Watch Them Grow; Empowering our Unique Little Learners


I am a proud child of the 80’s and 90’s. Instead of an iPad or tablet at school, I lugged around a backpack bursting with books, colorful gelly roll pens, and my Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper (kittens AND unicorns, naturally). Our desks were arranged in tidy little rows while we sat at attention to listen to our teacher. Today though, learning environments are actually quite dissimilar to what they were just 20 years ago. Part of the reason for these changes lie in that we understand and embrace that our unique kids learn in unique ways.

We constantly consider this at my workplace; how to design space for students to learn best, especially when each kid learns differently. Our conversations hinge around designing for every student in many learning scenarios. Your child learns in each setting, although as they grow, you may find them flourishing in one over another.

When we are aware of these learning settings as parents, we can encourage our children to learn in a way that works best for them. This in turn creates a space where they feel safe and comfortable to discover the world.

So what does this actually look like? There are three settings that we design for in a school, though these can easily be mimicked at home. Borrowing from Dr. David Thornburg, we call them Cave Spaces, Campfires and Watering Holes.  

A Cave Space is an intimate little niche, perfect for individual learning and focus. The goal is to retreat from a group setting for the purpose of reflection, study, and ideation. Picture a book nook, a tiny tent, or even popping in earbuds to enhance focus.

A Campfire is a place to gather and share stories. In this setting, the storyteller (or instructor) shares information, with a group gathered round. This would be a standard classroom, or perhaps your living room as your little one puts on a showing of “Frozen” in front of the whole family.

A Watering Hole is a place to huddle in small groups. Translated to a learning environment, this would be space for conversational learning to happen within groups of peers. This could look like a small collaborative space at school, or even your dining room table at dinner time.


I can only imagine what this little guy is learning in this “cave space”!

In hindsight, I have hugely fond memories of intimate places where I loved to play by myself. I once had a snow fort that my dad built in the middle of a towering snowdrift in our yard. I grew up in North Dakota so when I say “snowdrift” – picture an 8 foot high pile of packed snow. (My dad brags that the fort had two levels.) I cozied into my fort for hours, playing and learning, mixing in food coloring to create “snow cones” and other magical concoctions. In that fort, I felt the freedom to play and grow and be completely safe.

Creating a safe space is really the key. That is where your brain functions best – in the safety of a comfortable space, children find the freedom to test, to fail, to ask any question and to become the amazing little people that we dream they can be. By helping to create the space for that to happen, our kids can do anything.

I can’t wait to build forts with my little guy – but who knows, maybe he will prefer to be a storyteller, sharing his knowledge with the world!

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