Arranging Your “I LOVE LEARNING” Classroom

The way you arrange your setting has a strong effect on children’s opportunities to fall in love with learning…and life. If you strictly control how children use space and spend time, you limit their chances to make decisions, and experiment with materials and ideas. But at the same time you want children to have a clear understanding of your expectations for using materials and space.presch02

To create this delicate balance keep these in mind: 

Foster a Sense of Identity and Independence:
• Set up the physical environment so that it fosters independence and identity with picture/word cues and signs, name/symbol labels on personalized space for children (such as cubbies, sign-in boards, center markers).
• Place clear containers on easy to reach shelves for self-service activities in each of your learning centers.
• Put anything you do not want children to use freely out of reach but keep plenty of materials for free exploration available in well-marked containers.
• Encourage children to use materials freely and even interchangeably throughout the room during activity time but be sure they know where each item belongs in its appropriate “home base” learning center at clean up time.

Build a Sense of Safety and Security:
• Provide landmarks (see A&S 5 year olds) of toys, books, and photos that the children may be familiar with from a former class or from home.
• Define the spaces with center markers and dividers so that children have the security of knowing where they are and what they are supposed to do there.
• Create comfort with quiet, soft places for children to rest and cuddle with a stuffed toy and a good book.
• Invite parents to stay, visit and/or participate. It is amazing the security children feel when they see a relationship unfolding between their parent and teacher.

Create learning centers which Cultivate Social Problem Solving:
• Use play furniture and storage shelves to organize your room into workable, welcoming, home-like learning centers.
• Imagine that you are setting up an apartment in a loft. Where would you put the kitchen (dramatic Play), den (blocks), library, (book/ meeting area)? Instead of putting all your tables in the center of the room, and centers around the edges, consider cutting the space up into these inviting “mini-rooms” that feel more like a home than school.
• Small centers throughout the room create better “traffic-flow” and a quieter noise level because all the activity is dispersed throughout the room instead of all in the center.
• It is much easier for children to practice negotiating and resolving conflicts with just a few other children at a time. That is why smaller, well-defined learning centers with a limit on the numbers of children playing at a time helps children learn important social skills.

Reflect the Faces and Cultures of the Families:
• Invite families to send in photos of family and friends. These photos help children not only feel the comfort of viewing the familiar faces but they also introduce the other children to the diversity of the classroom community.
• Add children’s books, dramatic play and cooking materials, photos and maps that represent the cultures and countries of your classroom family.
• Invite families to share the arts and crafts, photos, and maps of their culture. Ask them to come to share a special skill or interest with the children. 

Provide Stimulation and Challenge
• A wide variety of open-ended, multi-sensory materials create a strong statement to children that you respect and appreciate their individual learning styles.
• Keep in mind the need for materials that interest and inspire visual, auditory and tactile/ kinesthetic learners. By providing a variety of multi-sensory elements you can be sure that all children are being stimulated.
• “Change the variable” by adding just one material in a center periodically so that children have new items to experiment with and use. Centers can become stale and predictable. But by bringing in just one new thing for a center you can challenge children to think of new ways to play/work there. Try introducing the material at a brainstorming session at group time first to get children inspired!

 Inject Beauty Every Day:
• Add one piece of beauty everyday to your classroom setting. Studies show that the aesthetics of color, beauty and nature in the classroom has a strong positive impact on children’s behavior.
• There is a human need for daily beauty that can be simply fulfilled by providing something beautiful to rest the eyes on. Try creating a space for beauty in your room. Then each day provide beauty in the form of Nature (a plant, leaf, flower, shell, rock, vase of water) or Art (a picture, photo, sculpture, quilt, box).
• Choose color carefully. Too many primary colors can be distracting. Interestingly, the Reggio Emilia classrooms avoid over-use of primary colors because they are too intense.
• Keep clutter away. Children can be visually over stimulated and agitated by messy piles of papers, toys and books. It is fine to make a “divine mess” during activity time but be sure it is all put away at cleanup time. Your group times will go much better in an uncluttered, clean and beautiful space.

Brain Research
As every early childhood teacher knows, providing children with activity and material choices, stimulating multi-sensory activities, positive support and novel challenges can truly inspire children’s love of learning. Now we have the support of brain research.
Marian Diamonds of the University of California at Berkeley feels that the classroom environment has an effect on brain growth and learning. She feels a brain-based environment:
* Includes a steady source of positive support
* Provides a nutritious diet with enough protein, vitamins, minerals and calories
* Stimulates all the senses (not necessarily at once)
* Has an atmosphere free of undue pressure and stress but suffused with a degree of pleasurable intensity
* Presents a series of novel challenges that are neither too easy nor too difficult for the child at his or her stage of development
* Allows social interaction for a significant percentage of activities
* Promotes the development of a broad range of skills and interests: mental, physical, aesthetical, social and emotional
* Gives the child an opportunity to choose many of his or her efforts and to modify them
* Provides an enjoyable atmosphere that promotes exploration and the fun of learning
* Allows the child to be an active participant rather than a passive observer.
(From: Diamond M. & Hopson. J. (1989) Magic trees of the Mind (Dutton, New York)