Quiet learning spaces ease anxious minds in Christchurch

Issue: Volume 97, Number 8

Posted: 10 May 2018
Reference #: 1H9ihZ

A focus on mindfulness and communication has helped Shirley School rebuild after the upheavals of the Canterbury earthquakes.

Shirley Primary School has rebounded after being hit hard by the Christchurch earthquakes. The school has worked to support the welfare and educational performance of its students in the aftermath and, watching the students and teachers in their new teaching spaces after a rebuild, it’s hard to imagine the upheaval and change they have faced. 

Deputy Principal Sandra Jamieson says, “For the school community, the rebuild and the construction process was very challenging, but we knew what was coming at the end – and what we got is amazing.”

The eastern side of the city was strongly affected due to the ground conditions and the earthquakes have left a mark. The stress and anxiety felt by children is still a factor in how the school operates. For example, the carpet in the new block is grey and not patterned, which has a calming effect, says Sandra.

“Putting in the foundations at the start of construction was a trigger for them because it shook the ground. The teachers did an incredible job dealing with the issues that arose during the building work.”

Teachers managed this issue by talking it through with the children and the construction manager visited classes and talked about what the project team were doing.

“The children visited the worksite and watched – we gave them as much information as we could. When something distracting happened, like a big truck driving in, the classes would stop and watch, and this made it a fun thing. We integrated it into our learning; for example, by writing about what was happening. The builders visited classrooms and talked about the maths that was involved in their work.

“The focus on mindfulness gave students and teachers the skills to breathe mindfully and to be aware of the sounds they were hearing and how it made them feel.”

Breakout spaces give options

On one wall of the new block are what Sandra refers to as the “café booths”, a series of small individual seating areas like in American-style coffee shops – comfy nooks where children can read or plug in a digital device by themselves in a partly enclosed area.

Ample windows and big glass doors that can close off an area also allow supervision and oversight of different activities by the teachers. “We have the best of both worlds. The children are there – but they’re not there!”

The school’s vision is focused on purpose and belonging, and the new facilities help with that. For around 60 children, their day starts with breakfast at school most days which,
the teachers agree, is good because it’s sociable and the interactions set the day off on a positive note.

“Sometimes parents and members of the local community come in and make Milo and toast. And they talk to each other and interact with teachers. It’s about nurturing and making connections with other people – we invite every family at the school to take part, and they do, from right across the community,” Sandra says.

The school also has a real coffee machine. “Parents come in, have a flat white, and chat. People become more resilient if they are connected. So the coffee machine is one way to create an opportunity for them to become connected.”

But the lack of noise in the busy learning spaces is what strikes people most.

“When the changes were planned, our teaching team thought ‘what about the noise?’ But that’s not an issue. It’s surprisingly quiet and workable. The kids in our area of the city had to put up with a lot in terms of the quakes and during the rebuild, so it means a lot that they have such a calm and quiet environment to learn in now.”


The flexible learning spaces are connected but have a variety of breakout areas, including those that can be sealed off to be separate spaces by sliding glass doors with inbuilt soundproofing qualities. The ceiling tiles and autex wallcoverings all absorb and minimise noise, and there are wide verandahs running along three sides, which join up the various spaces and allow free-flowing connection.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 2:10 pm, 10 May 2018

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