Chat with us, powered by LiveChat After watching the videos and reading the articles assigned for this week think about what inspiration you can draw from the stories and images provided. Was there a particular idea that insp | Wridemy

After watching the videos and reading the articles assigned for this week think about what inspiration you can draw from the stories and images provided. Was there a particular idea that insp

After watching the videos and reading the articles assigned for this week think about what inspiration you can draw from the stories and images provided. Was there a particular idea that insp

Discussion Question 

After watching the videos and reading the articles assigned for this week think about what inspiration you can draw from the stories and images provided. Was there a particular idea that inspired you and that you would like to try out one day? What elements might you need to consider when creating an environment to support engagement and sense of belonging that values all children, families, and educators? What messages about the educational values of the setting do you wish your environment to convey to the public?

Week 8: Creating Environments


Note: During this week, try the following exercise-

If you are not a practicing educator in an early childhood setting,  during this week try to step back and observe the indoor environment with objective, fresh eyes. If you are not currently practicing, think about an early learning space you are familiar with. Focus your attention to the way the furniture – table, chairs, cupboards – are set up, the kinds of materials that are available and how is it presented,  what is displayed on the walls, what is the floor made of, are there floor and window coverings?. Sit on one of the small chairs and try to view the space from a child's point of view. How does this change your impression of the environment?

Now – repeat this exercise in the outdoor space. What materials are present? How are the spaced? Are they accessible for all? Is there an element of nature present?  Is there connectivity between the indoor space and the outdoor space?

The early childhood environment is both the context for learning and a participant in learning. It is a place for active, creative, investigative search for knowledge, understanding, and meaning. The environment is not static it acts back and responds to children's actions. Children form significant relationships with their environment, which includes people, materials, visuals, symbols, furniture, colors, texture, windows, light, and cultural tools such as language.  Environments have direct relationships with children's learning, as well as with their cognitive, social, emotional, aesthetic, and physical development.

In ECE theory and practice the environment is given great  significance. Throughout the history of ECE pioneer in the field have given recognition to the role of the environment in the education of young children. For instance, Froebel invented educational toys and activities, Montessori designed child-size furniture, and in Reggio Emilia teachers describe the environment as a "third teacher." By this they mean that the environment goes far beyond providing a safe and stimulating setting for children's learning; the environment in Reggio Emilia schools reflects the values and identity of the school and its community.

Creating the environment

Most educational settings for young children in North America have organized the physical space around basic principles and ideas. For example, most preschool and kindergarten spaces are arranged in a way that allows children to choose their activities by placing materials and toys on low accessible shelves. Another principle that supports choice is that the classroom is often divided into different learning centres. The division is done by arranging tables, chairs, carpets, and cupboards (or shelving units) in a way that creates a natural boundary between spaces. Typically, a large floor space is designated for large group activities, such as the morning circle, story reading, and other full class activities.The learning centres that are most commonly found in an early childhood classroom are:  Art centre (includes: an easel, a long table, chairs, and art materials – paints, water colors, clay, pencils, brushes, glue, assorted paper, scissors),  Discovery or Science centre (includes: water and or sand table, classroom pets, natural materials, magnifying glasses, mirrors, scales, variety of measurement tools and equipment),  Dramatic play area (includes: child-sized furniture, dress-up clothes, dolls and accessories, cooking utensils, hats, mirrors, music and dance props),  Blocks and manipulative area (includes: many size blocks, models of peoples and animals, puzzles, stringing beads, vehicles, board games),  Language centre (includes: books, dictionaries, writing materials, flannel board, language games, tape recorder),  Outdoor space (includes: large building toys, balls, sand and water toys, workbench, climbing equipment).

Contemporary thought in ECE has challenged early childhood educators to go beyond the traditional thinking about learning centres as described above. Rather than creating teacher-based (often with adult's goal in mind) learning centres, educators are challenged to think how centres in the classroom can become a response to children's inquiry and curiosity. In an article that you are asked to read this week, Pat Tarr challenges educators to rethink the use of children's art display on the classroom walls. Tarr asks educators to think beyond the idea of 'decorating' the walls to using the walls as a place to express educational concepts and values.

In this module, through a series of videos (see below) and the weekly assigned readings, we will consider the early learning environment through the pedagogical principles of welcoming, creating invitations for learning, collaboration, communication, and beauty.

Visit the follwoing web resource  Think, feel, act: lessons from research about young children | Links to an external site.  and watch the short videos titled:

1. Supporting curiosity and investigation Links to an external site.

2. Taking risks, building competence Links to an external site.

3. Rethinking the space Links to an external site.

4. Rethinking time Links to an external site.

Welcoming Environments that creating a sense of belonging

How can educators create and maintain an environment that sends a welcoming message to children and their families; one that gives a sense of community and tells children "You belong here." Does the environment express a sense care? Does it give value to children's expressions and creations? Is the environment inclusive? Do children have a personal space with their photo and/or name on it? (i.e. a cubby, a special box, an individual binder). Is children's work displayed on the walls respectfully? Is there documentation of the life in the classroom on the walls? (i.e. images and a narrative that describes the process of the learning). How are families represented in the classroom? (i.e. a panel with a family story from each child). How does this environment reflect the unique group of children, their families, and their community? What is the identity of this particular class that is different from all other groups who used the same space but gave it a different meaning?

