Classroom H at the Lumber City Head Start is like many classrooms dedicated to serving low-income families who live at or below the poverty line. There are two degreed teachers in the classroom with a total of eighteen students. Of these eighteen students, nine are refugees from Myanmar who speak no English. Additionally, one child has down-syndrome and another, who is being evaluated for mental disorders, is extremely active and fidgety. The students in class H are well-behaved and independent when solving conflicts and being responsible for himself and his environment.
In any physical environment, the ease of flow, ambience, and arrangement can help to set the mood and tone that is desired. This is particularly true in early childhood classrooms for preschoolers. Although being attractive is a very important component, a classroom’s design must be efficient and effective to help facilitate learning. When the physical classroom environment is effectively created and maintained, the classroom begins to act as the “third teacher”. Because children’s experiences are limited by their surroundings, the environment we provide for them has a crucial impact on the way the child’s brain develops (Bullard, 2010). The environment communicates to children ‘what’s ok in this place’, ‘what’s valued here’, and ‘how the child may behave, interact, and be involved’. This helps to eliminate the need for constant teacher redirection and children are free to learn when exploring his environment.
The physical environment should help spark the student’s curiosity and draw them into each learning area. A clear guided pathway using tables, shelving, furniture, etc., helps to lead a student directly towards an intended area. The arrangement of furniture must create a smooth flow of traffic. There should be no large open spaces in an effort to minimize running and accidents which is very beneficial for my highly active student. Additionally, having the classroom arranged in a way in which activities in one area rarely disturb another area helps the students concentrate better and spend more time in a given area.
In order to define each area, three barricades should encompass each area to help keep children focused on their activity and inside the learning area. I rely heavily on this set-up for my student with down-syndrome because she tends to wonder about the classroom. Having semi-enclosed areas allows her more time to explore before she happens to wander out. Furniture would be arranged so quiet areas are away from noisy areas. By having these areas separated, my non-English speaking students have opportunities to hear words and sounds through quieter talk and play. Materials in the area should be easily accessible and available to the child. Simple implementations like these help to encourage independence and self-esteem by providing the child the opportunity to manipulate and master his environment.
Click the link below to view physical layout.
Rules and Routines
Once a safe and inviting physical environment is established, teachers have to commit to keeping it running smoothly. Students who are in a routine knows what to expect next and are able to transition better. Classroom H will not have a set of pre-determined rules until the students and I discuss the importance of each rule and agree on a set of rules that is relevant to us. As a teacher, I encourage the students to think of what would make them feel safe and happy when implementing each rule. Allowing the children to create boundaries and make decisions helps to instill a sense of responsibility for one’s self.
Pictured manipulative charts with a consistent daily schedule is a very useful tool. Students are able to see what activity is to be done at any time and what is expected next. Once a session is completed, a child can flip the corresponding picture over to signify that the session is over and another one is about to begin. When creating the schedule, it is vital to rotate between active and inactive learning. This gives students balance by allowing them to move around during one session and be idle in the next. Students who tend to loose concentration or fidget benefits best from this.
Emotionally Safe Environment
Although having a safe physical environment is the first concern of the learning environment, the ability of the teacher to provide a safe emotional environment is extremely important. A sense of safety comes from consistent, attentive, nurturing, and sensitive attention to each child’s needs and is created by predictability, and predictability is created by consistent behaviors (Perry, 2016). The above-mentioned use of schedules and creation of rules will help to assist in creating this sense of safety while providing opportunities for solitude when students become overwhelmed. Students will soon develop a trust for teachers and school, therefore, creating the platform for educational and emotional experiences from which children will view the rest of their life.
Another important factor is building a community in which everyone is represented. I would place pictures, words, and various items in my class that represent my students. All labels would be in English and Burmese. By attempting to connect with my students, it helped to create trust and understanding. All students will be valued and respected. Children will provide input weekly on what is learned through large and small group discussions. Idea boards will allow students to make suggestions in which I implement in the classroom and reference the student for the input. This helps to build self-esteem and allow children to become responsible and independent learners. Students free-play finished products are encouraged to be different to express his interest. An assignment and materials will be provided to the student in which he will choose the color, median, placement, etc., to finish the product.
Students will learn to communicate needs in a respectful way and listen with respect to the ideas of others. The implementation of allowing students to voice their ideas and preferences throughout the day will help children understand that others have different needs and wants. Rightfully so, conflicts are inevitable as students learn. It can be an uncomfortable process for young children, causing one, both, or all children involved uneasiness, fear, or a range of other strong emotion. It is the responsibility of the teacher to teach the students peaceful conflict resolution by acknowledging each student’s feelings and providing them with time and options to negotiate a peaceful resolution. Through teaching and expecting positive conflict resolutions, children are given opportunities to feel competent in handling situations and relationships. It fosters feelings of respect for the self and other people, as well as respect for new ideas.
Bullard, J. (2010). Why is the environment important for children’s learning? Retrieved from http://www.education.com: http://www.education.com/reference/article/environment-important-children-learning/
Perry, B.D. (2016). Creating an emotionally safe classroom. Retrieved may 21, 2016, from Scholastic: http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/bruceperry/safety_wonder.htm