Spotlight on Active design

Even for adults, sitting still for hours at a time can be difficult and frustrating, so imagine how challenging a sedentary learning environment can be for curious and energetic children. Contrary to the traditional classroom that keeps students sitting up straight and still in rows of forward-facing desks, research now shows that children benefit both mentally and physically from classrooms that facilitate their natural energy and movement. Designing for active classrooms is a way that teachers, administrators, and designers can encourage movement in students and foster a healthy learning environment.  Stevyn Guinnip, the corporate kinesiologist for Furniture For Life, explains the positive physical and mental outcomes for active design and some design principles to integrate into the classroom.

What are active classrooms?

Active classrooms are learning environments that provide opportunities for students to move, fidget, or change positions during classroom education time.

What impact does an active classroom have on students’ mental and physical health?

Physical movement is embedded so deeply into the way that the brain is wired that, when students are free to move according to their own needs, the impact to both mental and physical health is significant.

From a mental perspective, students who are required to sit still when their bodies are telling them to move can become stressed or frustrated and develop behavioral issues. It can also require so much mental focus to hold still, that they are not able to focus on the subject, resulting in learning difficulties and poor grades.

This lack of movement also sets children up for physical struggles in the form of de-conditioning, excess weight, and unhealthy habits that will follow them into adulthood. We already have a culture of sedentariness that is linked to 35 chronic diseases and premature death. The classroom can either contribute to the problem or help students create movement habits that will benefit them far beyond the walls of their school.

Creating active classrooms for students so that they have opportunities for low-level, frequent movement throughout their day can allow us to work with, not against, the physiology of the students making them happier and more productive learners.

What design principles can educators integrate into their classrooms to create an active learning space?

Some design principles to consider are:

Flexibility - Spaces that can be flexible and changed to accommodate a variety of activities and room configurations within a school day will allow for more freedom and options.

Noise - Spaces that create quiet movement that won’t disturb other students or make it difficult to hear the teacher’s voice are necessary for a learning environment. For example, a wobble or rocking chair would be quieter than a child in a regular chair who is constantly tapping their foot on the floor or rapping their pencil on the desk.

Safety - Spaces that provide movement options will need to consider potentials for injury to the student if the prop/space is misused.

Availability - In the past, movement props may have only been provided for children who exhibited difficulty holding still. The child can feel singled out and choose not to use the prop because of a social stigma. In truth, all children need movement to enhance learning. Therefore, any movement spaces or props should be available to any student who feels inclined to use them.