Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Early Childhood Environment Speaks Loudly: What Does Yours Say?

Our job as early childhood educators is to set up the environment with thoughtfulness and intention.

The environment should say
"This place is just for you...go now, explore and make discoveries, own problems and solutions, work through struggles, own your mistakes and learn from them, you are trusted, lead the way.

Once the environment is set, it is then our job to step out of the way and follow young children.  It is our job to closely observe and adjust the environment as needed, either adding to or taking away.  There are times when we have too much available, and times when we don't have enough.  Successfully preparing the environment is a fine art, it is a skill.  It takes careful observation and positive relationships with the littles in our programs.  The better we know our crew, the better we can prepare for them.  The more we know the needs of each child, the better we can set up the environment to meet those unique needs.

Today, I nailed the environment, which resulted in a morning rich with meaningful learning.  Take a look:

A few varieties of tubes awaited the arrival of my littles.

A couple of containers of soapy water held surprises beneath the suds, and tongs were thoughtfully placed nearby.

The catapult that was explored yesterday now had a ball of yarn tied to it, adding an entirely new experience to be explored.

In addition to these "plops" (as I call them), there was the usual in the room as well...the "black dress" if you will.  The items that the children can count on being there every time they come to school.

Absent from the environment every day are flashcards, worksheets and worries about how to make letters and what sounds they make.  Missing is a forced circle time that everyone must attend and a rigid schedule that must be followed.  Gone is pressure to meet expectations.

Present is respect for meaningful learning that children are capable of leading.

Present is the knowledge that when children are allowed ample time and freedom to build a solid foundation, all future academics will build seamlessly upon it.

Present is confidence in play, and the fact that play is a child's work.

The learning that evolved from this thoughtfully set up environment was astounding.  There truly is no other word for it.

There were children focused on tasks, demonstrating attention spans that some adults I know don't have (myself included!!).


Exploring the magic of magnets.

Totally focused on wondering.

Making eyes for his monster...completely focused on the task at hand.

Solving a problem with the grabbers...completely focused for well over four minutes.  This child did not give up, that is a face of determination.

There were children working through problems, working so hard that I could feel the gears turning as they struggled through and persevered.
This child put the smaller clear tube inside this large tube. 

His initial thought process was completely logical.  Pick up the tube and the other tube will slide right on out.....

...or will it?  The look of sheer bamboozlement on his face was priceless!  I know children who would give up at this moment, but not this child.  He kept working at it.

Finally!  A sign that the technique he is using is working!  Onward!!

It's important to note that this tube is not light - this was very hard work, not only mentally, but physically as well!

SUCCESS!  He learned that hard work pays off.  Perseverance is a vital, life-long skill!  I dare say a four year old that can work through struggles is more prepared for future academics then a four year old that can identify all of the letters, but can't handle struggling.

There were children working through social conflicts, determining when turns would occur and organizing themselves.
These two children devised a plan for using the catapult.  Children need opportunities to handle conflict and work through social struggles.  Giving them the freedom to organize themselves and own the solution is empowering.

There were children exploring freely, knowing their thoughts and ideas are respected here and every wonder can be tested.
HEY!  I can fit inside of this tube...and so can my friend!

WHOA!  I can roll inside of this thing!!

I wonder what will happen if I put a metal ball inside of this tube with the chips?

If I wiggle the magnet back and forth really
fast, the chips move out of the way,
and then I can move the ball!

This thing in my hands makes
the things in the tube move.....

This tube makes a cozy hideaway.

There were children exploring the purpose of letters through words attached to experiences.
The "mystery word" concept involves hiding letters that form a word that is directly connected to what the children are currently doing, or what is in their environment.  This child was tired of searching for the elusive letter "t", so he decided to build one himself...problem SOLVED!

There were children strengthening muscles needed for handwriting, and coordinating muscles that aren't working together yet.

Children are empowered during their time at Kaleidoscope Play School.  The environment immediately sends a message that this place is special, and it is just for them.  They are welcome to explore, to discover, to fail, to persevere, to struggle, to solve, to cooperate, to practice, to learn and to own their experiences here.

What message does your environment send to children?