At BraveHeart we usually talk about how important relationships are to our children and young people. Whether you’re a parent or carer, education staff or work with children in any other capacity I’m sure you agree that relationships play a huge part in enabling young people to feel safe, and to be able to learn.
However, today I want to talk about the environment. The space we inhabit with our children actually can make a difference to how they learn. This is something I’ve been mulling over the last few weeks as I’ve been in a few schools who’ve come to this conclusion themselves.
The general way we seem to design our education spaces in the UK, particularly in Primary education is around high sensory stimulation – bright colours, lots of displays, dangling pieces of art from the ceilings and an emphasis on vibrance. I understand why we do this or why we’ve done it up to now. There always seems to be the belief that children want and need colour and visual stimulation to be creative.
BUT I’m thinking that maybe that’s not so. Maybe it’s actually hindering creativity, particularly for children who have a lot of chaos in their heads to start with.
I don’t know about you but the more stress I have in my life the less stimulation I want around me. I need quiet, to lie down in a dark room, less people, nature and wide-open spaces. Why would it not be the same for traumatised children?
From what we know already about the brain, when children are in the reptilian part of the brain, on high alert and frightened then the front brain (the thinking brain) is offline. We need to help children to feel safe and calm so that they can access the processing part of their brain.
So, the question is – how does your current environment create the space for feeling safe and calm?
The cluttered classrooms, bright walls and hanging displays – what might they make a child feel? The tall cupboards and enclosed spaces – how do they encourage a sense of safety?
One of the people I’ve come across recently, by recommendation from a number of schools is a lady called Elizabeth Jarman. Her theory – the Communication Friendly Spaces Approach talks very much about this subject. Trying to see our spaces through the eyes of the children helps us to imagine how it might feel to come into a huge room for example. If you walk on your knees into your classroom, if you’re in early years – how does it look and feel from that angle?
Elizabeth’s website shows how this approach works. She says, “we need to challenge historical stereotypes around the way that environments have traditionally been set up for children, based on what we know today about brain development, language acquisition, child development and attachment theory. It’s time for a re-think!”
I saw this in action in a few schools recently. The walls were painted in neutral colours – no bright walls or displays. Natural wood and material adorned the bookshelves giving a calming effect. I noticed it straight away and it made me feel calm to be honest so I’m sure it has a similar effect on children.
I’ve also been in MANY classrooms where the opposite is present. The brightness and hanging displays makes it harder to concentrate for children who already are battling with their internal distractions.
It’s food for thought this week and I hope will encourage you to take a look around you at the spaces you are in, whether at home, school or elsewhere. How could you change it to accommodate the sensory needs of those who need less not more stimulation?
I’d welcome any comments on this topic as it’s a work in progress for me too in my thinking.