Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Environment as a Third Teacher

I met with some teachers from another school yesterday. We have hosted teachers throughout the year to share our experiences in this journey, to share ideas, and to collaborate positively. It was so incredible to have them come in and be inspired by our space. It takes me back to the first few centres that I had the pleasure of visiting. I still remember the inspiration I felt in those beautiful spaces and how I knew that my understanding of a classroom environment had forever been changed.

Many educators ask...where do I start? I think it is so hard to answer that question and I truthfully don't remember much about when I started to transform my thinking other than it all started with exposure and observation. Being inspired in beautiful spaces, taking the time to read documentation by colleagues, asking questions and listening to ideas, reading blogs...once I was inspired the journey went quite quickly. But, I think ultimately the beginning is simply being inspired to reflect on your practices, your environment, and your teaching.

The past week or so has really brought to the surface for me how important the environment is for children. Purposefully selecting materials for the classroom and then deciding what to put out and how to best present it. Earlier in the year we cut up discs out of tree branches for the children to use in building and playing. It was not until I put them on the table this week in a special new basket that they have been of higher interest to the children.

One little girl opened a cookie shop. She counted out trays using the larger wooden disks and then carefully placed 4 cookies on each tray. She cooked them, described their ingredients, and used jewels for money when her friends wanted to buy them. When the cookies ran out, she told people that she was "closed until she made more cookies".

Carrying on with the simple wooden disks, we added them recently as a pathway in the garden of the Kindergarten play area. What an amazing idea that Sarah had to create a pathway through. The children love to explore the garden from the inside. As we continue to plant and expand the garden, the children will grow in their explorations.

Once the pathway was laid down, the children quickly began to walk through it. They were challenged to count the discs in the garden. Each time they walked through counting the discs they would get a different number...22, 25, 28, 26. They talked about why they were getting different numbers and decided that they would all travel in the same direction to see if they could coordinate. They never came up with a final answer, but sometimes I think the best problems are those that have not been solved. Today, I heard a quiet student walking slowly through the garden carefully counting each step that he took. He ran up and shouted that he was sure there were 25! Four more children followed him back to the garden ready to see if they could get the same answer.

When we slow down and watch our children - we learn so much about their learning and understand more about what they already know.

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