Why Free Time (And Space) Should Be an Educational Priority

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Experts, teachers, and students themselves agree: learning is not just about the simple input and output of information. More than ever before, research is recognizing the immense value of play, freedom, exploration, and discovery in education, and just how vital these elements are to the learning process. Students who are given free time and space, supported by educational soft seating and a connection to the outside world, tend to be happier, more productive, and enjoy learning far more than students for whom these experiences are not prioritized. At every level of learning, from preschool to kindergarten all the way through K-12 and even at the college level, the inclusion of free time and space can have an incredibly positive impact on education. Here’s how.

How Free Time Connects to Innovation

The interrelation of creativity, innovation, and free time has been extensively explored (and in the best cases, encouraged) at the highest echelons of corporate culture. While the values of employers toward employees are certainly not synonymous with those of instructors toward students, this alone demonstrates the value of free time for productivity and the development of new ideas. (It’s interesting to note that “the best places to work” are also those that implement the most flexible and creativity-forward seating solutions, mirrored in the use of soft seating for schools). One of the most well known examples is Google’s 20% time, which encourages workers to spend 20% of work time on whatever they please, so long as it’s outside of the set forth agenda or dictated project list. This time has elicited such inventions as Google News, Gmail, and much more, and (perhaps more importantly) has given individuals a sense of their own motivation and purpose beyond the simple fulfillment of tasks. Naturally, this practice has also seen extraordinary results in classroom settings.

In this book Work Rules!, HR executive and consultant Lazlo Bock writes that “the most talented and creative people can't be forced to work." In school settings, teachers also intuitively know this to be true. Often the most intelligent students squirm and suffer distraction under traditional circumstances, while those for whom stimulating intellectual factors (free time, challenging and engaging exercises) and conducive physical factors (educational soft seating, freedom of movement) are more likely to excel. Talented, creative, and intelligent students cannot be forced to work, but they can be inspired to work, and the inclusion of practices that encourage freedom and innovation are essential to this goal.

Extending Free Time Into Free Space

For students who feel mentally restricted by the rigor and inflexibility of traditional classrooms, restriction of space can be just as harmful. This principle applies to individual furniture pieces, for example hard versus soft seating for schools, as well as the overall layout of the classroom. In the former case, ergonomically correct and innovatively designed furniture that supports a wide range of natural movement is key. For classroom activities that emphasize creative alone time as well as collaboration, educational soft seating can also help to create a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere in which optimal learning is prioritized.

When it comes to the overall spatial configuration of a classroom, spaces should be designed to be adaptive and flexible. Ideally, this includes the use of mobile desks and chairs, storage elements, and teaching tools that can effortlessly transform a space to suit to the needs of a particular activity. The incorporation of soft seating for schools has been shown to expand student creativity, confidence, and physical well being, leading to increased mental focus and agility across a range of activities. Spatial configurations that reflect the most organic approach to whatever task is at hand help to elicit an overwhelmingly positive (and authentic) response to learning among students.

Collapsing the Boundaries Between Indoor and Outdoor Space

The dichotomy between recess and class time has long plagued educators. After all, why would students focus during class when there’s fun to be had outdoors? The same rule applies to older age groups, for whom a long day spent at rigid, fixed height desks in uncomfortable chairs can take a major toll on the body, the mind, and general morale. By contrast, environments in which educational soft seating, flexible layouts, and dynamic educational tools are utilized tend to inspire a more open approach to learning, both inside and outside the classroom.

At Lincoln Middle School in Schiller Park, Illinois, the community and educators have sought to use dynamic furnishings, natural light, creative spatial design, and flexible soft seating for schools to create environments that are conducive to authentic learning. Features such as a rooftop garden, reading terraces, and interior spaces that benefit from expansive windows and copious natural light help students to feel more relaxed, and consequently more engaged. As BrainSpaces president and innovator Amy Yurko has noted, mobile educational soft seating is “instrumental to extending learning activities beyond the classroom’s four walls to nearly anywhere inside and outside the school.” By creating a balance between indoor and outdoor space, students can feel more at home in their educational environments, and are significantly more likely to succeed.

Ultimately, prioritizing free time and space helps to redefine what is expected of students, and more importantly, what students might hope to expect from themselves. By empowering students to inhabit more authentic environments, often through such simple approaches as implementing 20% free time or incorporating educational soft seating, educators can hope to encourage students who are not only more productive, but also happier, healthier, and more conscious individuals. Looking forward, placing the student at the center of the educational process - as well as acknowledging the incredible value of freedom, flexibility, innovation, discovery, and creativity in education - promises to overwhelmingly transform the contemporary learning experience for the better.