All the greats say it in some form. Montessori, Dewey, Steiner, Ferrer, first inspire the students’ learning through beauty. Leave the books for later, or in some cases, never.
Whether it be the beauty of the learning environment, the inner and outer beauty of the teacher, the beauty of the surrounding natural world, or the beauty of creating beautiful academic and artistic works, beauty is important and often overlooked in mainstream education. A huge chain link fence around a prison architecture inspired school design hardly inspires anything except the urge to run away fast! When we are surrounded by beauty, we feel connected and inspired to extend beauty further.
So peaceful and tidy with a spath in the foreground, that’s the plant. (Photo credit Peaceful Pathways Montessori Academy, Yorkville, IL)
Even if we can’t change the physical design of our schools or towns, yet, we do have control over ourselves and our personal environments. How do you cultivate beauty in your inner environment and how is that reflected in your outer environment – from what you emit energetically to the arrangement and feel of the classroom? It is important, more than I can effectively communicate in words. You know how it feels when you walk into a spa, a yoga studio, a botanical garden, or anywhere that you find beautiful and inspiring. You feel relaxed and open. You breathe more deeply and feel like things are going to be okay. Why can’t your classroom feel beautiful in that way? It can! And pretty simply!
This is a waterfall I love in Bajos del Toro, Costa Rica. Talk about biophilia!
E.O. Wilson’s Biophilia hypothesis teaches us that genetically, we as humans, are attracted to nature’s beauty. We spend a lot of time caring for our school gardens and we can also arrange our classrooms in a biophillic way. Montessori stresses the beauty of the prepared environment, teacher included: “The teacher, as part of the environment, must be attractive…charmingly dressed, scented with cleanliness, happy and graciously dignified. This is the ideal…the teacher should study her movements, making them as gentle and graceful as possible…” (Education for a New World, p94). I think about this a lot when I am teaching or spending time with children.
I know sometimes it is easier to raise your voice a bit to get a child’s attention rather than walk over there. I know it is hard to always be graciously dignified when your patience is gone and the children are testing your limits. It is especially challenging to be graceful when you are cleaning a 2nd grader’s vomit off the wall. I’ve been there! But we must try!! Once we get a few things set and some new systems and routines in place it becomes easy to flow along in a way that perpetuates beauty, even when life’s unexpected upchucks come along!
As the school year comes to a close, and we begin to mentally prepare for the next year, it is the perfect time to consider the small things you can do to make your classroom a peaceful and relaxing environment for the students and yourself.
This is a really important one. That’s why it’s number 1! Make your room a vision of beauty. The children will find your aesthetic beautiful because it inspires and makes you feel peaceful. Take anything off the walls that is all crazy bright colors and kooky, garish, dumbed down, “kid” images. No offense. These are not beautiful or peaceful to anyone, especially children. They just create visual chaos.
Take out any materials and supplies that aren’t being used, are missing parts, or are broken. Broken and dirty is depressing. Use natural calm colors, add beautiful “real” art pictures (like art print posters or handmade quilts), display photographic nature images, or simply leave empty space. Space isn’t always meant to be filled.
Keep things clean and organized. Order brings visual peace to our inner and outer environments. If you need a catch-all type place, be sure it is out of plain sight of the classroom such as in a drawer or office with a door that stays closed. Try to keep that type of mess to the bare minimum though for your own sanity! (Our office was frightening at times, but the classroom was always orderly.)
This school in VERY rural Nicaragua is so tidy and clean all the time, with so very few resources. I find that inspiring!
2. Add plants. Real plants.
Plants bring fresh air and life to an environment. Fresh flower arrangements are really good, but aren’t in place of living plants that the children can care for. Go to a local nursery and ask them what plants specifically will fit your environment. Explain your natural light situation and get the right plant for your space to set yourself up for success.
