Monday, June 29, 2009

GIFSL*: 37. Floor cushions and comfort

When we created the reading retreat in the library earlier this year, we didn't know the impact it would have.  On reflection, it's one of the most popular changes we've made, and this is proved over and over by the individual students who come in the morning, recess, lunch, study periods, all through the day, and plonk themselves in a soft chair or on the sofa, book in hand.  You see them relax, and settle. 

For all my years at schools as a student and a teacher, I hadn't realised/particularly thought about how few places there are in a school to be comfortable.  Out in the playground, places to sit are usually, of necessity, hard surfaces - cement, brick, timber.  Inside in classrooms, chairs are generally plastic - again of necessity.  For students, carpeted floors may be the only place to sit on something softer.

We did have some soft seating upstairs in fiction, before, but the reading retreat added in seventeen more seats (or even more, when students, rather in the manner of puppies, cram themselves three on two seats, or four on the sofa). 

The configuration also has corners to settle into - I see these soft chairs in other school libraries and schools but they're often around a low table, with space around them.   What you can do does, of course, depend on your library.  We happened to be working with a narrow mezzanine.  But as I watch how students use this space, the corner-ness of it is, I see, more important than you might think.   Drifting through my mind are thoughts of Ratty, Mole, Badger, and In a hole in the ground lived a hobbit.  Even if I had a wide open space, I think, now, I'd still try to achieve cosy and corners, having seen how students respond to this.

We still didn't have enough for every student in a junior class of thirty to have a comfy seat...

Then, last school holidays, another TL pal and I went to visit Reverse Garbage.  This is a non-profit co-operative based in Marrickville, Sydney, that collects and resells industrial discards: Reverse Garbage is a not-for-profit co-operative that sells industrial discards, off-cuts and over-runs to the public for creative and practical uses, reducing the amount of waste going to landfill..  You never know what you're going to find when you go there.  Could be anything.  You need to go with an open mind and imagination. 

If you're teacher librarians without a lot of cash but with enthusiasm and the aforesaid open minds and imaginations.... well, you can go with an idea of what you might like to find, or a need/purpose you have in mind.  What might you find?

I found these.

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Once upon a time they were street banners from the Rocks historic area of Sydney.  I've found street banners at Reverse Garbage before (as seen in the background here), but these were different.  The fabric here is a synthetic with a sueded surface, feeling lovely on the hand.  But, you say, they're advertising the Rocks, and what are you going to do with them in a school library?

We were talking about comfort, weren't we?  This is what we did:

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Floor cushions.  The width of the banners happens to neatly fit the width of a standard pillow (two for $10 at K-Mart).  We made them 'envelope' style as you see, and were able to make ten floor cushions, using up all the banners. 

Sure, some of the cushions say The or ocks, but who cares?  Our students sure don't.  The ones who aren't on the soft chairs or sofa, reading, during a wide reading period, are sprawled on the floor or propped against a wall, on a floor cushion.  It's only a little bit of comfort, but it's an important little bit.  It says, your comfort is important.  Here's something we can offer, something we have thought of for you.  Enjoy your reading.  Welcome.  I've even had kids give up a soft chair because they'd rather have one of these.  I hadn't expected that.  Floor cushion diplomacy.

What you need: there are lots of places to find fabric (new or, like us, recycled) at discount prices.  Look for one that does feel good - this has been commented on by a lot of kids in relation to our cushions.  Partly because of the dimensions of the banners, and partly because they were price-competitive with cushion inserts, we used the pillows.  Students have liked this size, too - for sitting, lounging, draping themselves over lying on their bellies (and...and...they'll always think of something you haven't!).

How much were the banners?  I filled a nearly sack-sized bag for $30 - and got more banners in than the ones that became the floor cushions.  Plus some other good things (you'll see 'em blogged soon).  Total spend was about $60, and it's an environmental tick too.  At Reverse Garbage, some items are sold on a per-item price basis, others on fill-a-bag - from around $6 for filling a supermarket green bag size on up.  And yes, I'll tell you that given that these banners have been up lamp-posts, out in the air and weather, some are a little more faded than others...but it's part of their life, and authentic.  And I don't care, and neither do the kids, as they sit down to read.  And in the end, that's what matters, that they're reading and happy and comfortable in the library. 

Cheers, Ruth
*GIFSL = Good Ideas For School Libraries

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