As I said in my last post, (teacher stress) the school I work at has started a new year. Last year I worked with two other co-teachers in the older infant classroom. We cared for 7 children who started the year off between 4 months and 12 months. This year I have looped up into an older one’s classroom with all 7 of the children and one of my co-teachers. Three additional children joined our class. The children are between 15 months and 2 years.
Last week the school was closed which gave the teachers time to set up their new classrooms. Deb Curtis and Margie Carter state, “every environment implies a set of values or beliefs about the people who use a space and the activities that take place there” (13). I believe it’s important for the classroom environment to show the values of the teachers but also to show the children’s’. My co-teacher and I are very grateful that we got to loop up with the children we cared for last year. This made setting up our new room very easy because we know the children (all but three) and know what they are interested in. My question is how do we set up a classroom that implies the values and beliefs of children we don’t know?
The great thing about the classroom environment is that it can be changed! We can so easily get comfortable with how the way things look and feel, and yes consistency for the children is very important, but we do need to adapt the environment to meet the children’s needs and show their values.
Below are a few pictures of what our classroom looks like now. Even though we just set it up we are already thinking about how we need to change it. Over all, we wanted the environment to be safe, calm, cognitively challenging, emotionally nurturing and a “yes” space. We did not want to continually tell the children “no,no,no.” We have intentionally put fewer materials in the classroom hoping that this will support the children in engaging with one material for longer amounts of time. Curtis and Carter state, “thoughtfully planned or not, each environment also influences the people who use it in subtle or drastic ways” (13). We are hoping that this environment will influence the children to feel competent, to take on new problems to solve and to add layers to their work (or engage in more complex play).
Magda Gerber describes a cognitively challenging and emotionally nurturing environment as:
“A cognitively challenging environment provides simple, age appropriate play objects to help a child grow and mature through problem solving during the course of play” (6)
“An emotionally nurturing environment, provided by an attentive parent or carer, gives a child the confidence to solve problems” (6)
This is our welcome center. When parents drop off we want them to come into our classroom and feel that they are welcome. We have placed the sign in sheet and other important information next to the books and a cozy place to sit. I hope that parents feel invited to sit and read a book with their child before saying good bye. I like this space and we considered draping some fabric under the shelves to give it more of a “home” feeling but remembered that the children in our class liked to pull on the fabric we had draped in the classroom last year. We have put this idea on hold for now and may revisit it later.
This is our “loose parts” shelf (check out this blog about loose parts). “Offering open-ended materials in a variety of areas will spark children’s imaginations and speak to their desire to continually rearrange and combine materials for exploration and inventions” (Curtis & Carter, 16). There are not “set” areas in our classroom. We support the children in taking items from the shelf and bringing them wherever they would like in the classroom. Magda Gerber says, “during play, it may look as if young toddlers run from one toy to the next, with seemingly short attention spans. If you look closer, you will see that they are actually involved in their own learning projects” (178). We understand this and know that the children in our classroom do get involved in their own learning projects, this is another reason we support them in using any of the materials we have out in any area of the room.
By the end of last year the children in our class were climbing on just about everything. We decided that we needed a few really great climbing pieces. “Environments should provide opportunities for children to feel the power of their bodies and ideas” (Curtis & Carter, 15). We want the children to continue exploring the strength of their bodies and by providing them with more climbing opportunities this allows us to say yes more than we say no. In the first picture there are some leaves hanging from the ceiling. My co-teacher and I worked for two hours on this project. She covered the wall with white fabric and I put together the leaves. We took down the white fabric and after looking at the leaves we decided we didn’t like them either. We will be replacing them with pictures of the children, creating a hanging photograph “wall.” This is one of the perks of the classroom environment; if it doesn’t feel right to you, you can change it!
We have a small kitchen with more loose parts and some really great stools. I have to say these have been a favorite. They’re the perfect size for sitting and they are not too tall so if a child stands on them I feel comfortable allowing this. They are also light enough for the children to carry around the room. “A simple play environment that contains child-size objects helps your child feel competent” (Gerber, 144). This is how we want the children in our class to feel, competent! We are thinking about adding something in this area that will lower the ceiling to give it more of a “home” feeling.
Finally, we have our sensory table. It is was filled with curlers and bowls. Today, we had water and small plastic cups inside. We put just enough water in the table to cover the bottom. This helps us feel better about the children splashing because that’s really what they want to do. We also keep a towel close by just in case. Does anyone have ideas about what other items could go into the sensory table that are truly a sensory experience for toddlers?
Overall, you might have noticed that the room is very tan, there is not much on the walls or a lot of color. I feel that we need to provide “think space” for children. Let’s say a child was working with the blocks, trying to stack them. If they paused for a minute and looked around the room while they were still thinking about the blocks, I don’t want something on the wall to distract them and make them forget about the blocks. There is a fine balance between putting up items that make your room more colorful, feel more like a home and providing the children with blank spaces to think. I also feel that children bring color and life into the room, so remember less “stuff” is more!
Curtis, Deb, and Margie Carter. Designs for Living and Learning: Transforming Early Childhood Environment. St. Paul: Redleaf, 2003. Print.
Gerber, Magda, and Allison Johnson. Your self-confident baby. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998. Print.