These were the first walls that I had when I started in Kindergarten...and I thought they were perfect. My teaching partners and I put up bright broad cloth and busy borders. I thought this was what Kindergarten was supposed to look like. When I look at these photos from a few years ago today, I feel instantly overwhelmed. I am amazed that my thinking and philosophies have changed so drastically. Needless to say, my definition of a learning environment has certainly evolved over my time in FDK.
All that I know and believe about the Environment as a Third teacher has been influenced by the incredible ECE's that I have had the honour of working with both in the classroom and through our Reggio Inspired Book Club.
I think I will always continue to be inspired by beautiful spaces that I see online, at other schools, and during workshops. I see things and think about how they may fit or work in our learning environment.
I wanted to share some things I have learned along the way from other educators, resources, and experiences...
1) What message does your classroom send to families/students?
I strongly believe that the choices that we make while setting up and maintaining our environments send a clear and powerful message to families/children about what is important.
When a room is full of clutter and materials that the children are not allowed to touch - what message do you think the children are getting?
Thinking carefully about what materials to keep at school, what materials to simply throw out, and how things are organized in the room is an ongoing process that my partners and I work through.
2) How does your room flow? Where are centres in relation to each other?
It is important to think about the FLOW in your room. Some people describe the room as being split into quadrants - wet areas, dry areas, noisy areas, and quiet areas. Although I am not sure it has to be that distinct as a learning environment develops these are definite things to keep in mind.
We have the least amount of tables possible - just enough to fit our 30 bodies for lunch time! Children often prefer to work, build, and write on the floor so we try to ensure that there is a balance of tables and open spaces for creative thinkers.
3) LESS is MORE...
Storage is always an issue in schools - however, there are creative ways to work around storing materials. In our classroom we keep anything that personally belongs to us at home and we have used black fabric to cover just a couple of shelves so that teacher materials are hidden away.
We start the year with very minimal materials out - in our building area there is nothing but wooden blocks, our art area begins with crayons, paper and pencils and our nature area begins with loose parts and a small basket of animals.
Although these areas grow and change through the year, we still try not to overcrowd shelves with all of the materials that we own. We want things that are out to be purposeful and our children learn to have conversations with us if there is something they are wanting for their learning that may not be out.
Our 5 classrooms all share materials - instead of each classroom having small sets of materials, we spent a few days putting all of our resources together. Now, when you would like to use a certain material you sign it out and have MORE of it. We do this for building materials, science materials, puppets, dramatic play, playdough, puzzles, sand and water. We all have certain staples in our rooms, but we rotate in and out other materials that do not need to be there all year - e.g., magnifying glasses, wooden blocks, clipboards, loose parts.
This strategy has also allowed us to obtain far more materials as a team. Whenever we have money or when we were invited to place mass orders for FDK we did so as a team looking overall at our materials which helps the money to spread further!
We have found this to be amazing as it also limits the amount of materials in the classroom at one time. Everything does not need to stay on your shelves all year, it can be stored and brought out when needed.
I always frown when I see big stop signs all over a classroom and find it so uninviting for the children. If they are not able to access/touch the materials, in my opinion they shouldn't be out! Too tempting!
4) Natural, calm colours...with a focus on student learning and work!
This was the first year I had a parent really question why the room was so bare and why it was so "brown". We had a great conversation about how it is less stimulating than bright primary colours, how when a provocation is set out it attracts the children different, how documentation is the focus instead of a busy ABC border.
Although our room looks bare... it feels calm and I can see it quickly filling up with colour in the art studio, in the projects that are starting to pop up, in the photographs that are being added to the ledges. Since moving away from bright colours and busy borders I have felt a definite difference in the calmness of the children.
5) How will you present materials to the children?
I think this quote from the book: Are You Listening? really captures my thinking:
"When materials for learning, such as blocks or paint, paper and brushes are stored and organized in thoughtful ways, it gives the message that these are important tools for learning"
When we present materials in transparent containers, when we organize paint brushes by size and markers by colour...we are really supporting the children in slowing down. You will see the children make more deliberate and thoughtful choices in the tools that they need. You will see the children treat the materials as tools, rather than disposable materials.
This year as I walked through my colleagues rooms at Howard Robertson Public School I felt inspired. I am so proud to be at a school where the learning environment is important, respected, and valued by educators and children. I wanted to share some of the beginning stages of our rooms. I would like to follow up with more photos as the year progresses so that readers can see the walls and the centres grow and change!
Please share any thoughts, opinions, feelings about the learning environment in your comments! We are passionate and always looking to deepen our understandings. I have also included a few links below that I find to be supportive and helpful in this process.
Great Links for Further Learning:
The Third Teacher - http://ncac.acecqa.gov.au/educator-resources/pcf-articles/P12_ChildFriendlySpaces_Jun11pdf.pdf
Natural Curiosity - http://www.naturalcuriosity.ca/environmental.php?pgcat=branch1&sfield=six
Literacy Numeracy Secretariat - http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/CBS_ThirdTeacher.pdf
|Featured Room: Jennifer Reid, Lara Roberts, Jennifer Hauser, and Alicia Grist|
|Featured Room: Kolbey Rank and Gwyn Roberts-Gill|
|Featured Room: Jenny Grills and Christine Robinson|
|Cheryl and I moved into this new learning space this year!|
|Snapshot of simple learning centres that we began our year with.|
|Inquiry is happening all through our school - what a beautiful Grade 3 learning environment.|
Featured Classroom: Jodi Gross