Something about spring makes me want to clean, clean, clean. The sun shines through my windows at certain angles and seems to highlight dirt and dust. Along with more traditional spring cleaning activities like reorganizing closets and straightening the attic, I also take a look at the materials on my shelves.
Sometimes we look at something for so long that we habituate to it…we start to forget what it is and why it’s there. I think our shelves and materials need updating every so often, but how to start? First, I like to shift my perspective. For instance, I get down on my knees and look at the shelves from a child’s perspective.
I ask myself lots of questions. Is this work appealing? Does it have everything a child would need to do it? Is it in the right place in the classroom? Is the purpose of the work clear, and is there a control of error built into it? I really try to look at things honestly, even if the answers lead me to rearranging the work or taking it off the shelves.
I like to see the shelves as a blank canvas; everything I add should be absolutely necessary, and nothing should be added that isn’t absolutely necessary. That is the essence of the prepared environment. All the cliches apply: less is more, and quality is better than quantity.
It can really help to get a set of fresh eyes – perhaps another teacher, a friend, a spouse – to look at the materials and give their opinions. Again, even if it’s not always what we want to hear, it’s important to take it into consideration. They may be seeing things that we can’t see anymore because we’re so used to looking at our own stuff.
Last, I like to look to the kids for guidance. Do they avoid doing a certain work? Do they have trouble completing it? Is it too hard? Too easy? Do they need to go to more than one place to get everything they need? Be wary of putting out work that you think is great, but that a child sees as unclear or too complicated.
If you do find materials that you don’t need or want, look into swapping with another teacher or homeschooling mom. Perhaps you (or they) will find a new way of using a certain container, object, or utensil. Use spring as a launching pad to make your classrooms fresher and more usable for kids!