As I venture into teaching students about classroom environments I can’t help but be called to revisit How Does Learning Happen? Ontario’s Pedagogy for the Early Years’s (HDLH) Foundations. I feel HDLH strongly provides us with the best way to engage in a conversation around the relationships and messages our classrooms send.
In what ways can I build a vision of children as competent, curious, and capable of complex thinking and rich in potential in our classrooms?
I am particularly in love with how Reggio Emilia classrooms are designed to be a beautiful third teacher. If the environment is set up right, the children will be more likely to be actively engaged with the materials. Actively engaged children are learning through play! When children are engaged in activities, teachers have more time to foster responsive interactions with the children, observe the learning in action, write down language, and take pictures.
#1 Well-being: Allow every child to participate and be challenged in meaningful ways.
- How can we promote children’s comfort?
- When do we recognize a child feels safe?
- How can we ensure our environments are inclusive and nurturing?
Some questions to think about as you design the classroom:
- Are the materials easily accessible for young children?
- Are the materials clean and organized?
- Are they labeled with a picture and words (preferably in two languages)?
#2 Belonging: A sense of belonging is supported when each child’s unique spirit, individuality, and presence are valued.
- Identify what brings the children joy and how they relate to others and to the environment around them?
- How are our environments arranged to support calm, alert and happy children and adults?
Remember: Always ask yourself, “What else can this center offer? How can I make it better?” Remember: what works for one group of children may not work for another. I like to think that the classroom is never “done.” There is always some project to add to your To-Do List to make your classroom the best learning environment possible.
#3 Engagement: Paying thoughtful attention to creating an environment that values children ideas and their contributions and the relationships with the world around them, themselves and each other.
- How can we foster ‘children’s natural curiosity’ in the classroom?
How does the environment promote and support active engagement and meaningful exploration, play and inquiry?
Stand at the door way. Does your classroom look inviting? Does your classroom have an open layout? Are the centers clearly defined? Is it clear of clutter? Is there any furniture essentially blocking entrance to the classroom?
Get down on your knees. This is the level that children stand at. Are materials easily within reach? Are the displays at eye level? Are the materials clean, organized and inviting?
#4Expression: When educators are aware of and able to understand and respond to the many “languages” children use to communicate, they give every child a “voice”.
- What objects and materials promote children’s expression; what draws them in?
Look at the displays. Do you know the children, families, and teachers who share this space? Do you see pictures of the children? Are there unique pieces of art displayed in way that shows their work is valued? Is there anything to tell you what the children are studying this week besides the lesson plan? This brings us back to documentation