Environments that support creativity and inquiry:

Invitations for learning

Does the environment send a message that creativity and inquiry are welcomed and expected? Does the environment allow for choice and accessibility to a variety of materials and learning tools? (i.e. materials are displayed on low shelves, educators add and renew materials periodically to invoke exploration and inquiry). Do materials provoke curiosity, awaken imagination, and trigger thinking? (i.e. a variety of open-ended materials that invite different ways of responding such as constructing, taking apart, moulding, sculpting). Are there tools available for children to represent their knowledge and understanding? (i.e. pens, pencils, paint, paper, markers, clay, scissors, glue, notebooks). Is inquiry supported? Are there spaces for active exploration and investigation of materials and ideas? Is there a wide collection of information and fiction books? Are there opportunities to ask questions and to pursue different ways of answering them?

Environments that sustain

communication, participation, collaboration, and relationships

Do children have opportunities to discuss and communicate in large and small groups? Do children participate in making decisions about their space? How? Are interactions and conversations encouraged? Is collaborative play fostered? Is the teacher available for conversations with children and parents? Are there quiet spaces where children can work independently? What messages does the environment give about the school?

Environments that embrace and inspire beauty

Maria Montessori believed that children's environments should aspire to be aesthetically appealing. She designed beautiful materials and furniture for her children's centre. Montessori and others maintained that by creating these beautiful and amiable environments for children we express that we value children and childhood. Beautiful environments can be created in many ways. For example, by letting nature in through natural light, arrangement of flowers and plants, and availability of natural materials (i.e. rocks, pine cones, shells, twigs, leaves, etc.). In beautiful environments special attention is given to art materials and to the display of children's art.


· Friedman, S. (2005). Environments that inspire.  YC Young Children, 60(3), 48-55. (Library Course Reserves) Please find attached pdf

· Tarr, P. (2004). Consider the walls.  YC Young Children, 59(3), 88-92. (Library Course Reserves) Please find attached pdf

· Wien, C., Coates, A., Keating, B., & Bigelow, B. (2005). Designing the environment to build connection to place.  YC Young Children, 60(3), 16-24. (Library Course Reserves) Please find attached pdf

Discussion Question

After watching the videos and reading the articles assigned for this week think about what inspiration you can draw from the stories and images provided. Was there a particular idea that inspired you and that you would like to try out one day? What elements might you need to consider when creating an environment to support engagement and sense of belonging that values all children, families, and educators? What messages about the educational values of the setting do you wish your environment to convey to the public?


Consider the Walls

Author(s): Patricia Tarr

Source: YC Young Children , May 2004, Vol. 59, No. 3 (May 2004), pp. 88-92

Published by: National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC)

Stable URL:

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A Jm s a university professor in a teacher preparation program, I regularly visit kindergarten and primary classrooms to observe student teachers. One spring day, as I observed a student teach a science lesson to a group of 25 first-graders, my gaze wandered around the room.

From a small chair in a corner, I counted 19 different, decorated, scalloped borders segmenting portions of the bulletin boards lining the walls. The boards were filled with words: a word wall, class rules, calendar, alphabets, numbers, shapes, and colors, and a plethora of cartoon people and animals, each with a message and at least 50 of them with horseshoe-shaped smiles rather like a capital U. Blue-and-white snowflake bor- ders hemmed in a group of winter paintings – white paint on blue paper – adding to the visual busyness. St. Patrick's Day mobiles created from brightly painted rainbows and black-line masters hung from the ceiling just above the children's heads. Rainbows, leprechauns, and pots of gold jiggled before my eyes. Almost mute amid the visual din were children's drawings and written work on the walls.

I wondered what it would be like to be a child in that

classroom day after day. Would I refer to the texts on the walls? Would I daydream or tune out to escape the cacophony of imagery? As an adult, I wondered about the messages embedded in the extensive use of smiling cartoon figures and stereotyped designs. 1 wondered

Patricia Tarr, PhD, is associate professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Calgary, Canada. As an art and early childhood educator she has been interested in the Reggio Emilia approach since the early 1990s.

Photos courtesy of the author except as noted.

how long the images had been on the walls. At what point would the texts and images fade from conscious- ness? 1 pondered the impact of this visual environment on children who have difficulty concentrating and staying focused on their work.

This classroom is not unique. Commercially produced borders, posters, and informational materials have become part of an accepted visual culture of North American early childhood classrooms. It is assumed that scalloped borders (which even line some of the bulletin boards in the faculty of education where I teach), commercial alphabets, and posters for shapes, numbers, and colors are essential components of a kindergarten or primary classroom.

Teachers who take a different approach may even feel pressure from other teachers or parents to decorate so that their room looks like a classroom should look. One

teacher who begins her year with very little on the walls told me that her principal had tactfully inquired about her classroom walls. She assured the principal that the walls were deliberately bare, awaiting the rich work the children would soon be creating.

