Monday, 4 September 2017

Environment as Third Educator

As I enter into my seventh year as an educator in Kindergarten and my fourth year in the same classroom, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the changes to our learning environment over the years and share some of my thoughts as to why these changes have been made. To help with this comparison, I will use photos from the first year classroom layout and our current classroom setup. 

September 2014
September 2017
This is our whole group learning space. In the past, this space has been used to gather for whole group activities and sharing. When we are not all together in the space, it was sometimes used for extending building or playing math games. More often than not, it was left empty and took up a large space that was unused during thinking and learning time. This year, we decided to move the carpet to the corner of the room and incorporate it into the reading and calming space. As we are challenged to consider organizing the space to accommodate for multiple purposes, such as brief group meetings and opportunities for small-group and individual work (The Kindergarten Program, 2016), we wanted to make use of this large space during thinking and learning time. We can now briefly meet as a large group when needed and provide alternative seating (i.e., logs, mats), use the space for yoga and meditation, book browsing, listen to reading on the computers, and exploring our feelings and emotions.    

September 2014
September 2017
September 2017
Our creative area originally began on the opposite side of the classroom, but was moved closer to the sinks and art supply cupboards in more recent years. We always appreciated the large space for students to create on, and that has remained a staple in our classroom. This year however, we removed one of the four tables from the creative art area, and placed another two tables together for more focused small-group work. We are working with a new prep coverage model, whereby one teacher covers all kindergarten preps to support minimizing the number of adult transitions for our youngest learners (YRDSB, 2017). This teacher will be helping to build literacy behaviours with small groups of children as well as support them in play based learning experiences (YRDSB, 2017). With this in mind, we created a space close to our literacy materials to support this learning. It currently has a provocation (invitation to learn) which invites students to make their name using magnetic letters or window writers on mirrors. 

September 2014
September 2017
September 2017
The math area has evolved over the years. In the beginning, we had it placed in a corner but found that students were using the materials all the way on the other side of the classroom in the drama area. We then moved it beside drama and building so that the materials could be used interchangeably in all areas. This year, it remains in the same space but we added a carpet to the area, as we found students would sometimes use the larger carpet to explore math materials in the past. We didn't want to remove the table entirely, so we placed one beside the carpet for provocations and small-group work. We also started with an invitation that was available to explore during Welcome To Kindergarten in the spring, so that new students feel a sense of familiarity with the environment and materials when they enter on their first day. 

September 2014
September 2017
The building area has always been a favourite in the classroom and requires a big space for planning, creating, and constructing. During the first year, we had the building materials facing the large carpet. The space was nice and big, however we often found ourselves having to break down structures when transitioning to prep coverage, which in turn would interrupt the children's play. Having an area where they can save their work throughout the day was very important to us, so we used a smaller carpet to define this area. We also moved it closer to the drama and math areas, again to extend play and use materials interchangeably. This year we also added a table for various reasons and opportunities including planning, building on another surface/level,  and to display provocations. 

September 2014
September 2017
The drama area has been an area that often ends up being too crowded for the amount of interest it receives from the children. This year, we are very excited for the initial layout of the drama area. Because we gained more space by moving the large carpet to the corner, we were able to open the drama area up to allow movement and creativity. We added bins with pots and pans, scarves, multicultural dolls, and healthy foods to start and can change them as interests change throughout the year. We also added greenery and a mirror for a more home-like feel. 

September 2014
September 2017
Our self-regulated snack area remains close to the cubbies for easy access and clean-up. In the morning it also serves as a sign-in area, where students can find their names and place it in the basket to show they are here. The same names are later used to show that they have visited the snack table throughout the morning. The cubbies hold picture frames, that will later be filled with pictures of families/children. The framed art work is from my first inquiry with my kindergarten students. These watercolour paintings are close to my heart, as they are a reminder of where I started on my inquiry journey and how far I have come in the last five years. We often keep pieces of past documentation displayed throughout the classroom to spark curiosity, wonder, and interest from our new and returning students. I learned the importance of preserving history through my Kindergarten AQ course that was instructed by Joanne Babalis

September 2015
September 2017
Our science and light exploration area has always been close to a window in order for the children to observe the outdoors from inside. This year, we have opened the space up to include a shelf with loose parts (i.e., feathers, rocks, seashells, and pinecones) and writing materials, a table to explore these materials closely or for provocations, and a light table with mirrors to explore materials on different surfaces and dimensions. My personal favourite addition is a four shelf science cart that comes apart to provide different visual and touch observations. It is also on wheels so that it can easily be taken outside during our outdoor explorations. 

September 2017
September 2017
Our classroom environment also includes learning in the outdoors. A previous post of mine; Outdoor Learning, will show you a glimpse into our outdoor learning area, which has also been updated this year. I look forward to blogging about it soon! 

 
We need to think about creating classroom environments that give children the opportunity for wonder, mystery and discovery; an environment that speaks to young children’s inherent curiosity and innate yearning for exploration is a classroom where children are passionate about learning ...
(The Kindergarten Program, 2016, p.29)