Involvement and Learning: Children Reclaiming the Environment

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”
̶  Benjamin Franklin

As educators, parents, teachers, principals, we all believe we have the answers for children. These may be solutions to behaviours, the environment, what they should wear or how they should play. This construct was not working in our program and as a team; we needed to pay close attention to see what the children were telling us. With a multitude of observations we realized we needed to provide an environment where every child could thrive regardless of age, cognitive ability, or social skills. Based on our observations, we made changes to our transitions and routines, the environment and the global use of inclusive tools which transformed our center into a preschool program where children reclaimed their environment.

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The children working together to clean up their environment.

Transitions and routines tend to be the fuel for many behaviours in childcare. When our team looked at our observations we noticed that a majority of the behaviours were occurring during these times. We sat down and looked at our schedule and began to eliminate unnecessary transitions. We eliminated all but one tidy up time. This allowed our space to look lived in and let the children save building materials, art, or play set ups that were ending because of a signaled transition. The children can re-engage with these materials when they re-enter the environment, or the routine ends. Our team noticed a change immediately. Children were less resistant when we were signalling the transitions, and also more compliant when completing routines. There was less shuffling of children and activities happened when the children changed the pace or showed a new inquiry. The children lead the direction of the learning experiences and our educators facilitate this learning process. Our circle time is no longer a forced sit down following a specific time allotment on our schedule and has been renamed ‘together time.’ This time occurs outdoors and occurs in the form of a nature walk, yoga or using nature as a guide to inquiry based learning opportunities.

 

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An educator uses visuals on a lanyard and on the wall to help a child during transitions and routines.

The use of visuals in the environment is a successful tool for children with special needs. We made the decision that any techniques our program uses for a child with special needs, is to be used globally for the entire program. In addition to visual clues, educators are engaging all the senses of the child by providing a variety of cues such as bells, songs or gestures for a successful transition.

Our observations were also pointing to a need for change in the physical environment. We began using more open ended play materials. This opened up a variety of play opportunities for every child. The child’s imagination is invited to create without boundaries which ultimately lessened frustrations and struggles with fighting over that ‘one toy.’ The children are creating and exploring with a variety of loose parts which can engage building, math, art and literacy provocations.

With the changes we have made to our program we continue to see successes in every child. We have created an inclusive environment and the children have created new bonds and connections. What we continue to see is children taking on the guiding role to help out a peer. The children in our program that may have special needs are truly part of our school family and their peers see them simply as their peer. Sometimes there may be a need for a helping hand, but now the children are offering that help as well as the educators. The children have learned inclusion not by being told, or taught, but by creating an environment they are all involved in shaping.

Krista Perry, B.A, R.E.C.E
Shoreline Early Learning Center