Environment as the Third Teacher: Playful Possibilities
Like most teachers I have been in the classroom organizing, cleaning and thinking about my new group of Kinders. As I design the space I imagine how the children will use it, inspiring me to create a learning environment that is flexible, encourages community and nurtures child initiated learning. Although I know that changes will be made once school begins I need to take the time now before the chaos of September to be thoughtfull about the bones of the environment.
We know that the benefits of child initiated learning activities contribute to their academic, social and emotional development well beyond Kindergarten. Opportunities for growth must be provided through the Kindergarten environment.
In this photo a group of Kinders used trial and error to solve the problem of the fabric roof sliding off. After many different methods which required them to listen to each other, they decided to move the furniture closer together and tuck the fabric under the sofa cushions. Both the sofa and puppet theatre are on wheels which enabled the Kinders to move the furniture to achieve their goal.
I believe that creating thoughtful, play based learning environments have the power to shape the learning that takes place. This means that I have to design flexible spaces that expand and contract to meet the Kinders physical and emotional needs; provide for both independent, small group and whole group work and seatwork. There has to be room for their displays, wall space for their thinking and table/floor space for doing work/play.
Positioning the tables around the room creates intimate work spaces. Here two Kinders chose to work collaboratively to create a picture.
Leaving empty wall space leaves room for student thinking to be displayed and sometimes extends their thinking or a springboard for discussion. This chart records their thinking about our Polar Regions project while the second photo invites participation and student comments.
During block play it became important for the Kinders to build an addition to their cat houses so that everyone could fit inside. They were able to move beyond the designated block area (grey rug) by moving the teaching easel (on wheels) thus gaining an additional four feet of floorspace.
Each year I have the same two challenges; not enough square footage and combining flow with flexible playspaces. Like Debbie Diller, I begin to plan on paper before I move, add or take away furniture, considering noise, space, light, pathways and the play/work my Kinders will be doing. This year my group number will grow by about five and so I had to add a sixth table and five chairs and find more floorspace for the additional kinders . This meant that I had to give up a beloved oversized table; the top was used for play landscapes or setting out large collections of collage materials while the space underneath was a pefect for building, reading, and private play (can you tell I am still sad about the loss).
Both the dramatic play and block areas are expandable. The paint area can move to nearby tables while the cubbies can be transformed in seconds to a second block area/ construction or waterplay.
Being well organized means that materials have a place in the classroom which encourages the Kinders to put objects away easily when they tidy up. The bins have to be a size that Kinders can carry and be located close to ideal play areas. For example putting construction items like train and straws together adjoining the block area. I also like to create some intimate areas for Kinders who enjoy going under tables or use fabric to create tent enclosures and so have added some bolts of remnant fabric to the construction zone.
Finally, the materials have to be visually available through the use of photo labels or clear containers.
We are fortunate to have an exterior door that exits onto a primary playground and small forest. Planning for outdoor play requires loose parts be stored near the door for Kinders to carry outside. I like to have fabric, sticks, balls, chalk, bubbles and soft rugs. The Kinders can choose to bring many of the classroom resources outside such as the water/sand table, duplo, stuffies, etc.