When we think about the youngest in our care, the infants, toddlers, and twos, I believe that both teacher interactions and the environment should answer all of the concerns that children as well as parents have. They want to know that:
They belong here, and you like them. So, within the classroom:
- At the children’s eye level, there are displays of photos of the children at play and with their families. Photos that are laminated, under plexiglass or in unbreakable frames give these youngest children the opportunity to study, touch, or carry them around without tearing.
- Make sure that the materials, pictures, and books honor the ethnic and individual traits of the children and their families.
This is a place they can trust, and they will be safe here. So, within the classroom:
- Limit environment changes to help children know that they can depend on the room arrangement. When changing toys and materials, always leave some of the favorites in place. These little ones will be looking for them!
- Cushion surfaces where children are learning to move without interfering with their newly acquired balance.
This is a comfortable place to be. So, within the classroom:
- Include homelike touches, such as curtains or valances, floor cushions, plants, and small lamps.
- Provide soft furniture, stuffed chairs and couches.
- Use soft textures and furnishings to help tone down noisier sounds. Soft colors, soft lighting, and soft sounds help to create a peaceful space.
They can move freely and explore on their own. So, within the classroom:
- Have enough space for children to roll over, crawl, creep, pull up, stand, cruise, and walk around as they grow and change – which, at this level, happens quickly!
- Present a variety of materials on low shelves. These materials should all be intended for the children’s use. Containers should be labeled with pictures so that children know where to find and return materials.
You will take care of them. So, within the classroom:
- Set up areas for routines.
- Designate a crib, cot, or mat for each child.
- And, have many places where you can curl up, comfort, and cuddle a child.
As the children move through their preschool years (three to fives), we extend and enhance our environments to send the following messages we want them to receive:
This is a good place to be. So, within the classroom:
- Furniture is clean and in good repair.
- The walls hold the children’s art, displayed attractively, at their eye level – with large spaces of blank wall (to minimize both a cluttered look and an overwhelmed feeling when there is just too much to take in).
You belong here. So, within the classroom:
- Each child has a cubby, basket, cot, mat – marked with his name or picture.
- Furniture is child-sized.
- Pictures in books, on the wall, and in the learning materials include people from different backgrounds – children within the classroom are represented in all of these things.
- Each child’s work is displayed and protected.
This is a place you can trust. So, within the classroom:
- Equipment and materials are arranged consistently so that children know where to find the things they need.
- Shelves are neat and uncluttered, and materials are labeled so that children can make choices easily.
- A daily schedule, with words and pictures, is displayed so that children know what to expect.
- Routines, transitions, eating, napping, toileting, are predictable and consistent.
There are places where you can be by yourself when you want to be. So, within the classroom:
- Small, quiet areas accommodate one or two children.
- A beanbag chair or large pillow invites a child to be quiet and alone.
- Headphones for cd players, tape recorders, or computers allow for individual listening.
You can do many things on your own here. So, within the classroom:
- Materials are stored on low shelves that children can easily access; are organized logically (paper is near the markers and crayons, animals and people are near the blocks); and are located in areas where they can be used.
- Shelves are labeled with both pictures and words, and show children where toys and materials belong.
This is a safe place to explore and try out your ideas. So, within the classroom:
- Protected and defined quiet areas encourage small group activities.
- Smocks and cover-ups are available for messy activities so that children can express themselves without fear of getting dirty.
- Protected space for building block structures is clearly defined, and out of the way of “people” traffic.
- Toys that haven’t been used for a long time are rotated, and new things added to keep children’s interest. Changing everything in the environment at once, however, can cause some children to be a bit unsettled, so prepare them in advance and keep some of their favorite, familiar things.
So, the questions are:
- Have you thought about the power of the environment – that it can work for, or against you?
- What positive messages do you want to convey to your children and parents?
- And then, how can you design and arrange your classroom environments so that these messages come through – subtly and subliminally?
- And finally, as you take a walk around the classrooms in your program, what messages do you receive from the environment?
- Bottom line – how are you doing?
My next post will be about evaluating the environment, so stay tuned for “how it’s working,” and then some tips and strategies to use when children’s behavior indicates that something is amiss.