Horseshoes are for Horses and Tailgates, Not Kindergarten

Who remembers THIS from primary or elementary school?…

Example of a Horseshoe/Kidney table in a school-age classroom.

I remember these “horseshoe” and “kidney” tables, and I graduated high school in the late 90’s.

Well guess what? Schools are STILL using them.

In my daily work with Kindergarten classrooms, I see them…more often than I really would care to. And there’s not much info available about them either, things like when they were manufactured, how they were made or even how they’ve remained in some of our mainstream classrooms (believe me, I looked).

In any case, I DO empathize with teachers who have limited classroom furniture and supplies, because often just having ANY table is better than none at all. But here I’ll outline some points regarding their use/misuse specifically in kindergarten classrooms, along with the reasons we need to:

  • Shift traditional uses for these tables in learning environments
  • Offer alternatives and ideas that educators might find more helpful when they‘re designing learning environments

Take a moment and conjure up an image in your mind of the spot in your home where you feel the most comfortable. Maybe it’s totally soothing and relaxing, or maybe it’s a spot where you can enjoy your favorite hobby, or zone into your work to get things done. Maybe it involves total silence, or maybe it involves some white noise or even background music (no judging from me! I load up my favorite Instrumental Chillhop channel on YouTube…for me there’s nothing like smooth hip-hop/jazz fusion to help me buckle down).

A Zen learning environment from the Inspired By Play website from their kindergarten program in Ontario, CA.

Now think back to a different time that you were in a certain room, learning how to do something new. What did THAT space or environment look like? Are those two areas similar, or different? When children walk into your classroom, what energy and impression do you think your learning environment projects?

In a typical, traditional, kindergarten classroom containing a horseshoe/kidney table, this setup tells the student that the teacher will be:

  • THE main talker
  • THE main point-person
  • THE one to approve ideas
  • THE authority when they are sitting in that area
  • THE one leading the conversation

…and the sense of community or collaboration may not be as welcomed.

Am I exaggerating? Perhaps. But after helping my colleagues to redesign approximately 30 kindergarten classrooms in the last two years across the state of Arizona, I can confirm that this is the perception we are giving our children by using these tables, whether you’re aware of it or not. We know that teachers want to (or need to) give small-group direct instruction, and this has been the best method in carrying that out.

Or so we thought. Unfortunately, this method comes off as a socratic style and, frankly, is outdated.

With design-learning environments and neuroeducation studies on how young brains learn, we now have solid evidence to argue for an improved learning environment. Let me preface this by saying that most educators are simply following what their school administrators want regarding the way that learning is implemented. Teachers are following their school mandates and guidelines for small group instruction. We get it. So, keeping these restraints in mind, and definitely not wanting anyone to get into trouble or be fired, I would advise educators in those situations to take the research and evidence and do the best you can within the constraints of your school rules.

A clever way to change traditional use of these tables. The shape conveys community and represents a collaborative learning environment to students.

We recognize we have better methods for a more effective learning outcome now. In the science of learning, we have these amazing design learning environments. We have current, evidence-based neuroeducation research that tells us children learn more effectively through environments that promote, safety, collaboration, community, are reflective of their needs and are engaging and meaningful to them. Learning in these environments can help ultimately prepare them for jobs that we may not know even exist yet. It’s 21st century learning.

I should point out for my preschool educators that these varied methods and classroom approaches in which tables are used have been done already in most high quality preschool programs (I’ve seen them up close). We’ve known the way children learn best is through meaningful experiences, the upper grades are creating them also, but it’s essentially the same concept that we’re thankful has been catching on more and more.

Still not a fan. If this table was completely pushed up against the wall it would be an awesome improvement. This still says to kids, “the adult is the leader and talker in this space”. Using flexible seating does not make it better. It just tells me that you want them to sit for long extended periods of time.

We want to place high value on establishing relationships among students, and on building a sense of community as well as creating an open learning environment. Students spend most of their day in classrooms that almost never feel warm, nurturing or “like home”, when it's been proven that this isn’t an environment conducive to learning. This is something educators should take into consideration when setting up their classrooms.

Some examples to consider:

From The Organization of Space and Time module from The Kindergarten Experience from Arizona presented by Alesi Group. Some examples of better kindergarten classroom designs to consider.

Here’s another idea for an alternative to using a horseshoe or kidney table:

Screen shot of an example of a kidney table pushed against the wall. We love to set up displays in the middle portion as an art or writing area. It also makes a great science area table. Observing and documenting a provocation that’s been set-up to look inviting makes the difference. (From The Kindergarten Experience YouTube Channel)
I promise there’s more to this screenshot image! Check out the video from my Snapchat posted for a tour of the classroom redesign. We decided to push this table against the wall for a Science Area! Here’s the video.

Again, if you have to use the horseshoe or kidney table for your small group instruction and you’re not allowed to sit on the floor or other area, I understand! Do the best you can with what you have.

Want even MORE ideas on classroom redesigns? Check out some Kindergarten Classroom Redesign videos I’ve captured on The Kindergarten Experience YouTube Channel or on my own Snapchat or Instagram!

Looking for further research-based evidence of why we need to rethink the way we are using classroom furniture (like the horseshoe tables or other outdated learning setups, yes, even for kindergarten!)? Check out these resources:

Education Week: Creative Learning Envinronments

Harvard Educase- Reimagining Learning Spaces: Design, Technology and Assessment

Spring Garden Waldorf School Blog: The Science Behind Waldorf Kindergarten Design

The Kindergarten Experience-Arizona:

Teach Thought: How Teaching is Changing

The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine: How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experiences and School (Second Edition 2000)

Wired: American Schools are Training Kids for A World that Doesn’t Exist

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