Plain and simple is the latest look in primaries

12th February 2010 at 00:00
Research shows that young children communicate better in 'calm', clutter-free environments

Minimalism is a phenomenon normally associated with pretentious make-over TV shows rather than primary classrooms filled with 30 energetic five-year-olds.

But for six schools in Merseyside following a programme in reducing classroom clutter - and even making them "boring" - has become a reality of teaching life.

The technique starts with teachers walking around on their knees. "We took photos from a child's height and it did show how overwhelming it was," said Ann Thompson, reception teacher at St Dominic's RC Infant School in Knowsley.

"We had things hanging and dangling down. So we got rid of a lot of it and made the backdrop of the classroom plainer."

The Communication Friendly Spaces course was set up three years ago by consultant Elizabeth Jarman and is based on the principle that young children communicate more easily in spaces which are calm.

Those behind the philosophy argue that removing much of the "unnecessary" clutter - pictures, postcards, mobiles - that is traditionally associated with primary classrooms, leaves pupils in a happier learning environment.

"At first I thought the (new) spaces were bland, but I have been converted," Mrs Thompson said.

"Before we were all-singing and all-dancing. We changed because we had to - because we were on the course, but I have been won around by it. It creates a feeling of spaciousness. We have not got rid of everything, but the backdrop is plainer."

As well as using neutral colours and natural materials, the principles also include thinning out resources and introducing play spaces made from soft materials. The same principles are used outside - at St Dominic's, a small outside space has been turned into a miniature forest with fairies and dinosaurs where children can play and have stories read to them.

Deborah McArdle, programme director of the North Huyton Learning Collaborative, said: "We are seeing a positive impact on confidence and use of language.

"The spaces are enabling communication to take place more effectively. One school set up a dark, cave-like den where a couple of boys liked to sit. They had little jotter pads for making notes and drawing and they told each other stories. It's not something they would have sat and done in a big open space."

Teachers are also asked to have particular children in mind when creating spaces. "We had one girl who always wanted to hold jewellery," said Mrs Thompson. "We created this lovely area, just a small space filled with lovely materials, and put a jewellery box in there. She was naturally attracted to it and spent a lot of time in there."

And, alongside decluttering, making dens and calming down the colours, the teachers at one school made another important discovery - they needed a new carpet.

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