Creating a place of creativity, imagination, experimentation and exploration.
“There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and their physical environment.”
What is in a space, a room or garden, and how it is arranged can affect the learning and behaviour of people; it can make it easier to act in certain kinds of ways, and harder to act in others. The whole setting gives us cues about expectations, and generally we do what we have been invited to do…
The objective is to create a pleasant atmosphere, where children, families and teachers feel understood and at ease.
This is achieved by paying thoughtful attention to creating an environment that enables children to develop relationships with the world around them, themselves and each other. Below is a list of things I consider when setting up an environment:
Firstly reflect on your current environment. Look at the space. What is working? What isn’t working? What is useful and what is clutter? Intentional or unintentional? Simplify the choices that are available. Try to imagine, as children do, the possibilities that exist within the environment. Try and look at the space with fresh eyes and infinite possibilities.
Does the environment reflect your values? What are your values for a learning space? small groups, relationships, independence, nature, light, space, time, plants, transparency, beauty...?
Create and maintain a soothing atmosphere. Take a moment to stop and look around. Are your surroundings calm? What can you see, and hear? How does your space make you feel? Sensory overload can be the cause of many problems. Children are extremely receptive to their environment. If the atmosphere is calm and relaxed it will help those within it be calm and relaxed as well. Choose colour schemes and items that sooth your soul; plants, candles natural resources and quiet music or nature sounds.
Is it purposeful? What is the purpose behind the choices you have made? What do you want the children to achieve? Is the intention clear? Every resource, material tool and provocation is carefully considered for it's purpose.
Where an experience is set up has a significant impact on how it is used. Is it in a good space? For example, putting books or puzzles in a corner rather than in the middle of the room creates a place to pause, for both children and adults alike. It shows respect towards the space as it is not in a thoroughfare and provides a comforting retreat.
Has the space been set up in relation to other spaces and the surrounding environment? It helps to create a flow between different areas eg cars and tracks next to the blocks so that they can blend and compliment each other.
Each object and how it is placed or set up communicates a message to the child. Are things positioned at a child’s eye level? Are materials easily accessible to the children? Does it look uncluttered and inviting?
Do you want to encourage small or large group interactions? Carefully organise the space for small and large group projects and small intimate spaces for one, two or three children. Large open spaces tend to encourage large groups, fast moments, and running.
Is it aesthetically pleasing? Put attention into creating a beautiful environment. Reggio inspired preschools aim to create a welcoming, nurturing, home like environment. This doesn't have to be expensive, or require new resources. Little touches, like framed pictures, plants or a vase of flowers can make all the difference.
“Provocations are deliberate and thoughtful decisions made by the teacher to extend the ideas of children. Teachers provide materials, media and general direction as needed, but the children take the ideas where they want.” - Journey into Early Childhood
Provocations are set up in each space that are purposeful and reflect the interests of the children. Provocations entice you in to the learning experience while allowing room for the children to interact, explore and create freely without limitations.
Open ended materials offer children endless opportunities for play. They can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, taken apart, and put back together in multiple ways. The child determines how the materials are used. When children have access to open ended resources and loose parts, it frees their creativity and imagination to change the world around them in infinite ways. The more flexible the materials are in their environment, the greater the level of creativity and inventiveness they express.
Natural materials provide an infinite number of possibilities, and convey a sense of calmness and tranquility for both children and adults.
When we provide children with recycled materials we are not only offering them a variety of different resources but encouraging them to reduce, reuse and recycle which in turn helps to look after and care for our world.
Along with a variety of materials it is essential to provide equipment and tools for exploration and investigation. Mirrors, magnifying glasses, paper/pens with clip boards, reference material etc.
Ensure resources are in good condition. What messages are we conveying if the books are ripped, puzzles have missing pieces, cups and bowls are chipped and baskets are falling apart?
Resetting is not tidying up. In place of asking children to tidy up they are encouraged to reset their space. This means resetting provocations and making it beautiful for the next person that wishes to use it.
Children need opportunities to revisit their individual and group projects over the course of the day, week or even longer. So often meaningful play is interrupted by meal times and transitions. Children are asked to pack up their things and are not able to revisit their work at a later time. There are a variety different strategies that can help overcome this and one that I have found that works really well is the introduction of ‘saving cards’.
When children have ‘saving cards’ they tend to get more involved in their play with the knowledge that they can revisit it at a later time, it also helps during occasions when children do not want to eat, or go to the toilet etc because they are so engrossed in their play. Each child has one ‘saving card’ which can be used for work that is in progress. It is not for saving projects that are completed and does not get them out of resetting.
Create a living space. A centre is not a museum and should not be stagnant but ever changing. Keep a dynamic and lived space that continues to engage and challenge children and offer multiple opportunities for problem solving.
"Space has to be a sort of aquarium that mirrors the ideas, values, attitudes, and culture of the people who live within it."