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Lusio here!
Today’s post is part of a topic really close to our hearts: educational and creative spaces, and more specifically: how allowing and inspiring motion in those spaces enables us to be more productive and creative.

First we’ll try to explain why creative and educational spaces are our architectural crush.
Literally all the signs of an obsession with them are present:

  • We selflessly attend educational events and conferences and we stalk opinion leaders on the topic in cyberspace.
  • We are involved in an international research on innovative ways of learning in schools and we spread the word on the importance of the space as a third teacher (see Digital kidz conference)
  • Our first and most loved architectural realisations are educational spaces in schools.
  • We are educators for grownups, as we are also design thinking coaches.

We’ll throw in the meta reason here: we believe that people have a great and unstoppable will to learn and improve and they deserve all the support they can get to make that happen. That goes double when it comes to children and adolescents.
That’s why we’ll be talking about schools in this post.

Let’s talk about motion in the school context.

There is numerous research on the benefits of leading an active life on our physical and also mental well being. Physical activity and sports at schools mean socialising, learning about teamwork and collaboration. Activities such as climbing, for instance, build motor skills and also self- confidence. Being active gets your blood moving, it brings more oxygen to the brain, activates your senses and prepares them for learning.

However, physical activity barely makes it to the school schedules (with 2 hours/ week in BG). Not only that, during recess students hardly engage in any physical activities and that’s mainly because of the surrounding environment. A huge concrete yard and a long corridor with benches on both sides don’t even come close to engaging your senses for action. So, what you can do is just use those benches and socialise with your peers, until you get back to the classroom and sit on your desk. And spend your entire school day motionless.

On average, children in prime school spend 9 hours per day sitting.

*This is the low point, where we could even start bringing up some statistics on obesity among children.

Well, that’s depressing.
But there is a silver lining. Before you make your posters and go out protesting on the streets for a change in educational curriculum, we should say that regarding space, solutions to the problem exist. Small and partial interventions in common spaces like placing a climbing wall, ropes, swings, different sports/playground elements in the interior activate students and raise their daily physical activity. Integrating the gym in the heart of the school, making it transparent also engages students passing by and invites them to be more active.

Let’s look into the classroom now.

Children at school gain huge amounts of knowledge and require a lot of effort to process it. A day at school for a child can easily be compared to a day at work for an adult. In an office, we spend most of the time seated. We usually have a chair on wheels, we adjust it according to our height, we set its back side to best accommodate our posture. Sometimes we even get an ergonomic one or better yet, a stool or a standing desk. This is the least we could do, after all we spend an entire 8 hours seated in front of a desk.

Imagine now, spending those 8 hours seated on this:

Yep, it is terrifying. And no, we did not take it out of the “1480 Spanish Inquisition Catalogue”. This was actually one of the first results when we googled “school furniture”. And there’s no real difference if it’s painted in bright colors and has a couchin. Remember that on average students in prime school spend 9 hours seated. Children are much more dynamic than adults, they can’t sit still more than 5 minutes and movement is essential for their learning. Maria Montessori wrote over and over again, in books, essays and speeches, about the role of activity, especially physical activity in learning:

Watching a child makes it obvious that the development of his mind comes through his movements”

Maria Montessori

The average concentration time for children is 10 minutes. After that, without some physical activity, they lose focus. Dr. Dieter Breithecker, sports and physical scientist and head of the Federal Institute on the Development of Posture and Exercise in Wiesbaden points out in his lecture- 21st Century Classroom that in order to achieve high concentration, the brain needs a high level of oxygen, hormones and proteins. To deliver them, the body needs higher temperature and blood pressure + movement.

Which comes to say that children need to be moving as they are learning.

And it makes sense. Have you ever observed a child immersed in a project? They usually lay on the floor and work from there. Why? Because the floor presents a huge variety of postures to switch between. And switching between postures and making constant movements like leaning, twisting and swinging raises our concentration.

So what can we do to make classrooms more child-centered?

Again, the solutions are multiple and easy to apply:

  • Make the floor and walls a work space
  • Use furniture that allows motion
  • Insert equipment that provokes motion in classrooms (a swing, for example)
  • Use modular tables and furniture on wheels, which can be easily reconfigured by the students themselves
  • Use desks with adjustable height (especially among adolescents)

In our projects for educational centers in Berkovitsa and Teteven, Bulgaria we develop and apply the principles of “the agile classroom”.
Both centres will open during the following school year and a post- occupancy research will later determine how the new environment affects the learning process.
Needless to say, we are really excited. We deeply believe that the schools of the future enable knowledge sharing, and are not just extremely colourful or minimalistic redesigns of past principles.
We also believe that there is no recipe for the perfect learning space. You just have to test it, over and over, observe how you can make it better next time and keep a determined and humble attitude until the end.

Did you know?
In Danish Public schools, the former government initiated the biggest reshaping of primary and lower secondary schools in forty years emphasizing that 45 minutes of exercise and physical activity must be part of the integrated school day at all year levels in order to further the children’s and young persons’ state of health and to support their motivation and learning in all subjects. Read more about it here.