Saturday, 3 September 2016

New Year, New Beginnings

It has a been a very long and very busy week of classroom preparations, but it has been so worth it. On Monday we gained access to the building to start creating our physical environment and meet our teams! When we arrived the room was a beautiful blank slate. The perfectly clean floors and surfaces (HUGE thank you to the custodial staff!) gave us the opportunity to get started right away.

A First Look

I arrived that morning before my teaching partner did, so I took the time to take stock of the room. I recently attended a course offered by the Ontario Reggio Association as part of their Emergent Curriculum Certificate Course series. At this course, Andrea Bolton, an amazing educator who until recently worked in Peel too, spoke to us about the idea of spaces and places.

Andrea suggested that when you arrive in your new place you need to experience it at different levels. Sit in the middle of the room and look up, look down, look all around you. What do you notice? Where are the natural little nooks? What areas are the brightest? What areas are dark?  So I did just this.

I noticed that the amazing huge windows on the far wall let in afternoon sun that lights up (and heats up) the far side of the room. I noticed that the former cubby area in the back of the room was the darkest area. I noticed that the ceilings were very high and that there was a lot of tempting space to place documentation and student work that would be out of the sight lines of children (I made note of this so that I could be careful to not display anything too high up). I noticed that we had a huge magnetic white board and a projector screen off in the corner next to the very bright window (I wondered if the white board might be better to use than the projector screen?)

The Before: First look at the classroom

When the amazing Mrs. C arrived we had a chat to get to know each other before we dove into the environment. We talked about our previous experiences in Kindergarten spaces, we talked about our approaches and our hopes for our partnership for this year.

We then switched gears and focused on our incoming children. What areas would they need? How could we create a space that would support the learning of routines and social skills in the first week? What materials would we need in order to create a calming, home-like feel in the space?

Getting Started 

To start we focused on furniture and materials:

We moved furniture to tentatively set the learning areas (writing, fine motor, art, math and loose parts, dramatic play, construction, Community Meeting space, discovery, reading and a quiet area).

Next, we went through the materials to decide what would be available in these areas and to make some hard decisions about the type of materials that we had.  We went through each cupboard and washed and arranged the materials.

Our next focus was deciding which materials we wanted to be available to the children at all times and how we could arrange these materials in the space to promote independence. We asked ourselves, what materials would we put away for the first few weeks so as not to overwhelm the space and the children?

We ended up rearranging the space twice before we decided on a layout that we felt would suit the needs of the children. We had two mantras for the move that informed our arrangement,

1. "A place for everything, and everything in it's place." (How can we teach clean up routines if there isn't a clear place for materials to go? How will the children know when an area is clean?

2. The room is a flowing, living space. Nothing is nailed down so we can always change it! (We will be spending the first few weeks observing and documenting the children. Which areas are they going to the most? Which areas are they not going to? Why? How are they using the materials? We will use this information to work with the children to rearrange and make changes as we go along).

The Reveal!

So without any further ado, here is the big reveal of our room and activities for the beginning of September:

The After: Ready for students to create and explore! The bulletin boards have been purposefully left empty so that student thinking can be displayed rather than teacher thinking.


The Tall Counter: This space is for our educator team so we can house our clipboards and organize forms and information.

Writing and Fine Motor: Writing happens everywhere so writing paper and pencils will be added to all areas of the room, however we created a more central space where children will know to look if they need more materials for their writing and representation of their thinking. For the first week, we have set out playdoh for the children to explore. In the background is the eating table. Students will be free to eat their snacks when they feel hungry. To build independence, we have included scissors at the table to help children to open their packages without needing an adult.
Art Area: We chose this area because of the access to sinks and counter space. For the beginning of the year the materials are limited but as the year progresses, this area will be more robust. For the first week we have set out markers and photo paper for children to draw pictures of their families... or anything else they want!

Art Area: The easel, drying rack and sink in close proximity so children can be more independent when they are creating.

Math and Loose Parts: Math happens everywhere in the classroom, but just as with the writing materials, we created a space where students will know to look if they need additional materials that are not in the area they are exploring. We will be encouraging students to move materials in the room and to independently select the materials that they will need to be successful. To start the year, we have put out puzzles and a limited selection of loose parts to encourage counting. This area will also become more robust as the year progresses.

