Thursday, December 30, 2021

Learning environments in the Early Years

I've been lucky to have worked in and visited some really beautiful learning environments in a number of schools around the world.  Learning spaces can be built and natural, physical and virtual, indoors and outdoors and formal and informal - basically they are any context in which learning happens.  Every action in the environment brings about a reaction, and it is through this process that learning happens.

Early learning spaces that are flexible and responsive, set up for independent and group play and that provide easy access to materials and resources, including technology, are also those where learners have a strong sense of self and belonging and where they can make and test theories, construct meaning, play games, take learning in new directions, make a create, listen to, read and tell stories, engage in mark-making and drawing, develop understanding and skills in language and maths and where they can apply learning for new purposes.  A healthy learning environment involves building safe, stimulating and inviting learning spaces that foster the development of relationships, wonder, creativity, risk-taking and learning through play.  The spaces will reflect the mission and vision of the school, showing that learning and thinking are valued, as students pursue their own inquiries and take action as a result of their learning.

Libraries are important spaces in a school.  In primary schools these are often not a single space, but are part of the classroom.  They are active spaces for engaging with literature, research and learning.  Books and other resources should reflect a diversity of ideas and authors, as well as the languages of the school community.  

As someone who spent almost 20 years being a technology teacher, coordinator and most recently Director of Educational Technology in a school with students aged 3 - 18, I'm very aware of the opportunities technology brings to learning and the importance of technology literacy from a very young age, enabling children to interact with new and diverse learning.  Studies have shown that exposure to various media can promote pro-social behaviours and contribute to learning, especially when a caring adult is actively involved.  Appropriate technologies can include devices as well as items such as old cameras and radios and tools such as hammers.  In a play-based environment, students will explore all these objects through investigation, testing their functionalities and then using them in different situations.  Technology can be incorporated into a range of learning experiences that encourage thinking, collaboration and communication.  Technology can expand when, where and how learning and teaching takes place, and students can both learn about technology and through technology.  

If you are interested in finding out more about Early Years learning environments and are wondering about how to best design joyful learning spaces, you might like to check out the work of Angela Mee Lee who has used the Reggio Emilia approach to designing her Atelier in a Kit workshop.  Please see the YouTube video below for more information.

Photo Credit:  Noratheone on Pixabay

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