Creating Indoor Environments for Young Children
By Francis Wardle, Ph.D.
An early childhood environment is many things: It's a safe place where children are protected from the elements and are easily supervised, and it's where the important activities of the day take place, such as playing, eating, sleeping, washing hands, and going to the bathroom. Beyond the basics, however, an environment for young children implements and supports a program's philosophy and curriculum. Philosophies like Montessori, for example, require well-designed classrooms with low shelves, four basic learning areas, and places for children to work and learn independently, and British infant/primary programs have classrooms with a variety of rich learning centers, a cozy reading area with couch and carpet, and a lively science area that contains pets and plants. How Does Your Environment Support Your Philosophy and Curriculum? Since most early childhood philosophies stress the importance of play, hands-on-learning, and whole child development, a good early childhood environment supports these activities. Are there well-supplied dramatic play areas? Is there a large block area? What about sand and water activities, manipulatives, art areas, and reading corners? Is the space arranged in such a way that children can make noise while playing without disturbing children in other activities? Can children make a mess in the art area without destroying the books in the reading area? Meeting Children's Needs
The young of every species have basic needs that must be met for them to develop and mature. Children are no exception. For children, these essential needs include warm, caring, and responsive adults; a sense of importance and significance; a way to relate to the world around them; opportunities to move and play; and people to help structure and support their learning. In the past, these needs were met at home and in the community, but now these needs are being met in our classrooms. According to Jim Greenman (1988), early childhood environments should be: Rich in Experience. Children need to explore, experiment, and learn basic knowledge through direct experience. Indeed, childhood is a time when we learn firsthand about the physical world the feel of water, the constant pull of gravity, the stink of rotten fruit, and the abrasive feel of concrete on a bare knee. Rich in Play. Play provides a way for children to integrate all their new experiences into their rapidly developing minds, bodies, emotions, and social skills. Brain research supports this idea, stressing that children learn best through an integrated approach combining physical, emotional, cognitive, and social growth (Shore, 1997). Rich in Teaching. The role of the teacher is critical in a child’s life. Children depend on teachers to be their confidant, colleague, model, instructor, and nurturer of educational experiences. Rich with People. Clearly children need lots of exposure to other people in their early childhood years. One of the greater weaknesses of Western society is that our children have less exposure to the diverse group of people living in the local village—baker, farmer, gardener, carpenter, piano tuner, bricklayer, painter, etc. Significant to Children. Young children need to feel important. In past eras children were responsible to water the garden, do farm chores, and care for younger children. Children need to feel that what they do is meaningful to someone besides themselves. Places Children Can Call Their Own. A basic human need is the need to belong. Children need to feel they belong, too. They need to be close to people they know, have familiar and comfortable objects, and be in a setting that has a personal history for them. How Teachers Can Create Effective Learning Environments
The components of a learning environment are many and can be overwhelming. What should an environment for young children look like? How do you create an environment that supports learning...
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