Monday, September 16, 2013

FDK Learning Environment: What messages are you sending your children?

“ There are three teachers of children: adults, other children, and their physical environment.”
– Loris Malaguzzi

These were the first walls that I had when I started in Kindergarten...and I thought they were perfect. My teaching partners and I put up bright broad cloth and busy borders. I thought this was what Kindergarten was supposed to look like. When I look at these photos from a few years ago today, I feel instantly overwhelmed. I am amazed that my thinking and philosophies have changed so drastically. Needless to say, my definition of a learning environment has certainly evolved over my time in FDK.

All that I know and believe about the Environment as a Third teacher has been influenced by the incredible ECE's that I have had the honour of working with both in the classroom and through our Reggio Inspired Book Club.

I think I will always continue to be inspired by beautiful spaces that I see online, at other schools, and during workshops. I see things and think about how they may fit or work in our learning environment.

I wanted to share some things I have learned along the way from other educators, resources, and experiences...

1) What message does your classroom send to families/students?
I strongly believe that the choices that we make while setting up and maintaining our environments send a clear and powerful message to families/children about what is important.

When a room is full of clutter and materials that the children are not allowed to touch - what message do you think the children are getting?

Thinking carefully about what materials to keep at school, what materials to simply throw out, and how things are organized in the room is an ongoing process that my partners and I work through.

2) How does your room flow? Where are centres in relation to each other?
It is important to think about the FLOW in your room. Some people describe the room as being split into quadrants - wet areas, dry areas, noisy areas, and quiet areas. Although I am not sure it has to be that distinct as a learning environment develops these are definite things to keep in mind.

We have the least amount of tables possible - just enough to fit our 30 bodies for lunch time! Children often prefer to work, build, and write on the floor so we try to ensure that there is a balance of tables and open spaces for creative thinkers.

3) LESS is MORE...
Storage is always an issue in schools - however, there are creative ways to work around storing materials. In our classroom we keep anything that personally belongs to us at home and we have used black fabric to cover just a couple of shelves so that teacher materials are hidden away.

We start the year with very minimal materials out - in our building area there is nothing but wooden blocks, our art area begins with crayons, paper and pencils and our nature area begins with loose parts and a small basket of animals.

Although these areas grow and change through the year, we still try not to overcrowd shelves with all of the materials that we own. We want things that are out to be purposeful and our children learn to have conversations with us if there is something they are wanting for their learning that may not be out.

Our 5 classrooms all share materials - instead of each classroom having small sets of materials, we spent a few days putting all of our resources together. Now, when you would like to use a certain material you sign it out and have MORE of it. We do this for building materials, science materials, puppets, dramatic play, playdough, puzzles, sand and water. We all have certain staples in our rooms, but we rotate in and out other materials that do not need to be there all year - e.g., magnifying glasses, wooden blocks, clipboards, loose parts.

This strategy has also allowed us to obtain far more materials as a team. Whenever we have money or when we were invited to place mass orders for FDK we did so as a team looking overall at our materials which helps the money to spread further!

We have found this to be amazing as it also limits the amount of materials in the classroom at one time. Everything does not need to stay on your shelves all year, it can be stored and brought out when needed.

I always frown when I see big stop signs all over a classroom and find it so uninviting for the children. If they are not able to access/touch the materials, in my opinion they shouldn't be out! Too tempting!

4) Natural, calm colours...with a focus on student learning and work!
This was the first year I had a parent really question why the room was so bare and why it was so "brown". We had a great conversation about how it is less stimulating than bright primary colours, how when a provocation is set out it attracts the children different, how documentation is the focus instead of a busy ABC border.

Although our room looks bare... it feels calm and I can see it quickly filling up with colour in the art studio, in the projects that are starting to pop up, in the photographs that are being added to the ledges. Since moving away from bright colours and busy borders I have felt a definite difference in the calmness of the children.

5) How will you present materials to the children?
I think this quote from the book: Are You Listening? really captures my thinking:

"When materials for learning, such as blocks or paint, paper and brushes are stored and organized in thoughtful ways, it gives the message that these are important tools for learning"

When we present materials in transparent containers, when we organize paint brushes by size and markers by colour...we are really supporting the children in slowing down. You will see the children make more deliberate and thoughtful choices in the tools that they need. You will see the children treat the materials as tools, rather than disposable materials.

6) Take your time!
Thinking about your environment doesn't need to cost you money or take hours of your time. The process should be gradual, it should involve the children and your colleagues, and it will be MESSY!
We have been reflecting and thinking about the environment for 3 years as an FDK team. We were a phase one school and we are now in year 4. We are not perfect, nor do we have model classrooms.
However, I will say that we are thoughtful, reflective, and open. We have rich dialogue with each other about our purposeful choices and decisions. We challenge each other and ask questions about why things are the way that they are. If we never challenges and discussed our decisions we would never move forward!

