Although you may not know it by its proper name, a Klotski Puzzle is a sliding block puzzle where the aim is to organize the blocks in a particular, organized way. If you are like me, you spent hours in the back seat of your parent’s car trying to move all 15 tiles around the board to get them into the proper order. No matter how hard you tried, there just didn’t seem to be enough room to get each tile in the right spot. Now that the State of Colorado passed a law making full-day Kindergarten available to all kids—a welcome enhancement—many schools have had to scramble to accommodate the additional students. The California Department of Education suggests that each elementary student should be allocated 55-70 square feet. How are we going to achieve this extra space to support the students and teachers?
In an ideal situation, new construction and/or major renovations would be the perfect solution to the addition of hundreds of 5-year-old students to your school district. However, districts had neither the time nor money to initiate such changes between the bill passing in May and the start of school in August of 2019. Fortunately, there are many other ways that you can squeeze more out of your schools that don’t involve significant investment of capital resources. Short-term, practical strategies can support this kindergarten need until both time and money are available to find long-term solutions.
Here are five ways to cost effectively change your schools to support the extra students without completing new construction or major renovation:
An obvious, but not always easy, way to find more space in your school is to declutter. This can be difficult for teachers who have taught for years. Are there extra filing cabinets and shelves that are holding items that may never/should never be used again? Asking for old math workbooks and laminated-pocketed wall calendars to be tossed may not make you the teachers’ favorite person, but it will allow for less clutter and more space for those kinders.
Instead of teachers “officing” in their classrooms, have you considered utilizing the classrooms solely as a teaching space instead of homeroom offices? Since Kindergarten classrooms require more square footage than older grades, this strategy can allow a smaller classroom space to function as a bigger one. In addition, special programs and intervention spaces can be shared by multiple teachers. In both cases, a solution is to have a room where multiple teachers each have a desk and locker which in turn allows the classrooms to function as flex rooms for different instruction, students, grade levels and teachers. Flex rooms are more widely used with Middle and High School students, and although it is not a perfect solution for elementary age children, it can help you better utilize the space you have today.
Cost: Free to low
Are there corridors, nooks and crannies that can be repurposed as a common space or with a small group table? Modern learning research has taught us that students learn in different ways and that we should provide different teaching/learning spaces for students; common spaces can support different learning types. When done correctly and in keeping with current building and fire codes, our existing hallways can provide that extra square footage for common spaces so there is more useable space in the classrooms for kids. In addition, are there other common spaces such as libraries that can be dispersed into corridors and other less formal spaces to better utilize and enliven them?
Cost: Free to Low
Furniture produced for the K-12 market today vastly differs from what was produced 20 years ago (or even 10 years ago). Space efficiencies can be gained by new, flexible furniture systems that also help in supporting students with different learning styles. Throwing out desks and built-in casework may seem expensive; however, the variety of new furniture options, from wiggle chairs to room dividers to mobile storage, allows for innumerable flexible options.
Cost: Low to Medium
Think outside of the box…or outside of the school. Are there local community partners who have space available to support the school? Recreation Centers? Libraries? Community buildings? Or are there daycare operators who have extra classrooms within the district? Daycares have successfully supported the overflow in some school districts in Wisconsin when 4K was introduced. Bussing would possibly need to be calculated into the overall partner cost; however, as a short-term solution it may support the overall need.
Cost: Low to Medium
Full day kindergarten will change the way you use your schools. There are many options that can help you to comfortably welcome these eager kindergarteners into your schools. Your job is to find the solution (or combination of solutions) that is right for you. Like the Klotski Puzzles, the answer may not immediately be apparent, but it does exist and there are multiple ways to find it. It’s time to shuffle the pieces to find not just more, but better learning spaces in our schools.
Jane Crisler, AIA, LEED AP