It's how we roll - furniture@Amesbury

By: Lesley Murrihy | Posted Wednesday August 19, 2015

When looking around Amesbury School, some visitors (mostly teachers) have exclaimed, "How do children learn here? There are no desks and chairs." I have always been surprised by this because I know that I learn in a range of places, including walking along the beach or in the shower. When my mind is freed from the day-to-day concerns and worries, and I am wandering through my mind, then I am most free to think things through, reflect and learn from my experiences. I sometimes learn sitting at a desk and chair but most of my learning is done in a variety of different situations. 

I am convinced this is the same with children. When they are freed up from worrying about how to get comfortable, or how to work in a situation that feels foreign to them, then students are able to focus on their learning. For many children, sitting at a desk and chair for their entire school day is not the most comfortable way to learn. Here at Amesbury School we have provided a variety of different types of furniture - not for aesthetics or because we want to be "hippyish" and different - but to enable students to work in ways that work best for them. 

We assist students to understand how they work best and then give them some freedom to create the types of environments they need for their particular ways of learning. In the 1990s, David Thornburg used the ancient metaphors of the campfire, watering hole and cave to describe some of the basic ways people like to work and gather together. The campfire is the place where people learn from experts or from storytellers. The campfire is a place for whole group discussions. The watering hole is a place for small group discussions or discourse and the cave is a space for individual study, reflection, quiet and creative flow. We purposefully didn't design the school with these spaces in mind, rather we aimed for flexibility. However, we did think of these as we chose furniture and thought a little about how these different configurations might be achieved by students using furniture. 

These metaphors have never been discussed with students, yet it is interesting that when you walk around the school, you can see that students have created just these types of spaces to help them with their learning. Check out the photos below and see if you can find examples of watering holes, campfires and caves. By the way, what was also noticeable as I wandered through the school, was how on task and engaged in their learning students were.

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