This year as I walked through my colleagues rooms at Howard Robertson Public School I felt inspired. I am so proud to be at a school where the learning environment is important, respected, and valued by educators and children. I wanted to share some of the beginning stages of our rooms. I would like to follow up with more photos as the year progresses so that readers can see the walls and the centres grow and change!

Please share any thoughts, opinions, feelings about the learning environment in your comments! We are passionate and always looking to deepen our understandings. I have also included a few links below that I find to be supportive and helpful in this process.

Great Links for Further Learning:
The Third Teacher -
Natural Curiosity -
Literacy Numeracy Secretariat -

Featured Room: Jennifer Reid, Lara Roberts, Jennifer Hauser, and Alicia Grist

Featured Room: Kolbey Rank and Gwyn Roberts-Gill

Featured Room: Jenny Grills and Christine Robinson

Cheryl and I moved into this new learning space this year!

Snapshot of simple learning centres that we began our year with.
I am so proud of my colleague Jodi Gross - she is inspired by the philosophies in Kindergarten and has brought so much beauty into her space in Grade 3. She is delving into inquiry this year and played with it last year as well. She is so reflective and thoughtful in her decisions as an educator and I am so excited to watch other classrooms in our school begin to really examine their learning environments!

Inquiry is happening all through our school - what a beautiful Grade 3 learning environment.
Featured Classroom: Jodi Gross


  1. I am a RECE working for a school board in Ontario and I have just found your blog. I love this post and the simplicity (uncluttered!) of the classroom photos. It is what I am striving for!

  2. I am an RECE and my goal is to transform our classroom in to a more Reggio inspired classroom. I have to agree 100% with you when you say less is more. Thank you for taking the time to share your wonderful classroom with us.

  3. I love the thoughtful way you spell this out for readers. The photos are lovely and inviting, but it is your words that I come back to again and again. As I enter my first year of FDK in a few months, I know I have a whole new journey of learning in sharing it with a new ECE partner and a larger group.
    It's good advice, to slow down, and watch how the room works for your students. I also like that you cover stored materials. Though I'm blessed with a large room, I've little storage, and as such there are boxes and materials on top of cupboards. This bothers me to look at but I hadn't found a way around it. Now I think I'll find a creative way to mask it.
    This really spoke to me: "You will see the children make more deliberate and thoughtful choices in the tools that they need. You will see the children treat the materials as tools, rather than disposable materials".
    Indeed! This is what I've noticed, not with art materials per se but definitely all around the room: using glass jars, real plates, heavy wood bowls, delicate items like teapots and cups - this has made a difference in how students interact with materials in their play. Years ago I might see a plastic plate whizz by like a frisbee. Why not? It's not precious, it's not going to hurt or break. Not disposable, but certainly not precious. When students play with heavy, breakable, or unique materials, they treat them with care. They use words like "delicate" and "special" and "gentle".
    I should also note it's possible this care is taken because there are spaces for more rambunctious possibilities too.... That it's not ruled out, just not appropriate for certain spaces. It makes a difference when students feel valued in that way.
    Thank you for this lovely post. I will return to it again in September, I'm sure.

    1. Laurel - you are always a poet with your words. You are an educator designed for Full Day Kindergarten. I truly believe you live and breathe all of the qualities that will make you outstanding in the program and new partnership. You already live the philosophy in your daily life and classroom ... you just don't have all the perks yet!

      After reading your thoughts, I want to edit this post (or perhaps write something a bit more in depth) to include a photograph of shared storage spaces in our school. This concept of shared storage has made a huge difference in terms of what is out in classrooms as well as the quantity of materials we share as a team!

      I look forward to watching you embark on your journey in FDK next year, but I have not a doubt that you will be successful and inspiring!

  4. Hi, I enjoy your blog very much. What are some examples of your prompts for educators to help with their interactions with students? I have been looking for some .

  5. The past few weeks I have been reading and pondering how I want my kindergarten program to unfold this school year. During the past week I have spent time cleaning closets and decluttering. I still have a bit to do before school starts on 9/3....luckily it's a long weekend! Finding your blog is very exciting! I appreciate your suggestions for keeping it very simple and taking things slowly at the beginning of the school year. Last year was my first year with a new employer, and I had a challenging class and a difficult beginning. I learned a lot, and feel very hopeful about this coming school year. i will have a larger class than last year which feels a bit scary, but I am thinking positively that it will be a great year!

  6. I am so thankful I came across your blog. You and your colleagues have helped to transform my grade 1 classroom into a more Reggio/Inquiry approach. The article on classroom organization was a great read to start my year. I have gathered neccessary items for Reggio philosophy. This year I will group these items with this article in mind. It makes sense to keep them organized by provocation. The children will be engaged with a better purpose.