning options. They may find that one particular area suits their learning needs best. You could have a circle of bean bags in one area, large floor cushions and blankets in another, and even a few hammocks!

The children can use these areas to work as a team, read, talk about a topic or do an activity. Children who might feel anxious about group work not only have the opportunity to feel more comfortable physically, but they can also reach for a blanket or hug a pillow to help regulate themselves as they learn.

This will have a significant impact on difficult behaviour and angry outbursts because self-regulation tools are available in the classroom as part of the natural learning environment.

When I talk about flexible seating in classrooms, I often get asked about handwriting: “But the children need tables to write on.” I agree. However, this does not have to be in the conventional way. Tables come in all shapes and sizes. Try low coffee tables so that children can kneel or sit on the floor as they write or high bistro tables with large fabric stools instead.


Teach on the floor

If you have spent time with primary-age children, you will know that they love to lie or roll about on the floor and sprawl all over it! The feeling of being on the floor is very grounding, it helps reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and the pressure of the floor beneath them can be calming and help them self-regulate.

Again, we are preventing children from being able to use their bodies to help them manage their emotional states by expecting them to sit at tables for most of the day.

My seven-year-old daughter tells me her bum gets numb after sitting at the table for so long, but she is a keen learner and just ignores it. However, for some children, this would leave them feeling unsettled and could be the reason why they engage in disruptive behaviour.

Try asking the children to sit on the floor while you are introducing a lesson. Do not worry about them being sat in perfect rows with their legs crossed. Instead explain that they can lie on the floor, be on their tummies or sit cross-legged as long as they are listening and engaged. You will find children will switch positions as they listen; this is actually helping them concentrate.


Encourage movement around the room

When I am working, I can sit often for six hours in the same place and am deeply engaged in what I am doing. However, my husband needs to get up, move about and change his environment. Everyone learns in different ways and we should be creating environments where we encourage children to find the way that suits them best.

If children are being disruptive, it might have nothing to do with whether they want to learn but everything to do with needing to move and reposition themselves. I am currently writing this article at my dining table, with one leg hooked under my body on my chair and one leg up on the dining table top. I have moved positions four or five times, but I am still at the dining table.

If a child was in their classroom with their legs up on the table like this, they would be told off. However, if they could move over to a sofa or get on the floor then they are learning that they can readjust their positions, get comfortable and stay engaged.


Conclusion

Creating an environment that puts the learning needs of children first is exactly what we should be doing in education today, especially post-pandemic. We must begin to put children’s emotional health, wellbeing and mental health first otherwise we are contributing to the disruptive behaviour and dysregulation.

The fact is children cannot learn unless their wellbeing needs are met. This is the perfect time to reinvent things and we absolutely should.


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