As a Reggio-inspired educator, much thought and intentionality goes into the design of the learning environment. The environment is considered “the third teacher”. Over the past few years, I’ve shared photos of the learning environment after I set it up. I’ve named the learning areas but not really gone into any detail about how I begin this process. In an attempt to make my thinking more visible to readers of this blog, I am going to share some of the process that I go through when I begin to set up each year in kindergarten.
One of the first considerations is the “feeling” in the space. Because I want the children to feel calm, safe, and at home in the room, I chose to limit the number of items in the room, kept the colour scheme as neutral as possible, and left many of the walls bare. I included pillows, blankets, stuffed animals and soft furniture for a cozy home feeling. Living things like plants bring life to the space. I kept the overhead lights off and used natural light and a few lamps to bring calmness to the space.
Next I considered the children’s need for choice in where they will spend their time during the day. Besides a large meeting area for us all to come together, I created a library area with spaces to sit and look at books, chairs for teachers to read with children, and areas to display books. An area reserved exclusively for preparing food, eating snacks and getting drinks is important to limit crumbs and spills to a certain area. This area is set up to help children become independent with skills like washing hands, cleaning up spills, deciding when and how much to eat, how to care for your belongings, and how to recycle. A home area space with a small couch, a table to sit and write, and family photos is set up in one corner. This is a space to set up a game, sit and chat, or make a book or a picture for a loved one.
The atelier or “making space” next door is split up into different learning areas. There is a building area with a large carpet to buffer the noise of blocks falling. There are two areas to create with natural materials, both with different art materials. There is a kitchen set up with playdough. All through the space are areas to store creations, shelves and cubbies to sort and organize, empty bowls and trays. Materials are limited so that children can engage more deeply with them and are encouraged to share and collaborate.
Many of the flat surfaces in the rooms are covered with paper to encourage writing and drawing. Writing areas are spread throughout the room as are paper and markers. Books are displayed here and there. Every area has room for multiple children. The learning spaces are separated by shelves so there many small spaces as opposed to one large space.
One of the most important things to consider is that there is no “right” collection of items. You use what you have. I used to be in a much smaller classroom and I applied the same rules. Divide the room into learning areas. Be intentional with what you set out. Think about how children will use the space and the materials. The environment I set up this year uses the furniture and materials I have available at the moment, and many of these materials are found, recycled, or sourced from colleagues, family, and friends. Each year, I add a few more items to my collection. Last year, I collected several large pieces of driftwood and this year, I incorporated them into one of the learning spaces.
The last consideration is about documentation. There should be room on the walls in each of the learning areas for photographs, scribed dialogue, drawings, etc. so that what is happening in the space is visible to the children, the teachers, and parents. Pedagogical documentation makes the learning even more visible because it is linked to curriculum outcomes and teachers’ thinking and considerations.
The next few weeks are sure to be busy. Moving forward and being intentional with the learning environment means removing items that are not being used, thinking about what materials to introduce that will encourage deeper engagement with materials and listening and observing the learning that is happening. The learning environment should be as responsive to the children as the teacher is. In the next blog, I’ll share how the spaces are being used, what materials were removed or added, along with some of the documentation.
Dedicated teacher for the past 15 years. Lifelong learner. Newbie blogger. Follow me on Twitter @Baker1973Cathy