How to create an exciting learning space

Sam Stevens

Sam Stevens is the owner of Learning Spaces School Interior Design Ltd and has been working with schools across the UK and Europe designing and installing exciting and engaging Learning Spaces for over 14 years.

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If you have a kid of your own who reads, where does he/she sit when reading at home? Everywhere and anywhere is the answer.

They lay on the floor, they slouch on a sofa or sit upside down on a sofa hanging over the arm.

They don’t of their own volition sit at a desk or table. Why? Because, duh, it’s not comfortable!

If you want kids to read and lose themselves in a story, or use iPads or other devices naturally as they would at home, then give them beanbags, floor pads, soft bucket seats and sofas. If they need a desk, just make it comfy to sit at.

What will the space be used for?

Firstly, decide what you're going to be doing in the area. Be really creative and think what a kid would love to do at school. When asking groups of pupils the question, "What has been your favourite time at school?", time and again the answer has been "trips to the Natural History museum" or "the animal sanctuary" and so on.

Essentially, places outside school which have something most schools lack - excitement. In order to give pupils excitement inside school, simply bring the exciting objects and imagery from the outdoors to the indoors.

Secondly, which part of the curriculum will your area support? What will you do in it? What is the functionality you require? Remember to balance your ideas with your budget. Once you’ve decided what it’s for, decide how you intend to use and timetable it.

As an unusual feature, for example, library shelving can be created with huge upholstered circles built inside them for kids to choose a book and simply sit comfortably and become absorbed in it. It produces the desired effect of making the kids want to be in the library. Now there’s a thing.

If you want to design an area, make sure you are designing it for the people who are using it. I’ve heard Primary school bursars say, "Ooh I don’t like that colour; it's far too bright for me." Remember that you’re designing it to give the kids a new and exciting experience.

Budgets are important. Know how much you have to spend first or you’ll waste everyone’s time and end up with a poor version of what you intended. Having said that, there are amazing things you can do on a shoestring with a few tips and tricks.

Everything needs a purpose, including technology

Technology. Oh my word! Have you seen what forward thinking Primary schools are now starting to do with the likes of Apple TV, Aurasma, Twitter, audio books and a host of applications that support the curriculum. Technology is fantastic, but don’t lose sight of the fact that it’s a tool. Education and excitement is not the bit of tin, it’s what the kids discover they can do with it.

You need to get the basics right first. If technology is being used, ensure the area reflects its purpose as a tool and not simply a visually pleasing camp to house it. A secondary school IT manager recently informed me he wanted to have a new Apple Learning Centre. His reasons for going over to Macs and an OS network were that, "they’re much more reliable, [their] network would be better with them and it's the way of the future."

When I asked him what he would use the Macs for, he looked shocked. He didn’t really know. "Oh, you know, video editing and that, I'll ask the media department." This learning space was neither being designed for students nor for a specific area of the curriculum. Schools are to teach kids. Learning spaces are to support that teaching and make the kids want to be there. Technology is just a tool.

Plan your personal theme

Here’s the killer. Your space needs to be carefully planned. You can’t just throw loads of things together. If you don’t design the space first with 3D modelling programs or if you cannot completely visualise how it will be, you’ll buy expensive things that simply don’t work together. Therefore, you need a theme to work around.

Examples of these can be Rainforest Libraries, Space Pod Learning Resource centres, Apple Learning Suites, Desert Island Discovery centres, ICT inspiration labs, Science and Math suites, Food Tech rooms, Alien ship Media Labs all with their own very unique set of features and functionality which is pertinent to the support of specific teaching & learning goals. Every one of which made the kids go “Wow... awesome!”

The design of a Learning Space is very personal to the school, teacher and pupils alike. The main achievement is for the pupils to really want to use the area and for it to be flexible in support of a myriad of lessons and activities. And, most importantly, for it to be exciting!

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