Not too long ago, an effective classroom was neat, organized and clean with books stacked up ready to go. There was a chalk ledge ready with its tools. Kids were excited to get back to school, even if they had butterflies buzzing in their stomachs.
Today there is a far greater emphasis on creating "theme-driven-stimulating-interesting" and "exciting" classrooms ones that "invite" students "in" and make them "want-to-learn." In an era of close parent-community-state scrutiny over what is happening in classrooms, this was bound to happen. There is also greater-than-ever competition from other teachers as we all try to be the "best-we-can-be" and perhaps, even the "best-of-all."
Yet, all of us (those of us preparing kids and those prepping classrooms) know in our hearts, learning and growing readers, writers, and thinkers is a noisy, messy, process that neither new clothes nor thematically perfect classrooms can assure.
It might be better for parents to spend an evening talking with, playing with, and connecting with their child than an evening at the mall buying new clothes. A day at the park or a hike in the woods or a night spent camping with your child, sharing thoughts, hopes and dreams, might be the best investment possible in your child's learning. While a new notebook might indeed signify the new adventure upon us (I still get giddy with those notebook aisles), it will not guarantee your child's deep thinking or even desire to learn more.
Teachers, it might be best for teachers to clean up and renew their classrooms while focusing on teaching and learning. Classrooms can invite learning, but having a full bag of tricks to engage learning, focus, and thinking will keep things going beyond that first 'honeymoon" week. Perhaps the best "investment" we teachers can make is in the reading, writing, and thinking lives of our students.
While that forest classroom above sure looks pretty neat on the surface, there is no guarantee that deep thinking, passionate discussions about books and intense learning will happen in that environment. In fact, it is possible that some children, with all that intense stimulation, will be "lost" in the forest!