As parents have already found, the sheer effort of building, supplying, and maintaining a working classroom for students is enough to make any Westchesterite vote ‘yes’ on every school budget tax increase for the rest of the decade. As the county faces the prospect of a fall semester partially or fully remote, we’re sitting down with Dr. Karen Aronian, the local expert behind Aronian Education Design LLC, for her tips on how we can set our children up for success even through prolonged distance learning.
A graduate of Columbia University’s Teachers College doctoral program — and an NYC public school teacher before that, Dr. Aronian holds under her belt more than 30 years of experience working with children and how the spaces in which they learn affect retention. In her ongoing webinar series — which includes one-on-one consultation for guests’ specific needs — the Northern Westchester resident lays out the major principles behind her work, and how you can help your children succeed.
Dr. Karen Aronian: I grew up in the art world. For me, everything is informed by aesthetics — visual and how visual can impact environments for everyone, especially children. The biggest group of learners is visual learners. In working with children and all people, there’s a tremendous opportunity to capitalize on environments and how they inform learning and just overall knowledge.
If you look at the environment of Buckingham Palace, it’s fabulous and fantastical, however, nothing there is labeled, nothing there is something that you could put your hands on, and nothing there is detailed with information. You’re looking at a beautiful environment, but you can’t really say what you’re looking at because it’s not labeled.
In the Museum in Natural History they have this unbelievable description of every display there. You are immediately informed. You have usually an opportunity as well, items that you can touch, so that you’re having multiple sensory informational opportunities. You go to an aquarium and many times you’re allowed to put your hands in and touch a coral and they will allow you to pick up a shell with a snail in it. The idea is our homes should really function the same way that museums, nature centers, and schools do.
KA: The best idea for children is “Pick it up and touch it.” That’s hands-on learning, the idea that we’re going to actually examine something and feel it and study. We might at this time not have all of our usual opportunities that school can offer us, but there are so many ways that you can use your environment to further inform and educate children. What you choose to put on the walls at school — the floor and ceiling — how do you make your space work for you? How can your space teach?
It’s very important for children to know where they are. You could take a whole wall that was a blank wall and you could put a dot in the middle and and say, “Here is where we are and this is on this particular road,” and then you could show them how that’s in this particular town or borough, and then make another circle and say, “That’s in this particular state,” making circles every time, “and that’s in this particular country in this particular continent and here we are in this particular world of Earth,” and then there’s another circle, “in our solar system,” and you’re labeling it and they’re growing their particular understanding of our placement, and [you can] expand from there: Latitude; longitude. We have a whole wall that’s giving information.
Nothing should ever be a white wall. Parents and guardians and teachers are your first teacher. Second teachers are your peers and third teachers are the environments in which we live.
For more information on Dr. Karen Aronian and her five-part webinar series, visit www.karenaronian.com.
They’re your co-creators, your education designers. They know what they like. We’re here to facilitate and offer options, and as parents and guardians we’re able to outfit and further see possibility to bring them to, hopefully. Make a list of your options and post it, because if you can test them ahead of time that’s ideal. You want to have that list so you don’t go into freeze mode or forget everything; you need these options to serve you.
It’s really reconsidering, rethinking, reimagining, reinventing, re-envisioning what possibility you have before you say, “I don’t really have a kid’s designated office in my house.” At this point, the weather’s beautiful. If you can have them working outside, you can set up an umbrella. Try to have an outdoor option with fresh air — that could even be a garage or basement with the door open if they’re seeking a space where they have privacy and silence.
What could be kind of a kooky off-space we haven’t tried before? Maybe even setting up a child’s old toddler table on risers in a hallway, or an idea I really love is to use a closet — it usually has your winter coats and it’s not winter yet. Throw them all in a sealed see-thru bin and throw it under a bed and label it and then you can put in one of those small children’s tables — find them on Craigslist for like $10 or ask for them in your local mothers or fathers Facebook groups — and decorate the closet with their personal items and everything they need for school. It’s very satisfying at the end of a day to close the door and leave your ‘office.’
Hopefully you can just sort of shop in your basement or around your house for things you’re not using and make a side table a desk, or take something you might have not been using, cutting off the legs of a desk or a table or propping it up on risers.
Ultimately, we’re not static individuals. The idea that one space serves all is an old idea. The evolved idea is that you want options. You want to think about what your child likes. Do they want to be in the headquarters? Do they want to be in the midst of everything? Do they want to be in the kitchen, or do they like to be in a private space and where can you find that private space?
Maybe it only works for one part of the day, and that’s fine. There is a misconception that you should be in one place and that’s the place that you should do your work. There’s evidence-based research in a New York Times article a few years back where they were able to study how knowledge imprints best. They came to see through their study that you are re-imprinting information when you reset your space.
If you go to a new space and look at the information again, you are imprinting again that material, and that is a better way of going about studying.