Less is more: Rethinking the Learning Environment from a kindergarten teacher and Waldorf inspired Mama's perspective ...
Entering a new classroom allows the educators to reflect upon the shared space and how the materials and furniture are reflective of the needs and interests of the learners. Classrooms are truly a blank canvas which are co-created with the learners. The entire environment is a 2 year long project for kindergarten teams and students.
This year, I entered a classroom which was ready for a transformation. The room was large, with beautiful windows and open space. This time, I turned to thinking about what I needed to remove and eliminate in order to reduce the clutter and create a more inviting and authentic kindergarten learning environment.
I cleared the walls, awaiting student artwork and documentation, there were collaborative initiatives for kindness rewards, neutral colours were brought into the spaces, and we left traces of ( shall I even say it...) worksheets! Instead, student portfolios were the main object of interest upon entry and a new space for students to keep their favourite work.
I ensured the shelves were clutter free and provided a carefully selected variety of open ended materials such as blocks, small world play, trains, and up cycled materials. I even created a loose parts space where learners are welcome to add to and use when needed in their work and play. This space ( I hope) will continue to grow as families become more involved in our loose parts project.
Now, about all those tables! We need floor space and we needed reduce the numbers of tables. Floor space proves open areas for creation and does not limit a child's work (bin systems are out/ inquiry explorations and innovation are in). Therefore, those large U reading tables (not needed in my opinion). Most of our group work us done on the floor interacting within their play. This allowed for our room to join the tables we did leave behind and create a large long studio project table which houses our collaborative projects and mural work.
After visiting some amazing early years centres, I noticed that it was not about the expensive wooden materials, but the shift in thinking about the classroom as a studio space, limiting table top play/work. My favourite programs of all had little in the classroom, this engaged the learners in deeper play and fostered more focus and a sense of calm. There were a couple shelves with open ended materials, a cardboard box project with student documentation taped on the insides and cardboard cylinders for building. The majority of the time was spent outdoors in the forest, looking for those magical fairies or animal tracks...
Although not perfect, the space continues to become ours, a space for play, innovation, creation. It gets messy. Students have access to materials at their level, and yes... painting and the sand table are always available. We get very messy!
Now that the room was taking shape, it was time to reflect this space into our planning intentions and flow of the day plan. Stay tuned for my next post about planning with intention the Reggio Emilia way!
Fostering Independence: Meaningful work around the house/classroom inspired from Waldorf and Montessori schooling approaches
Redesigning learning spaces and re-thinking materials are some of the things I have continued to research and reflect upon during my search for a preschool/early years centre and on-going professional development as a proud educator in the public school system, with in my opinion an amazing early years program.
As a kindergarten teacher, I looked for a play-based learning model, which is driven by emergent learning (capturing the interests of the students). I am inspired by the Waldorf philosophy because of its beauty and work with a child's imagination. I am inspired by the schools of Reggio Emilia ( these Italian schools founded by Loris Malaguzzi) capture the hundred languages of the child through inquiry, explorations, the work of the atelier, and power of project and research. Reggio Emilia is a province in Italy ( there are not to say accredited schools here in Ontario, there are inspired schools, choose wisely and note that these schools will take their approach to the philosophy). Lastly, I admire the authentic traditional Montessori school of thought from its founder Maria Montessori, where it is more about the development and independence of the children and not a push for concentrated academics within the early years (again, choose wisely and know what you are looking for) due to its ability to foster independence in the early years and shared importance for the outdoors and movement.
All of these educational philosophies share a play-based learning approach, the appreciation for the capable child, and the importance of free, deep play both indoors and outdoors ( materials and the kinds of "toys" are left for another post). Importantly, all of these philosophies start in the home and truly reflect the daily life and experiences of the child. Picking a preschool and or using these approaches in the classroom are just the tip of the ice berg... the impact remains within the upbringing of the child. As a kindergarten teacher, sharing these words and welcoming families to understand more about play-based learning is a valuable and exciting opportunit. There is not a one size fits all to selecting a preschool or designing your kindergarten program ( that is why open ended learning welcomes all entry points)
I value the Ontario Early Years Framework and those who work closely with the Child and Nature Association of Canada. Quality professional development and engagement/knowledge with the Ontario Kindergarten Program, specialized outdoor education programs, and progressive outlook to rethinking spaces is key. I was happy to learn that the value of play and importance of childhood was the main message of programs, which all encourage natural, authentic, and developmentally appropriate transition into academics (later on, taking a Waldorf learning approach) .
I look for programs which foster those interests into inquiry based learning explorations year long. Importantly, I value a program where the outdoors is the primary learning environment for young learners and that learning is reflected into their indoor learning spaces. Sounds like our kindergarten program educators? (yes you are right!)
Here are some of the look fors I take with me...
In all, nature and forest schools work for our family and within my professional practice. I admire learning from these specialized forest and nature school educators and hope our family and my practice will grow because of it!