Stimulating social interaction by creating more space and freedom for toddlers
'De Graankorrel' schools count 1.450 students and six residences. Two of these residences got an impressive makeover in 2019. On September 1st, for several pupils the school year was kicked off in a completely new school.
In the town of Geluwe, the kindergarten pupils are now attending classes in a new and hypermodern building. In Kruiseke, on the other hand, an old rectory was renovated into a contemporary school environment, where toddles moved in, but where there is also space for offices and meeting rooms. The authentic character of the house was retained and provides a nice contrast with the integrated newly built construction.
New ways of teaching
The conservative way of teaching – staying in one classroom all day, where every teacher does all the work his or her way – is evolved to more transparency and collaboration. Coordinating director Christophe Verleene explains how ‘De Graankorrel’ implemented a new way of working.
“Our intention is to open the doors and have several teachers who are responsible for a larger group. This way we can focus more on personal qualities and strengths of our teachers. This is very important to help children work together and stimulate social interaction.” Kindergarten classes are no longer separated, but kids of different ages are brought together. “We have chosen to mingle, so we rather create ‘families’ instead of classes”, Christophe Verleene continues. “Therefore teachers need to adapt a completely different approach compared to what they have always done. Not only the different ages of the children, but also the open spaces, add an extra dimension. And that is a big change they have accomplished with success.”
Creating an open space seems very natural in these schools. The building in Geluwe is designed with this goal in mind. “In our ideology every classroom has extra space to play inside and outside and classes need to be connected with each other. ”So the walls between the separate spaces can be easily pushed open. Furthermore the ground floor has a huge indoor courtyard which also connects the rooms and every classroom has a small garden – on the top floor this was solved by creating a roof top terrace. “If the weather is good, we simply open the sliding doors to the gardens and kids can go outside, inside and into the courtyard.”
In the school in Kruiseke the kindergarten exist of one big space for all toddles, also with a partition wall and windows in the fixed wall, so you can always have a glimpse at the other room. “Even though a lot of kids are all together in one space, this offers a certain amount of peace, because we create more freedom inside the classes and again there is an easy access to the playground, which serves as outdoor classroom in the summer. By offering this space, you notice that children are actually calmer.
Invest in sustainability
This school community has a clear vision of the future. A long term plan regarding expansion and new construction works is ready to implement. “We want to introduce this new way of teaching in all our schools and align the patrimony to what truly matters to us: find sustainable solutions that are dedicated to the children.”
‘De Graankorrel’ and Vanerum clearly have a shared vision on education which ensures a smooth collaboration. “Vanerum thinks along and contributes to the whole concept. Products are designed with a long life cycle in mind. This shows in the use of material and the compositions of the products.”, says Wim Daels, product specialist furniture at Vanerum.
The school furniture is multifunctional, for instance you can find the Flow table in several rooms in these schools. Toddles can sit around this table together and work in group and the teacher in the center can easily turn towards anyone who needs individual attention. The same table – in a larger size – is also useful in a teacher’s lounge, because you can easily change the setup. The tables fit perfectly into one and other to create a larger and comfortable setting. This flexibility is also reflected in the diversity in the product range. “For example, if we have a meeting with three people, we have a small meeting room, if there a more people involved, we go upstairs, where every possible setup can be created with the Multiflex tables, and if I have a one-on-one meeting for mentor coaching, we do this standing up at the high T-Tables in the small kitchen. Plenty of possibilities.”, according to Christophe.
The tables and chairs in the kindergarten are made out of solid but very light material. So toddlers can move these from one side of the room to the other, or from one group to another. This is an added value in a flexible environment where you want to give children a certain amount of freedom. “The playful colors and materials we chose – the fresh lime in combination with bamboo and the bright blue and pink – complete the look! We believe this concept appeals, because so far we have only received positive reactions.”, Christophe concludes.