A learning environment is seen as many things. It is a place where children feel safe and secure, an area where you easily supervise and of course, an area where all learning experiences take place. Your own teaching philosophy has a major influence on how you design the learning environment and how often the areas get changed/swapped around, for example; if you believe children require consistency you may leave the main areas and only swap around the toys according to children’s interest but if you believe that regular changes in the environment is necessary in keeping children occupied and stimulated then you would most likely rearrange your room and move all the areas around regularly.
We all understand the importance of play and investigative learning through hands-on experiences and supporting a child’s development in a holistic way. A good early childhood environment supports children through activities and by providing a space where there are well-supplied resources in dramatic play, construction, quiet, creative and small group activity areas. As you know, play provides a way for children to integrate all their new experiences into their developing bodies, minds and emotions. Brain research tells us that an integrated (holistic) learning approach of combing physical, emotional, cognitive and social is more beneficial than a single orientated activity (Shore, 1997). So ask yourselves when setting up activities:
- What and how do I expect children to engage with the resources that I have set up?
- How can I set up the environment to enhance a child’s development and/or schema in a constructive way?
- When I place equipment and resources in certain areas, how do I expect children to engage in that space?
As you set up the environment to meet the program and curriculum of your room, keep in mind the basic needs and interest of your children. Think about where you place children’s water bottles, hygiene stations and other areas that help promote self-help skills.
The components of a learning environment are many and can be overwhelming but here are a few suggestions on what to keep in mind to help you along the way.
- Places for developmentally appropriate physical activities. Create opportunities for a lot of developmentally appropriate physical activities, even in an indoor setting. Young children learn most effectively through physical involvement and require a high level of physical activities so set up trolleys and/or walking frames in dramatic play area. Place some scarves/ribbons in music corner or perhaps some trucks/cars in construction corner. Also keep in mind that children deserve a place throughout the day for some quiet time, think to yourself how each area would affect each other.
- Change and variety. Children seek out a constant change of stimuli—scenery, textures, colours, social groups, activities, environments, sounds, and smells. As our children spend more time in our programs, the more variation and stimulation they need, so change and add according to your program and the evolving interest of children’s interests and needs. Ensure that whatever is happening on the floor reflects your curriculum and program.
- Colour and decorations. Colour and decorations should be used to support the various functional areas in the classroom as well as the centre. Colours develop moods and vibrant colours such as red, magenta, and yellow work well in the gross motor area; soothing blues and green are good colour choices for hands-on learning centres while whites and very light colours are good for areas that need lots of concentration and light. Soft pastels and other gentle hues on the other hand, work well in reading areas and other low intensity activities. Decorations should follow the same pattern, with an additional emphasis on changing them often, and providing order around the projects and themes that are occurring in the room.
- Soft, responsive environments. Children who spend most of their day in one environment require surfaces that respond to them, not hard surfaces that they must conform to. Sand, water, grass, rugs and pillows respond to a child’s basic physical needs so be mindful of the textures that you set up in the areas like the reading corner, home corner and/or small areas around the room.
- Flexible materials and equipment. When choosing the resources in the room, make sure that it highlights and supports your program and curriculum but also keep in mind that children will interact with it in a variety of ways. This is why it is important to be open minded when setting up learning experiences as children may use the materials in ways that you may not imagined.
- Simple, complex and super complex units. When you are presenting an area to children for the first time, keep it simple. Remember that you can always add to it with follow up experiences. If the area is presented to children in a complex manner, it will just be confusing and children may not gain anything from the experience, for example; if you set up a restaurant in dramatic play area, you may just set up tables, trays and food (simple unit). As the week goes on you may add menus, paper and pads, a cash register, phone and dress up clothes etc; making the experience more complex.
Learning spaces, big or small are just as important as each other. Small spaces are just a little more tricky for setting up than larger spaces. You need to tap into your creative side a little but a well thought out and planned space is always supportive to learning. Remember the thing about textures? Add different textured cushions in a small space and allow children to use it how they want to. Have you thought about a quiet, cosy reading spot or perhaps a quiet drawing/writing space?
A learning environment meets the basic needs of the children in the room but also one that supportive of their development and reflective of the classroom project and curriculum. Further, the environment is designed to enable staff to facilitate the best learning for their children which also welcomes and supports our families, the community and our team.