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Creating an Environment to Increase Learning

When you walk into a well-designed Daycare classroom, you see children and adults working together in a productive surrounding. There are children constructively engaged and teachers busy observing, facilitating, and challenging the children. The environment supports all this by assuming several of the responsibilities we typically associate with teachers. It helps the children interact, learn, and avoid unproductive activities, such as running and getting in each other’s way. Thus, the environment actually becomes another teacher in the classroom.

Four major elements to consider when creating such an environment are:

1. The wellbeing of those in the classroom (safety)
2. The perspectives of those who will use the environment (culture)
3. How the space accommodates appropriate activities (zoning)
4. How the materials present should encourage learning (set-up)

Careful attention to these elements reduces how much time the teachers spend maintaining safety and order. This frees up time for higher levels of teaching, which ultimately increases learning.

Safety: Ensuring the wellbeing of those in the classroom

Just as a teacher’s most important role is ensuring the safety of their students, this is also the most important role of the environment. The better the environment is set up the less time the teacher needs to devote to this critical mission. For example, the environment needs to clearly specify the number of children permitted in each area, indicated for the children through signs or props. Just think of all the extra time a teacher might save from having to “direct traffic” every day if the environment assisted in this responsibility! The furniture should be stable, well-designed, and securely attached to the wall where necessary. Disorder in the environment can result in chaos, materials or furniture falling, dangerous cuts or splinters from sharp furniture edges, or other avoidable accidents.

Culture: Considering the perspectives of those using the environment

In order to make the people in the classroom as comfortable as possible, it is important that the environment considers the perspectives of those who will be using it. Look at the environment from a child’s level to check out what is functional and pleasing from that perspective. Since children are spending more hours in the school environment and less time at home, cozy and home-like touches in the environment increases the comfort of the child (e.g., pillows, baskets, curtains, and cushions). Uncomfortable children tend to be unproductive. Both adults and children function better in a thoughtfully designed space.

Zoning: Designing spaces that accommodate &
encourage appropriate activities

It is important that small group activities can happen naturally in the classroom environment (e.g., center time where children may go to the art area or build with blocks). A well set up classroom environment facilitates a variety of group sizes and configurations: small group time, large group time, individual time, one-on-one with a teacher, and time to work with a partner.

Set-up: Selecting materials and furnishings that encourage learning

Areas should be set up to accommodate, facilitate, and challenge the children’s thinking. In this way, they can act as extensions of the teacher, who can’t be everywhere in the classroom at once. Ideally, the curriculum is set up so there is a cycle of familiar and novel experiences, building upon each other. The teacher sets up materials that are most familiar to the children. The children explore the materials to gain understanding. The teacher observes children using the materials. When the children have gained an understanding of what is set up in the area, the teacher helps the children extend their learning and challenges them by adding or replacing a part of the familiar materials that are set up. Also, there should be enough materials, but not too many materials, as we want to encourage negotiation and sharing.