The “Learning Palace”

Yesterday, I stopped off at the Learning Palace, one of those educational toys/teacher supply stores. The experience made me want to cry. I went to try to find some sort of “manipulatives” (ugh, I hate that word), to help one of my students understand borrowing, since the Montessori variants on those materials are out of my range.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in was that the entire front third of the store was filled with cheap plastic toys. Buried on a shelf in the very back of the store were some beautiful hardwood puzzles, and I didn’t see wooden blocks anywhere (admittedly, I wasn’t looking for them, so I may have missed them). Meanwhile, the entire left half of the store was filled with shelves of workbooks.

The second thing I noticed was how incredibly busy and brightly colored everything was. I have no problem with putting brightly colored things in a child’s environment. It can help draw their attention to important things, and besides, bright things are just plain appealing. (I’m a grownup, and I still love red things and sparkly things.) But if everything is brightly colored, and covered with a bazillion different designs, how is that going to help a child figure out which things are important?

All that busyness also creates a complete lack of serenity. It seems to suggest that we can’t leave kids in peace (or bored or un-entertained) for even a few seconds. Is it any wonder that older children have trouble concentrating? Or that they won’t put their iPods down for two seconds because they’d be bored?

Admittedly, a store like that is not actually an environment for children. But that’s what we sell to parents and teachers to create environments for children. How about a little calm instead?

I did find the materials I was looking for, but I couldn’t bring myself to buy them. They were made out of cheap plastic, and besides, the entire store made me feel dirty. I couldn’t give them my money.

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