Start with 3 or 4 plants. Get a combo of big floor plants and table top plants and repot them into new attractive pots, with good drainage, that are significantly larger than the black ones they come in. (I know it is tempting to just put the plant in its black pot into a larger pot, but that is a sure fire way to kill it in a year. Plants are root bound in the pots they come in; those pots aren’t meant for long term use.) Get saucers to place underneath the pots to catch drainage. Ask a nursery worker to help get your repotting situation set up. A perk of shopping at local nurseries rather than big hardware store garden centers – the workers actually know about plants. Pothos is a great easy indoor plant to start with as well as aglonema and spaths. Just ask!
This is pothos, see a spath in the classroom pic above. The are both great easy indoor plants!
3. Adjust your lighting scenario.
Florescent lights are harsh and that buzz they make will drive anyone crazy! (I am pretty sure the lights were one of the reasons I hated school so much.) If you have lots of natural light in your classroom open up those blinds and turn off the overhead lights or keep those blinds open all the way and leave the lights on. I had huge floor to ceiling windows in my classrooms and trust me, no one is going to daydream out the window all day, and if they do….maybe the lesson is boring. (Just saying…sometimes it is easier to close out the exciting world out the window rather than take a look at ourselves and make the changes.)
But, beyond windows, which some classrooms have and some don’t, supplement with a small table top lamp or two or five. Table top lamps give a nice warm glow to the room that balances out the cool light of the overheads and/or supplements the natural light.
A historic Montessori environment, gorgeous! (photo credit)
4. Open the window at least once a day.
In Fung Shui when rooms are shut up it is said that the energy gets too Yin, or dull and stagnant. If you have the ability, open up the window or door to the outside for at least 15 minutes a day. This will really make a big difference in the energy levels in your room and bring the fresh and energetic Yang balance back, if you want to frame it in a Fung Shui way. It will also help keep everyone healthier during cold and flu season while literally providing a breath of fresh air to the space.
Afternoon is a nice time to open up because people tend to become lethargic after lunch. If you don’t have access to fresh air, at least open your classroom door to the hallway. You could also consider an aromatherapy diffuser with bright uplifting oils such as lemon and eucalyptus to clean and enliven the air. I also recommend going for short outdoor walks and teaching lessons outside in the afternoon, in hot and cold weather, to get that fresh air boost.
5. Take care of you.
Self care is REALLY important and very often trivialized in our culture. Nothing is worth your long term health and contentment. If you feel frazzled, that energy will reflect in your outer environment. In turn, sometimes our chaotic outer environments reflect overwhelm. Do what you need to do to keep yourself happy, healthy, tidy, and calm. I get up an hour early everyday to meditate for 30 minutes, exercise, and ride my bike to school because that is what gives me the strength and inspiration to try to attain the level of inner and outer beauty for the students Maria Montessori stressed. Not because I like getting up at 6 AM, but because I know it not only benefits the children, but also myself and the entire community.
Prevent overwhelm by staying organized in both your tasks and environment. Make lists, set schedules, put things away as soon as possible, and keep things clean. Exercise and eat really healthy food on school days, try to avoid caffeine while at school. (Don’t hate me for that one, but it really helps. Replace coffee or caffeinated sugary drinks with kombucha, unsweetened green tea, or raw cacao for energizing and lighter stimulated pick-me-ups while you work on letting the others go.) You know what makes you feel like the best person you can be. Do those things and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Fiercely protect your time for self care. Make time for what energizes you.
You are ready!
You have all summer to plan the beautification! Keep it light, keep it open, keep it fresh, and keep it clean. Beauty is an important part of our lives. Let’s get our indoor classrooms as beautiful as our outdoor classrooms and gardens!
What is one thing you can implement right now to make your classroom more beautiful?
How will it make learning more inspiring? Share in the comments!
Seeds to Sprout:
See this post, and lots more on setting up beautiful environments, on Natural Beach Living’s Link Party!
Center for Ecoliteracy’s post Toward a Beauty-centric Education
Beauty and nature in the classroom through a Montessori lens
A few extra professional decluttering tips from Real Simple, because decluttering is sometimes really HARD!