Dramatic Play: This area is currently set as a home for the children as it will be comfortable and familiar. We have limited the amount of resources in this area to help make clean up routines easier and to promote social skills development. The back of the easel is accessible in this area where we hope to promote literacy through the making of menus and grocery lists. Paper and pencils will be added to this area in the coming weeks.

Construction: This area is an intentionally open space with a large counter that is clear. Students will be able to build on the carpet, the hard floor as a more sturdy surface and the counter top. They have access to the entire block collection at the beginning of the year as well as cardboard tubes. As the year progresses, more materials will be added to encourage more elaborate structures.

Construction: Visual prompts and book resources have been made accessible to students for inspiration. As students create and explore, pictures and drawings of their own structures will replace the pictures that we have put up.

Construction: The long low counter is perfect for children to use as an additional space for building. As the weeks progress, we will be adding baskets of additional materials, loose parts, clipboards and pencils.

Carpet: This area is multi-purposed. The students have access to puzzles, bin activities (Lego, snap cubes, train sets etc.) and the computer. We have limited the bins at the beginning of the year to help with clean up routines and to promote social skills development as students will be more likely to play together with less materials. This area will also be used for our Community Meeting time. The white board will house our schedule and be used during the Community Meeting to support learning. At this time, it is fairly empty as we will be observing the students before the schedule is finalized. I wish the carpet wasn't so busy but we will make do!

Discovery: Science and discovery happens everywhere in the room, but this area is the hub. On the shelves there are natural materials the children can explore as well as books to support exploration and to be used for research. At the beginning of the year, we have this area set to encourage looking closely at materials. We will also encourage to ask questions about what they are seeing. As we observe how students are using the materials, we will add additional materials and encourage students to make their own additions. Paper, pencils, clipboards and empty baskets and specimen containers will be added as the weeks progress.

Reading and Quiet Area: This area is our naturally dark and naturally quiet area. I have lightened the pictures quite a bit to make the space more visible but the low lighting is much more soothing. We will be adding in a lamp in the corner to add softer lighting for reading.

Reading and Quiet Area: In this space we have added a carpet and some pillows (freshly washed!) to make a cozy reading experience. The books on the book shelf have been intentionally limited at this time to help with learning clean up routines. We will be encouraging students to use this space when they need a more quiet time to re-set and re-charge. In the first few weeks we will be focusing on deep belly breathing and learning yoga as a means to regulate ourselves (click HERE to read my blog post about Yoga in the Early Years). We will use the empty walls to display student made documentation about ways they can problem solve and regulate themselves.

Family Wall: Children miss their families a great deal everyday... but especially in the beginning. We will be encouraging families to send in pictures of themselves to display in our quiet area. If the children are sad or feeling lonely, they can come into this area and look at the pictures and cuddle up with a book. The pictures that the children will be drawing of their families will go on this wall too, that way if a family doesn't send in a picture they will still have something to look at.
Reading and Quiet Area: We will be putting a variety of quiet activities in this space as the year progresses. The louder areas (dramatic play and construction) are on the opposite side of the room so it is ideal for children to work quietly. At the beginning of the year, we have put out magnetic letters for the children to explore letters and their names. Name cards will go in the basket but it is empty for this picture for privacy reasons. We will observe the children throughout the coming weeks to help us choose activities to go in this space.

Now all we need are the children! We are so excited for them to arrive so we can all work to change and add to the space. The room is a flowing and living space, it is never finished.

Further Reading and Reflection

The ever inspiring Karyn Callaghan wrote a beautiful article "The Environment is a Teacher" (you can read it HERE) which has a list of questions to consider and reflect upon. She reminds us that "the word 'environment' usually refers to the physical environment, inside and outside. It will serve us well if we can expand this perception to include the context in general, including the relationships among the people and between them and the materials, the rules, the schedule."(Callaghan 2013, p. 1)

I encourage you to read her article and consider her reflective questions in the coming weeks as you continue to make changes and co-construct the environment with the children. This question in particular is important to revisit as the year progresses:

"Are children's words and work visible in the environment in a way that communicates respect and value for their meaning-making and communication?"(Callaghan 2013, p. 4)

Let's talk,

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