At Teachstone, we sometimes hear from educators that they aren’t sure how to help facilitate exploration in their learning environments. The CLASS® Manual gives some specific examples, like asking the children to predict which ball will roll further, or making faces back and forth with an infant. But, in this blog post, I want to talk about how the learning environment space itself. The set-up and materials you use can support stronger interactions with children as well.
I recently opened up a community playroom called Little Fish in my area. When setting up the playroom, I thought about my experiences as a preschool teacher, as someone who has been using the CLASS tool for more the seven years. With that background, I found five specific areas of the learning environment that can lead to better interactions.
Add new things to your room, and rotate toys. At Little Fish, I change the theme weekly to encourage interest and exploration. By experiencing new activities and toys, children are naturally more engaged when they come and play. For instance, if you are studying birds, you could add birdseed, twigs, and scoops to the sensory table. Later, you may be talking about autumn, and you can add in corn, straw, and little pumpkins.
When children enter my playroom each week, I show them all the fun new things that are out for them to play with. My excitement about the space and materials gets them excited, too.
Organize your space in ways that designate clear purposes. For example, have a table designated for art next to your shelf with only art materials. Additionally, keep the materials clean, organized, and in good working condition. Children (and adults) are naturally enticed when things are organized and pleasing. Think about walking into a candy store, or a craft store. They stock items to be beautifully organized by color, shape, or size. Doesn’t that just make your heart sing? That’s how children feel about toys. If all the pieces to the puzzle are there, or all the toys are sorted by type, it leads to more time playing and learning, with less frustration trying to find pieces.
You know that feeling you get when you walk into a nice hotel room and the bed is made, the lights are dim, and all you want to do is drop your stuff and go jump on the bed? Make your learning environment feel like this too. You can help create that feeling by:
Lastly, and most importantly, follow the children’s leads with the toys and materials. This not only facilitates interactions with the children, but it also helps to deepen your relationship with the children. Do you have a child with special needs that only likes to line up toys or sit quietly in a corner? Mirror their behavior. Mirroring a child is a great first step to digging deeper into facilitation. It shows the child that you are interested in their play and ideas.
Also, watch the child. If you notice they are interested in toys that have shapes on them, grab other toys in your room that also have shapes, and introduce them to the child. By doing so, you’re following their lead, giving them choices, and using materials in your space to facilitate the child’s exploration and learning.
The way you set up your space and organize your materials will have an impact on the children’s interest and engagement with the materials. Make the space representative of each child’s culture, inviting, warm, tidy, and organized. This will lead to more meaningful engagement and interactions.
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There is always an opportunity for interaction. Some opportunities are easily recognizable: times of play, free choice, centers, small group. We often see teachers engaged in activities alongside children during these times or hear questions being asked. Other opportunities might be a little less obvious. These are the times of your day that you might see as mundane moments that merely require your supervision or monitoring. The times where you’re going through the motions. “I’m doing this thing so I can move on to the next thing.”
In a previous blog, colleague and early childhood environment extraordinaire, Heather Sason, discussed how your classroom environment can help promote effective teacher-child interactions. In this blog, I propose we explore some of the often overlooked times in your day that are ripe for interactions with children and that do promote exploration, learning, and development!
It's not uncommon for teachers in early education to need to strike a balance between following children's leads and sticking to the classroom schedule. We know that intentional teachers are aware of their responsibility to assess student progress, understand skill mastery, and plan accordingly to provide opportunities for children to grow. However, many times, as teachers begin a specific teacher-directed activity, it is unsettling when students begin to veer from the step-by-step plans the teacher has worked hard to implement.
Teacher and coach, Colleen Schmit, will share how teachers can strike the balance between following the lesson plans and giving children freedom of choice and flexibility in the classroom.
We’re more than a month into the school year, and many educators and school leaders are feeling tired or burnt out already. That’s normal in any school year, as the newness of back-to-school wanes and the reality of a long year ahead kicks in. But, this year, that tiredness may feel like it has never felt before. Chalkbeat has reported that teacher vacancies are up in 18 of 20 large school districts, and it’s not surprising. Many are exhausted after a difficult year and a half (to put it mildly!). Many are also leaving the profession in droves to find work in competitive environments that provide a substantially larger salary.
As an educator, you’re busy. Your time is being split by competing priorities, from managing students’ needs, meeting your program’s goals, and communicating with parents. While you’re juggling your work, it can be difficult to keep learning about important ways to improve your daily teaching practice. Teachstone is here to help!