Thank you to Matt for the link to this stool, the Sway stool available at Branch home. The stool promotes active sitting by flexing gently with the body. Interesting mechanism.
And thank you to Vanessa Marie for the link to this stool. I can’t read the page (I hate to say I’m not even sure what language this is) but I did catch the words “active zit” so I can guess it also is promoting the idea of motion in furniture.
I’m dying to post process shots of my models and sketches for this furniture project, but I don’t have time because I’m too busy, well, doing my furniture project. In the meantime, this is my corner of the furniture studio, and my wall covered with sketches.
One of the metaphors I’ve been thinking about for the kids-furniture-movement project is the lily pad. There’s something incredibly serene about lily pads, especially the way they rise and fall ever so gently with the water level. I imagine a classroom scene of kids all floating on lily pads that absorb all their fidgeting and excess energy and keep everyone on a placid, even keel. Imagine the energy flows of the class like ripples or tides, rising during discussions as kids shout out the answers and ebbing as they focus down on a particular task. The energy absorption of the lily pad and the water evens out the peaks and valleys, minimizes visual and audio distraction, and makes the class a much easier place to learn and concentrate.
Whether the metaphor will hold for the aesthetic or mechanical concept for the seat, the idea of energy absorption will carry through as the defining principle of the design.
My classroom-furniture-that-moves-with-kids project is as much about educational theory as it is about furniture. It all started with an article I read a few years ago about why boys are now underperforming girls in most levels of education, beginning at the elementary school level. One of the hypotheses posited by the author was the idea that boys are less inclined to sit for long periods of time at young ages, making it more difficult for them to learn in the way that our educational system requires.
But if you go to schools and watch kids, you realize, it’s not just boys who need to move. All kids need to move. And not just that, but kids do move. Despite best intentions of teachers and the most rigid and restrictive furniture designs, kids are moving all day long: swinging legs, rocking back on their chairs, squirming, dancing, fidgeting, and generally doing everything but being still.
When I mention to people that I’m working on a piece of furniture that lets kids move in the classroom, I hear the same response over and over again. “Wouldn’t teachers hate the idea of kids moving even more in the classroom? Won’t that be distracting?”
Contrary to common perception, I have a hypothesis that furniture that moves with the kid will actually be less distracting than the rigid setups currently available. I’ll go into more detail on this another time, but for now I want to consider this notion that it’s more conducive to learning to be in a classroom where the kids are all sitting still. Not mincing words here: this is a fallacy propagated by an outdated view of education. It’s not more conducive to learning for the kids to be still; it’s more conducive to teaching.
W.B. Yeats said “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire” and I think this speaks directly to the problem at the heart of the way we approach education. We view kids as empty pails, and we design the learning environment to keep them still to make it easier for the teacher to pour knowledge into them. Just as it’s easier to fill a stationary bucket, it’s easier to teach kids who aren’t running all over the place.
But kids are not empty pails or blank slates. As educational consultant Jonathan Drori points out in the TED talk linked above, by the time kids reach school-age, they have tons of mental models formed from their experiences of the world. Through a set of deceptively simple questions that many adults answer wrongly (I stumbled over more than one), he illustrates the ways in which our educational system replaces these native, multidimensional mental models with ones that are far less effective.
“Kids understand gravity and magnetism far better before they start school than after a few years in the school system,” he points out. It’s experiential learning that drives this understanding, learning that involves the kid as a person, rather than as a vessel. As kids play and experiment and feel their way in the world, they discover truths with multiple senses at once, building deep and powerful connections in the brain. This method of learning is propelled by and reinforces kids’ natural curiosity, but is only a very small component of the teaching method employed in schools today.
Experiential learning and movement go hand in hand. A child who is free to move is free to physically explore the concepts he is learning, and a system that encourages experiential learning by definition would have children spending very little time parked in a chair. My project aspires to promote change from the bottom up – literally. By making the furniture about support and movement rather than restraint and control, I hope that design can demonstrate the benefits of rethinking the ways we learn and teach.