Learning environments are often referred to as a member of the team because they provide as much potential for engagement with learning as educators. Here’s 5 tips to help when considering your environment:
- Plan it out: Consider where you place items in your environment and how they are going to be used to allow for minimal intervention. For example consider whether there are clear pathways to not only access different areas but visual pathways to see different areas (both for supervision and for children to help plan what next). Consider whether certain spaces will be used in ways that could spread out into doorways and block exits etc. Some simple planning can prevent a large number of controls being put in place and constant intervention of how children play and engage with the space.
- Allow for maximised learning: Consider how much of your environment is accessible to children so they can resource their own learning through getting additional equipment or moving things around. The more controlled the environment is the more controlled children’s use of it is. It can often be a good idea to unpack the rationale behind decisions on what can be taken outside, or what children can have access too. Question whether it is because of a valid reason, or simply because no-one had ever stopped to ask “well, why can’t we?”.
- Reflect the children and the stakeholders: To create a sense of belonging it is important that children, families and educators see themselves reflected in the environment, whether through displays, cultural resources, languages spoken, or added elements. I worked at a service where there was a small picket fence in the car park acting as a barrier between the cars and the footpath, and the families took a white fence paling home, decorated it with their children, and brought it back in to be lacquered and part of the fence.
- Avoid changes simply because of boredom: If your environment is to create a sense of belonging then changes to it based on the needs of one stakeholder can cause barriers for other stakeholders. If someone broke into your home and moved everything around without your consent you would probably feel violated, unsure, anxious, confused as to where everything was, yet so often the entire environment is changed without children’s input or knowledge. If the environment is not working and changes need to made, involve the children. Not only would this help them feel like they belong, but it would also be an amazing learning opportunity with planning, discussions, problem solving, negotiation etc.
- Actively reflect on your environment: Many of our reflections are about the children and their learning, but actively reflecting on the environment can help children connect to learning. Here are some reflective questions to get you started:
- What role does the environment play in our service?
- Do we consider inside and outside to be different environments or part of the one learning environment?
- What limits and boundaries do we have for children to support them to respect their environment and develop trust with how they use the resources?
- Do educators role model appropriate respect for the environment?
- Is the environment too cluttered/busy so children may struggle to see individual experiences?
- Is the environment too sparse/empty so children have limited choice and freedom?
- How many sensory inputs are in the environment that could overwhelm children? (e.g. smells – chemicals, perfumes, food; sounds – constant music, electrical hums, loud noises; visual – things moving in the breeze, lots of bright colours and busy patterns; textures/touch – fans, air-conditioning, surfaces)
- Does the environment look like it reflects your context, your stakeholders, your values, or does it look like it could be any service, anywhere? (e.g. are posters made with your children in your service possibly even in their writing, or are posters generic downloads from the internet?)
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