Learning Spaces and Fostering Faith

July 8th, 2013

When people of any age gather to consider their Christian faith, a key ingredient is WHERE? What is the quality of the space in which they gather? How does the space affect fostering faith?

Three dimensions to consider for your space:

  1. Space has characteristics determined by the furnishings, the square footage, the surfaces, and the relationship to other spaces.
  2. Space has an environmental dimension, including lighting, temperature, and air quality.
  3. The third dimension of space is the emotional environment.

Physical Space

We need to consider carefully the age, developmental, and ability levels of learners and adjust the space to fit their needs. I recall when the classrooms where I taught adults of all ages were remodeled and new tables and chairs were purchased. The students were so much more comfortable. Their bodies did not hurt and distract them. They did not squirm as much. They could maintain their attention. We take it for granted that children need child-sized furniture but adults need appropriate furniture too.

The furniture should be arranged so that the center of attention reflects the group process. Seating a small group around a table will help them to feel drawn to one another. As all of us use more technology, we must consider carefully how it changes the focus of the group. If we want people to listen to one another and build community, we will not want their eyes to be drawn to a screen on one side of the room. In addition, Americans have certain requirements for personal space. “Too close for comfort” is real! Too much space is equally problematic. We feel vulnerable and may hesitate to participate when too much space is around the group.

Environmental Space

The environment also includes lighting, temperature, and air quality. Having sufficient light to see is obviously important; the quality and color of the light is less apparent, but they also affect learning. Too many church rooms are equipped with old fluorescent fixtures that may flicker or have cold, blue light. Changing a fixture and using bulbs with warmer, friendlier colors can change the atmosphere in a room quickly. Adding a few lamps for pools of light creates warmth and intimacy, which may enhance small group discussion.

Temperature is critical too. If the room is too warm, we are lethargic; if it is too cold, we draw into ourselves and do not relate easily to others. As more and more Americans are finding that they suffer from allergies, the cleanliness of a room is critical too. We must ensure that mold, dust, and pollen are at a minimum for the comfort of the learners. Environment plays a large role in learning.

Emotional Space

Perhaps most important is the emotional climate of a space for teaching and learning. Brain research has revealed that emotions trump any other kind of learning. When we are anxious or fearful, learning may be blocked. When we feel safe, we are more able to risk new understandings. We are most open to the Holy Spirit when we are in a nurturing environment, where the risks are low and the community can support our learning. In addition, when we feel safe we have more attention available for the learnings.

WHERE we are learning is a critical ingredient for a teacher to consider!

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