4 Easy Ideas for Social Spaces that Encourage Student Connection
- December 9, 2022
- Anthony Bowie
Author: Dr. Christina Counts
Schools are not just a place for learning––they are also hubs for community and connection.
After spending much of the past two years learning remotely and separated from their peers, students are excited that things at school have returned to normal. One of the primary benefits of in-person school versus remote learning is the opportunity for face-to-face connection and socialization between students and staff.
Students in particular benefit from creating relationships with their peers––experts suggest that building friendships contributes significantly to the development of a child’s social skills, has an impact on a child’s academic performance, and may even discourage negative behaviors.
When designing a learning space, we typically put most of our focus on setting students up for academic success, promoting engagement, and ensuring students are comfortable. But it’s also important that we build spaces that encourage students to connect with their peers as well.
As we design future learning spaces with this peer-to-peer engagement in mind, it’s important that we are creating social spaces that provide the space for students to connect. Not only this, but students also need to build important communication and collaboration skills to succeed in college and their future careers. Mimicking the social spaces that students will encounter in college and workplaces can help to encourage socialization and behaviors that will benefit students throughout their lives.
Cafeterias have long been the central hub for lunch time at school, but large, open rooms with rows of long tables aren’t the only way to design these spaces. Consider creating several separate spaces with tables of different sizes and heights to create a more cafe-like environment. The variety of furniture sizes and shapes will help to dampen some of the regular noise of the cafeteria, enabling students to socialize with their peers more casually. Plus, students will be able to engage better with their peers, with the separated zones of tables contributing to improved listening skills and eye contact. Students will feel more comfortable, and the more fluid environment will prepare them for college and workplace cafeterias.
An often-overlooked environment for creating a social space at schools is utilizing extra-wide hallways, atriums, or other common areas. These areas are a great place to stage art exhibitions, set up tables for clubs or job fairs, or even hold small events like student body elections. While students won’t typically be lingering for long periods of time or lounging in these areas, these opportunities for showcasing self-expression to peers are essential to engage the school community and encourage connection.
Comfortable learning environments are crucial to keep students engaged at school. Spaces with soft and cozy lounge areas are a great place to decompress or to have relaxed conversations with peers. With lounge furniture arranged in pod-like groupings throughout the school, students will naturally gather in these spaces with peers to connect and collaborate. Because the number of flexible workspaces are only increasing, getting comfortable with working, and socializing in lounging spaces can benefit students in the long term.
Consider converting outdoor space with tables and seating to accommodate students at lunch time or during their free period. Not only is being outdoors good for students’ health and wellbeing, but it also opens up greater opportunities for conversation, especially with smaller groups and one-on-one. Students can also work independently in these outdoor areas, while still having low-pressure conversations with peers as they come and go.
If we consider our learning environments to be just as much social spaces, we can design spaces that encourage student connection. MiEN offers award-winning furniture products to help you create functional social spaces; book a tour today to start planning your perfect design!
Dr. Christina Counts, VP of Education for MiEN Environments, is a proven leader with a successful background in transforming learning spaces into modern engaging learning environments. Dr. Counts has worked in education for over 17 years with experience as a classroom teacher, district instructional leader, school administrator, and digital and innovative learning designer. In her most recent position, Christina leads a team of professionals that support schools making the transition to a flexible, collaborative, & student-centered learning space. She holds a doctorate in K-12 Educational Leadership, National Board-certified, and Google & Apple certified. Dr. Counts envisions a learning space in which educators are empowered to transform education through design, technology and innovative instructional pedagogy to create learners ready for any future!