In the southern hemisphere, teachers everywhere are getting prepared for the new school year. And that means creating an inspiring classroom for learning to take place! Even if you’re in the northern hemisphere and well into the school year, it can be a great time to look at the learning spaces and change things up a bit.
Thanks to the inspiring teaching practices in the region of Reggio Emilia, Italy, many educators now refer to the environment as the third teacher. The idea is that there are 3 teachers of children: the adults, the other children, and then the environment. The physical setting has such potential to inspire learning, to provoke questioning, to guide children’s behaviours, to foster independence, to help children and families feel a sense of belonging. The list goes on.
Just because it’s a preschool setting, doesn’t mean there has to be a big birthday chart, an alphabet frieze or numbers on the walls. It should be a place of wonder and discovery! The learning environment can be a place of beauty with lots of interesting textures, materials and spaces organised in thoughtful and deliberate ways. In the word of Loris Malaguzzi:
Space has to be the sort of aquarium that mirrors the ideas, values, attitudes, and culture of the people who live within it
So, where to start?
Begin by brainstorming and looking at images with other colleagues about what spaces you find inspiring and welcoming. It doesn’t have to be an educational setting either – it could be an art gallery, someone’s home, or a favourite shop. Try and pull out the elements of these spaces that makes them so appealing. Is it the cosy couches of a library? Or the textures, colours and smells within a certain shop?
Next, think about what you want for the children for the year. How do you want families to feel when they walk through the door? What experiences do you want the children to have during their time at preschool? What do you know about the children who are coming into the class, and what are their interests? Don’t forget to talk about the educators needs too! Comfy places to sit and be with the children, and organised, easily accessible materials are important factors to consider.
What sorts of elements go into creating an inspiring preschool environment?
Here are a few things to consider:
- Create spaces that encourage children to make connections with each other. For example, 2 easels side-by-side can be a lovely invitation for collaboration and discussion as young artists paint
- Start with the ‘bare bones’ and allow the space to evolve as the children become familiar with it
- Create spaces that encourage children to make connections and interact with each other in different ways. For example, a cosy book nook that welcomes 2 or 3 children
- Use interesting materials that don’t have a particular way to use them, so the children can use them in lots of different ways. For example, a basket of feathers and leaves could be used for adding to block constructions, imaginary food in the home corner, or for a craft project in the art studio
- Consider making your preschool less like an institution and more like a cosy, relaxing home. Add furnishings, music, and framed photos to make it more homely. Ditch the fluorescent lights and add some lamps in different spaces to create a nice ambience
- Bring nature indoors! Potted plants and vases of flowers bring a sense of beauty to the room and engage the senses too. Often children love bringing in blooms from their garden, and they make for great discussions
- Think of ways to show who inhabits the space. If someone was to visit the preschool, would they get a sense of the community there? Are there photos of the children and their families? Are their artworks and projects respectfully displayed?
- Are there places that allow children to retreat for a quiet moment of solitude? Are there spaces that encourage children to play, collaborate and problem-solve in small groups?
- Are the toys and materials easily accessible for the children so they can make choices about how they want to direct their learning? Open shelves that are organised and not too cluttered mean that not only can the children choose what they want, but it also makes it easier for them to pack away independently too!
- Are there interesting provocations or invitations for learning? Books, unusual artefacts from around the world, natural materials, and items that engage the senses all encourage hands-on learning and spark conversation amongst the children.
- Is the environment engaging for the senses, but not too overstimulating? If it looks too busy to you, imagine what it must look like to a young child!
This is all planning that happens before the children arrive. Over the coming weeks, it will evolve as the class community gets to know each other and takes ownership over the spaces. The environment is a flexible one that will grow and evolve with the children and adults who inhabit it.
Interested in finding out more? Google Reggio inspired practice to discover more about creating spaces that are full of wonder and exploration.
This article is written by Wenone Hope (Australia).
Wenone was born and raised in the farming region of Wagga Wagga. Being a teacher for 13 years, she has a background in Early Childhood education, Special Education, Early Intervention and ESL Teaching.
Wenone is currently teaching in the Blue Mountains of Australia, abd is also an Early Childhood Consultant at Lipa Learning. In the past she has developed a curriculum for young ES learners, and has also been a Preschool Educational Leader in the Blue Mountains, an ESL teacher in the Czech Republic, and a Primary School Educational Director in Canberra.
Wenone is an advocate for inclusive education, where diversity in the classroom (and life) is celebrated. When she’s not in the classroom, she’s out hiking and camping, playing roller-derby, travelling, or enjoying a good book.