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!
A collaboration between the fun and fancy! Carmelina Di Grigoli @justletmeplay and the fancy infamous Alexandria Pellegrino @cakeoperaco created the most dreamy first birthday celebration a la Waldorf and Reggio Emilia inspired. This birthday smash took a turn for the fancy when the intention was to co create a piece of art with the atelierista (cake designer) and decorate Vava's own birthday cake with artful details.
This invitation for learning style photography session was inspired by my love for playful art, fine details, and the masterpieces of Cake Opera Co. I wanted this experience to fully engage my daughter in an authentic hands-on learning playful approach. This luxurious sensory exploration included fresh floral, lavender, sprinkles, pearls and the most beautiful palette of delicious butter creams. For the pièce de résistance, a live sketch of her face on her cake!
At one year old, children are constantly observing and imitating every around them. That is just want she did with Alexandrina's brush strokes, paint palettes and yummy buttercream application techniques. I will be sharing more in the coming weeks! For now, see more on my Instagram account @justletmeplay
This term, I am back into my graduate work and trying to navigate my way around balancing my educational Reggio Emilia and Waldorf teaching practices into my professional practice and research. This term, one of my M.Ed courses explores digital tools for constructing knowledge using PBL as a teaching approach (slightly different than a project based approach which is heavily part of the Reggio Emilia practice).
I hope to explore more about PBL and inquiry based learning models, specifically, using or limiting (screen time) however, purposefully using digital tools to foster deeper learning. In our classrooms, using technology is part of an essential foundation for learning beginning in the early years. How might this impact our programs and where do we go from here? I will be sure to keep you posted.
How do you use digital tools in the classroom?
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As an educator, our kindergarten classrooms are transforming. Our learning environments are inspired by the world of natural beauty. Materials are naturally derived, set in beautiful baskets, where wooden shelves embrace the beauty of the open ended materials, which are meant to capture the whole imagination of the child and foster deeper play and learning.
The walls of the classroom extend to the local play yard, ravine, creek, or shaded tree areas. The inside environment, is co-constructed by the children and mirror their learning, interests and wonders. Calming spaces graces the corner of the classrooms with materials to foster strong self-regulation skills and spark independent learning opportunities.
The question now is... how might we transfer these classroom like environments into the home?
The classroom is a learning extension of the child's home. In this case, the home is an extension of the child's interests, family, culture, everyday rhythms, and favourite toys/materials. A space where the child feels safe and secure. Where their imagination is open to bloom. Most importantly, an opportunity to play freely and explore. Trips to the local parks/conservation space is always a good idea! No toys can truly replace the exploration of nature.
Make learning authentic! Allow and welcome your child to see the everything routines, such as cooking, cleaning, healthy eating and my favourite, baking. In the Waldorf philosophy, daily bread/muffin making is part of a morning rhythm.
If you are setting up your child's playroom/outdoor space, consider keeping it neutral and simple (very well organized). There does not need to be many toys or materials in this space. A few favourites and a few rotated every week will keep things interesting. In my opinion, I love including a little bit of the magical world, fairy doors, small world play, and secret play gardens. The play space is only one part of a learning program at home for your child, ensure your child is spending lots of time outdoors and exploring their community safety with a caregiver/parent.
Consider toys/materials to be...
Over the holidays, share your standards for materials with your families and if they would like to purchase gifts for your child, you might consider...
Make Outdoor Environments the Primary Play Space
Picture above shows Miss V and myself exploring our summer herb garden. On one sunny morning, we observed 5 beautiful caterpillars eating our parsley. We documented our observations and created a learning story which is housed in our playroom library inquiry collection.
Reggio Emilia inspired? Consider the Waldorf practice as well...
My daughter and I are new members of the Waldorf community. As my family and I continue to learn how to become more connected to our spiritual family rhythms and use our daily activities as a foundation for learning and sharing traditions and values, we learn how to educate the whole child and family.
Waldorf classrooms are home-like, they are inviting and often welcome learners and their families with the smell of fresh baked goods (like the Waldorf banana muffins) or the sound of music. The classrooms are filled with natural light and are minimalistic. We were welcomed to sit around a beautiful handmade carpet with sheepskin rugs for the children on the floor. Materials are open ended and made of holistic natural materials. The space is limited in toys because of the importance of fostering the imagination of the child. The walls are dreamy - the walls are beautifully painted using soft watercolour. Silks, hand made puppets, poems and verses transition the group from one activity to the next.
As a kindergarten educator, I am inspired by these magical learning spaces and the simplistic nature of following a daily rhythm, which can also be referred to as The Flow of the Day. These spaces allow all learners to feel safe, calm and provide all to adapt to their learning at their own pace and need. I continue to research the great balance of these wonderful teaching practices.
Please continue to look back and follow our journey and our inspiration from Waldorf.
In my practice, I have always been inspired by outdoor classrooms and the opportunities it has to empower learners. Being a kindergarten teacher for most of my career, I have always ensured outdoor learning was the foundational part of our early learning program. Our learners over the years have greatly experienced the benefits of outdoor play first thing in the morning. With 30 plus students, ensuring students are entering the classroom calmer and more alert is most beneficial. Students were encouraged to play, jump, skip, build, read, or garden among the elements... rain or shine! Parents were aware of our policy and continued to ensure students were sent to school with the proper outer wear (and us educators always have extras on hand). Mud suits are highly recommended! For educators too!
As a mama, I am excited to share these experiences with my child. She is currently 7 months, and we are always eager to start our days off at the park or hike the nearby trails. There is something so magical about playing in the leaves or under a giant tree that is self soothing and mystical. As an educator, I am inspired by Reggio Emilia practices and the school of Waldorf. Combining the two of them for me, allows the child to explore the magical world of nature and the world of natural wonder and curiosity.
As parents, caregivers and educators, allowing our learners at any age to explore nature and use nature as our materials, while thinking of outdoor exploration as an extension of our classrooms, is a step in the most positive direction! This past weekend, our family joined EarlyON for Family Day Forest Play - and to be honest, baby Valentina was not the only who returned home full of mud and a big smile!
Here are some photographs of our forest play !
As school rolls in and classes are busy becoming the magical spaces that they are, I get to work along educators in their spaces and work on my own learning space for my infant. This year, what has inspired me most is the only the natural materials we include in our spaces, but the DLY ones. My daughter and are involved in many play groups and programs ( I learn so much from speaking to parents in this setting). The DIY materials such as drums, shakers, light tables, sensory explorations and musical walls are just beautiful and children are so drawn to their own collaboration and efforts. Why not start our classrooms in this way? The classroom as a blank canvas where the learners create all the materials with materials families have and continue to collect throughout the year. This begins as infants, those fancy toys can be great too - however, there is something special about those home made fabric boxes and sensory walls too!