Goals for Wonderschool classroom environments:
Wonderschool believes that children learn best through play. We encourage all of our teachers to create a learning environment in their homes with developmentally appropriate materials and activities, based on the age group of children you will be caring for and teaching. We have outlined various categories of materials and learning centers (sometimes referred to as “areas”) that we believe are important “and” in helping children develop the different skills and knowledge that we believe are a critical aspect of early childhood education.
According to Early Childhood News: “A developmentally designed environment supports children's individual and social development. It encourages exploration, focused play, and cooperation. It provides choices for children and supports self-directed learning. A developmentally designed environment also supports the caregiver-child relationship. It minimizes management and custodial activities, allowing caregivers more time for interaction, observation, and facilitation of children's development.” (Source).
Quality childcare can be found in all types of spaces. The physical environment, the space arrangement, and the equipment and materials available can either promote or impede quality care.
Consideration for classroom environment based on age of children in your care
The way that you set up your home and classroom environment depends on several factors and is largely driven by the age of the children you will be caring for.
Community Playthings (a company that sells classroom materials and furniture) and WestEd’s Program for Infant/Toddler Care (PITC) collaborated to put together a great guide about considerations for setting up environments for infants and toddlers: https://www.dropbox.com/s/daj355jvdpjqfgz/Infant%20and%20Toddler%20Spaces%20-%20Community%20Playthings%20and%20PITC.pdf?dl=0.
Young infants (0 to 8 months):
Young infants need to feel a sense of trust, safety and security. Their sense of trust, trust in their caregivers, their environment and most importantly trust in themselves starts with respectful caregiving. Their development occurs based on a warm and loving relationship with their caregivers. Infants gain self-esteem and confidence when the adults they interact with are responsive, predictable and nurturing.
“We not only respect babies, we demonstrate our respect every time we interact with them. Respecting a child means treating even the youngest infant as a unique human being, not as an object.” - Magda Gerber, RIE (Source).
Infants learn by exploring the world around them. They are also beginning to learn a sense of themselves in the world. Creating an environment made safe to touch, taste, feel, see and hear allows the opportunity for the infant to begin negotiating and learning about the world around them. One important item in an infant environment, for example, are a few mirrors at their level.
Mobile infants: (6 - 18 months)
As an infant become more mobile their whole world changes. It opens up to a whole new opportunity for exploration. Thus the environment needs to be set up to honor this new world. Opportunities to sits, crawl, pull to a stand, learn to get down from that stand and eventually walk all need to be addressed in their learning environment. Some equipment that could be included are risers and small padded areas, pull up bars to practice pulling up, standing, cruising and eventually walking.
Toddlers (16 - 36 months):
Toddlers are beginning to gain their own sense of identity, but still need to feel safe and secure in order to purposely explore the world. Per PITC and Community Playthings, “an environment that offers chances for independence, participation, and cooperation helps toddlers develop competence and a strong sense of self.”
The toddlers primary agenda is to MOVE! They run, they pound, they throw, they knock over things, they kick...they move in the most creative ways. And they climb, one of the highest frustrations of any toddler teacher.
The environment for a toddler program needs to support what is the natural agenda for children of this age, which is to move and explore. Additionally, the concept of emergent curriculum becomes even more important for this age group as children more actively explore their own interests and physical capabilities and develop through trying new activities, movements, and skills. As such, as a teacher, your role is to introduce new equipment and materials for toddler to explore and interact with.
Here is an example list of items to buy for a classroom for toddlers and two year olds: http://teachingstrategies.com/content/pageDocs/CCIT2_HNDT_2M.pdf
Considerations for Quality Infant and Toddler Environments:
PITC wrote a guide on setting up environments in which it listed out eight considerations for setting up a quality infant and toddler program. These considerations include the following, which has been adapted from the above mentioned publication from PITC and Community Playthings:
- Safe environments have:
- Developmentally appropriate equipment made of non-toxic materials such as wood
- Non-slip floors
- Stable shelves (bolted to the wall), and objects and fixtures with rounded corners
- Steps toddlers can use to reach changing table so caregiver does not have to lift them
- An environment that can help protect children and adults from infection and illness has:
- Separation of the diapering and toileting areas from food preparation and feeding areas
- All areas kept clean (and disinfected, as needed)
- Sufficient water for children and caregivers to wash hands regularly
- Surfaces are easy to clean and suitable for all activities in area
- Rubber gloves for handling bodily fluids (urine, feces, mucous, and blood)
- Paper towels for children and caregivers to dry hands (licensing does not permit the use of cloth towels for hand-drying as this can spread germs)
- A comfortable environment creates a calming atmosphere and can be characterized through having:
- Soft and natural colors on walls and furnishings
- Use of natural light, lamps, etc. rather than fluorescent lights
- A steady flow of fresh air (ideally from a window with secure screen)
- Acoustical tiles or rugs with pads to help absorb noise
- Soft cushions and pillows
- Back supports for adults sitting on the floor
- In a convenient environment both children and adults can easily see, find, and access materials.
- Materials are grouped logically
- Feeding and toileting areas are easy to clean and easy to work in.
- The need to lift or reach is limited
- This gives children a clear sense of space, predictability, and security and a welcome area is helpful for parents and children to address separation anxiety in a specific area
- Child Size Space
- In quality environments, infants and toddlers can reach what they need, and explore what interests them—without the caregiver worrying about children getting hurt.
- Use tables and chairs that are small and low, making sure that the child’s feet are firmly planted on the floor and not dangling from the knees.
- Low shelving (24" high) allows children to see and reach toys.
- Additionally, having a handrail on all staircases is very helpful (and often required by Licensing)
- Equipment that is lightweight and mobile can be used for more than one purpose.
- Tables can be used for feeding, art, and messy activities
- Movement is incredibly important for infants and toddlers
- Equipment must be provided to stimulate large muscle play and exploration.
- Different levels provide variety, diverse viewpoints, and numerous chances for movement. Use slopes, low steps, play pits, or platforms to create a multiple level environment.
- Different levels provide variety, diverse viewpoints, and numerous chances for movement.
- Surfaces with a variety of textures enhance sensory exploration.
- Fixed structures, such as climbers and slides, encourage cooperative peer play
Example of loft (that includes stairs and ramp and different height perspectives):
Example of risers:
Example toddler arch or triangle:
- An environment that allows infants and toddlers to make choices supports their development and provides children opportunities to discover what
they find interesting or challenging.
- Set up different areas of the room with a variety of activities, textures, and equipment. There should be spaces for large group activities as well as small, private spaces, active and quiet play areas, and room for messy activities.
Considerations for preschool aged (3 - 5 years):
Setting up the environment in your school:
Materials should be set up so that they are easily accessible to children and so that they facilitate active exploration by students. We also encourage teachers to label the different areas of the classroom to help children learn organization skills.
The welcome area is a very important area as the child transitions from home to school. We require our teachers to ensure they have the following in their welcome areas:
- Board that has the following documents displayed:
- A copy of your Child Care Home License
- A copy of your emergency plan
- A posted copy of your illness policy and the “Keep Me Home If…” poster
- A copy of your business license (if required by your city)
We also recommend the following in the welcome area:
- Cubbies - one for each child
- Sign in / Sign out process