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Designing Effective Workspaces for Children in Grades Three to Six

Architect Rebecca Stuecker evaluates how to accommodate the learning needs of students in Grade Three to Grade Six, where space and traditional school supplies may be constrained.

By Rebecca Steucker


September 10, 2020

The work they need to perform is often most comfortably done at a traditional workstation, but they still need a high degree of play and physical activity. They can manipulate technology independently, but they still require a great deal of help to understand and complete their assignments. I’m an architect and Accredited Learning Environment Planner, specializing in designing K-12 spaces, not a trained educator. In my work, I’ve been fortunate to observe, and work with, highly effective teachers in their learning environments, and have included some of those observations in the recommendations below.

Different people learn differently. Distance learning, referring here to situations in which students are based at home but continue to receive their curriculum and instruction from the school they’re enrolled at, offers a chance to tailor each environment to the unique needs of the learner. This opportunity is often less available in traditional classrooms, posing challenges for students and instructors alike. While some students are able to focus best after outdoor exercise, others do their best work in the morning. Some kids prefer to work on the floor at a low surface, such as a coffee table, while others focus best at a desk and chair. Ergonomically, chairs should be adapted to accommodate the child’s size, ensuring their feet can touch the floor or a footrest, and allow for movement. A strong example of this is the VS Hokki stool, which allows students to “wobble” in place. Task lighting and acoustic control, such as noise-cancelling headphones, can help students focus in a distracting home environment.

For my twin third graders, I’ve found mobile technology to be the most useful. They can find a cozy spot to read a selection from the school’s digital libraries, away from siblings or other distractions. Personal-sized markerboards, like the slate or wax tablets used by previous generations, are a wonderfully impermanent way for students to fail early and often. Markerboards mounted to the wall prove less useful for side-by-side help, though they do help to establish the feel of a classroom at home. A desk organizer that contains all the necessary supplies within reach helps to define the perimeter of any workstation. In the pre-pandemic classroom, these storage spaces and supplies were distributed throughout the classroom. In schools operating during the pandemic, supply-sharing of this nature will likely be curtailed. As a designer, I predict a return to classroom furniture that includes built-in storage.

I’ve discovered that the biggest impediment to my children’s ability to complete tasks is also the most difficult for many families: consistent adult presence to guide them through the work. At the end of the last school year, our family made the mistake of putting the children’s workstations next to the adults’.  We quickly discovered that we had underestimated the hours of side-by-side help the kids would need, making it difficult for both parents to complete focused work tasks while also lending an ear to the kids. As a result, we found that the best solution for everyone’s productivity was to relocate the children’s workstations. We moved their “classroom” next to the kitchen, where we can provide support to them in shifts. For this age group, we’ve found the most productive environment is the one where kids can easily access help.

Rebecca Stuecker, AIA ALEP. Rebecca is a creative and dedicated architect and educational planner who brings a high level of design sensibility and technical skill to her work. She has a passion for designing functional 21st-century teaching and learning environments.

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