Originally created 06/11/04

Creative classrooms encourage learning



YORK, S.C. - Seven-year-old Joshua Rolan grabs a smiley-face neon yellow pillow and stretches out on the floor.

"It's my favorite," said Joshua, a second-grader at Hunter Street Elementary School.

But Joshua isn't preparing to take a nap. He's learning - away from his desk.

"When I sit at my desk, it's boring," Joshua said just before beginning work on a book report while lying on the carpeted classroom floor.

Pillows are just one of many tools teacher Lori Johnson uses to reach her pupils.

"Our kids are different from 10 years ago," said Ms. Johnson, Joshua's teacher. "They need a different learning atmosphere."

Joshua looks forward to his last week of school, when he plans to snuggle with his pillow and books in Ms. Johnson's nontraditional classroom.

Ms. Johnson abandoned bright overhead lights and mandatory use of desks and chairs. Harsh white walls also are taboo.

Instead, lighting comes from seven lamps. Healthy snacks are available for pupils who missed breakfast. Water bottles sit within reach for impromptu water breaks. And the walls are covered in shades of baby blue.

"It has a calming effect," Ms. Johnson said, adding that the color is linked to helping pupils concentrate.

Principal Rhonda Stevens said breaking from tradition is promising.

"You're making a positive classroom environment to set the child up for academic and social success," she said.

The homey learning environment at the school, practiced by nearly all 60 teachers, originated during a faculty meeting more than a year ago. It will continue next year, Ms. Stevens said.

The classrooms are geared to increase pupil achievement and help them relax. Stress - including divorces, new babies and peer pressure - hamper the learning process, Ms. Stevens said.

Ms. Johnson agreed: "A lot of my kids come to school with pressure to succeed. That's not a bad thing, but it causes them to stress out."

Monica Dickson uses music to help her pupils relax when they write.

"I want this to be a warm and inviting environment where students can come in and not feel stressed or afraid," said Ms. Dickson, a kindergarten teacher who uses pillows and fragrances in her classroom.

"I use scents to try and increase their alertness," she said. "Lavender calms them. Orange is for alertness."

And she encourages frequent trips to the water fountain.

Ms. Stevens agreed.

"Research shows that having kids drink water throughout the instructional day helps their brains to be able to retain more information."

Leah Crowley, a second-grade teacher, said traditional teaching methods don't work for every child.

"Some children don't work as well at their desk as they do on the floor," said Ms. Crowley, a second-grade teacher. "The ones that like the structure will stay at their desk."

Eight-year-old Nora Elizabeth Childers studies mostly at her desk in Ms. Johnson's class.

"It's more comfortable," said Nora, who likes having supplies at her fingertips. "I won't have to come running back to my desk." The blue walls are her favorite. "It feels like I'm up in the sky."

Eight-year-old Grace Whitson prefers the floor to her desk.

"It's easier to work in a big area than that small area."