Once upon a time, I was a young Spanish teacher in a beautiful private school in Princeton, NJ, called the Chapin School. Chapin had just finished building an amazing new addition and – lucky me – I was assigned a huge classroom with big windows to the well-cared grounds.
There I was, in a wonderful empty space full of possibilities. I could do anything I wanted with my classroom – what an amazing opportunity, ah? So I, being the novice teacher that I was and not knowing any better, quickly crowded the empty space with desks, chairs, file cabinets, and posters and banners in Spanish about the colors, numbers, etc. Not only that, I spent the next few months making hundreds of flashcards to fill up those cabinets… quite something if you know what I think about flashcards today!
In my defense I will say that it probably works like this in any profession – you first have to walk the beaten path for a while before you blaze your own trail.
My perspective about the ideal language learning space has changed 360° ever since. Or rather, I have a perspective today while back then I didn’t have any – I simply didn’t even think in terms of learning space design, period. Having taught in many different types of settings afterwards (mostly rented space in schools and churches) has probably contributed a great deal to my way of thinking today.
I invite you to look at this “Play and Learn Spaces” pin board where I have posted some pictures with play design ideas I find intriguing.
Of course it depends on what space you have available as a teacher, but if I could go back to ’97 and be the space designer of that glorious Spanish classroom, I would:
- Think in terms of a theater stage. That is, part of the classroom would essentially be used as a stage to be redecorated according to the lesson’s theme. For example, if we were working on a story, the classroom would be decorated for that particular story. Everything would be movable and storage-friendly.
- Depending on the age of the students, I would enlist their help in creating the decorations and integrate this as one more component of the language instruction (in parent-child classes, the parents can be the helpers).
- Also depending on the age of the students, the decorations would be more realistic (for young children) or more symbolic (for older children). For older children that can understand symbolic representation, something as simple as the mirror in this picture would do.
- The younger the children the more realistic the props should be, such as this tractor.
- I like this picture because it shows how even lines with black tape on the walls can be quite creative and suggestive.
- And what about using sturdy room dividers made out of cork, flannel, cloth, cardboard or other materials? These panels could also serve as additional boards to hang, pin or draw scene images. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a good picture to show what I have in mind, but I think you’ll get the idea.
The possibilities are endless once you start exploring, and even in situations where you do not have your own classroom or playroom you can be inventive and create small theatrical stages or play centers. Take a look at this picture of the three little pigs houses that I used on a simple flannel board.
What are your ideas about fun spaces for language learning? Any pictures that you would like to share?
BTW, there are more pictures on the Play and Learn Spaces board that I mentioned, not only the ones above.
Ana Lomba is changing the way people think about and interact with young children learning languages. Her Parents’ Choice award-winning books, lively songs, games, stories, and mobile applications are quickly becoming favorites with teachers and parents who want to nurture young children’ inborn language abilities. Key to the success of Ana’s break-through method is a focus on the family as the ideal environment for early language learning – even her signature curriculum for language programs is built with parents in mind. Ana has taught toddler, preschool, elementary school, and college-level Spanish courses, and held leadership positions with some of the most influential language organizations in the US, including ACTFL, NNELL and FLENJ. After graduating with a law degree from Spain, her native country, Ana pursued graduate studies at Binghamton University, Princeton University, and NYU.