Sandra Duncan

The Chocolate Bar and the Orange

Designing Classrooms for COVID-19 and Beyond - Article Excerpt

COVID-19 is a lot like being on a roller coaster ride in an amusement park. You do not know what to expect on the other side, but you know it is going to be fast and somewhat scary. It is also like being on a roller coaster ride wearing Vaseline-smeared eyeglasses. Everything is slightly out of focus. We cannot clearly see where we are headed or the exact path to follow on how to get there, especially when it comes to designing early childhood classrooms. With COVID-19, one of the biggest challenges in classroom design is figuring out how to establish physical distancing, while still maintaining a sense of normalcy for young children. The biggest problem, without a doubt, is classroom size. Even before COVID-19, the majority of early childhood classrooms were relatively tight quarters. Now, with new and ever-changing requirements for spreading children out, these spaces have become even more cramped. And, there is no telling when the next stomach-dropping dip in the roller coaster ride is coming. Even though we may not get off the COVID-19 roller coaster anytime soon, there may be a way to wipe some of the Vaseline off our eyeglasses when it comes to classroom design. Indeed, this may be the time to break away from the traditional thinking about classroom layouts and consider a new design approach.

The Chocolate Bar: Traditional Classroom Design

Designing from the Outside In The traditional classroom design is very similar to the grid-like design of a chocolate bar. Figure 1 illustrates this idea through a bird’s eye view, looking at the classroom’s layout from above. On the left-hand side, notice the entry door into the classroom, with the cubbies in the lower left corner. Directly across the room from the entry door is the exit to the outside play yard. Along the top of this image are several windows looking outside, and on the bottom are two doors to the children’s restrooms with a teacher’s sink and cabinets in between.

Notice how the classroom’s grid-type layout resembles a chocolate bar’s grid. In a gridded layout, we rely on the grid’s regular geometry to create equalsized and equal-shaped spaces in the classroom.

The Orange: Radial Classroom Design from the Inside Out

An alternative to the traditional chocolate bar design is a radial or orange design, which is designing the classroom from the inside out. Looking to the citrus slice for inspiration, all the individual segments in the orange evolve from the center and radiate outward. There are several benefits to designing from the inside out. First, if you look closely at the orange slice, you see a hole in its middle with all the segments radiating outward to the rind. Imagine the hole as the center of the classroom and the rind as the classroom wall. Just like the hole in the orange slice, consider creating a place in the middle of the classroom that helps to visually and physically establish a gathering space—a place for classroom community.

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