As 1 began to think in more depth about classroom walls and to explore some of the literature on environ- ments, I found little that directly relates to wall space other than how-to-books on creating attractive bulletin boards. The Accreditation Criteria and Procedures of the

National Association for the Education of Young Children states, "The environment should be attractive, colorful, and have children's work and other pictures displayed at children's eye level" (NAEYC 1998, 49). While these standards are designed for preschool and kindergarten rooms, not primary classrooms, in my experience, kin- dergarten programs typically contain the same commer-

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ciai materials as this primary classroom. The Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale gives positive rat- ings to classrooms in which "most of the display is work done by the children" and is relevant to their current experiences (Harms, Clifford, & Cryer 1998, 14). Highest rated on the scale are displays that feature work in which children select the media or the subject and cre- ate a personal response rather than a formula response.

At face value, the classroom in my example was colorful and did have current children's work displayed at a child's eye level. The room might have been rated satisfactorily according to these standards. What seems to be missing from these criteria are guidelines that help teachers consider the purpose of displays, evalu- ate commercial materials, or think about classroom aesthetics.

The Reggio Emilia approach stresses the "environ- ment as the third teacher" (Gandini 1998, 177). Reggio- inspired teachers are beginning to look more critically at their classrooms and reconsider all aspects of teaching environments, including the purposes of display and classroom aesthetics. For example, follow- ing her visit to Reggio Emilia, Hertzog wrote, "I can strive for more aesthetically pleasing environments in our classrooms. 1 can ask teachers to examine their

classrooms for clutter" (2001, 7). This article critically examines classroom walls from

four perspectives: reading the environment, walls that silence, the purpose of display, and aesthetics. I offer some suggestions for teachers to consider when purchasing materials and in planning how to use classroom walls to enhance the educational setting.

Reading the environment

Classroom environments are

public statements about the educa- tional values of the institution and

the teacher. Arrangement of space – including desks, tables, materials available, and what is displayed on the walls- conveys messages about the relationship between teaching and learning, the image of the child held by the teacher, and the expec- tations for behavior and learning within that setting (Simco 1996; Gandini 1998; Rinaldi 1998). More specifically, there is the question of the value of commercially produced materials on classroom walls and whether educators understand the messages they convey (Shapiro & Kirby 1998).

The message I read in the classroom described above was that there was a great deal of information to be consumed by children through a transmission model of

learning. It was clear that children were expected to know specific kinds of information – numbers, colors, shapes, and so on – that may or may not have had any relationship to what this particular group of children actually knew or was relevant to them at this time. The displays read as a standardized – and unquestioned – assortment of materials that ought to be in the room. I also suspect that the majority of these first-graders had learned much of this long before they had entered this classroom; it is precisely the kind of lessons that many two-, three-, and four-year-olds learn in their homes or preschools.

The atmosphere created by so many cartoon figures with smiling faces spoke to me about the intended atmosphere for learning. I assumed that the intent was to create a fun atmosphere – a cheery, colorful environ- ment, where children's attention would be captured by these smiling figures and their messages. However, what I saw were cute and trivialized images of children and childhood. The stereotyped images suggested a dumbing down of the environment based on adults' conceptions of what children like.

Where such imagery is part of the educational environment, children learn to value and accept stereo- typed images as part of classroom culture (Rosario & Collazo 1981), even though the displays may not be part of the explicit curriculum. These images serve to perpetuate a distinctive cultural aesthetic of school – think of designs of school buses, apples, little school- houses, and so forth (Tarr 2001). Such images do not honor children's potential to respond to the world's rich and diverse heritage of art forms (Feeney &

Moravcik 1987; Tarr 2001). Neither do didactic commercial products

necessarily reflect children's real interests; they often do not invite engagement, won- der, or imagination, making them that much easier to be ignored at the conscious level. The image of the learner embedded in these materials is that of a consumer of informa-

tion who needs to be entertained, rather than a child who is curious and capable of creating and contributing to the culture within this environment (Dahlberg, Moss, & Pence 1999; Rinaldi 2001; Tarr 2003).

Walls that silence

In that first grade classroom, I was struck by how the displays of children's work were lost amongst the many visual images on the wall. The snowflake designs on the borders surrounding the winter paintings made it difficult to appreciate the quality of the individual chil- dren's responses to painting a winter scene. Likewise,

Classroom environ-

ments are public statements about

the educational

values of the institu-

tion and the teacher.

Young Children • May 2004 89

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the scalloped borders and cartoon figures overpowered the penciled texts; rather than honoring children's words, they rendered them invisible.

Work that follows formulaic schémas, such as pre- scriptive worksheets or the St. Patrick's Day mobiles hanging from the ceiling, stifles the true capabilities of young children and consequently silences imagination and creativity. So too does the mass of commercial ste- reotyped images silence the actual lived experi- ences of those individu-

als learning together. An overload of commer-

cial materials leaves

little room for work

created by the chil- dren – another kind of

silencing. Finally, chil- dren are muffled when

what is displayed does not accurately reflect who they are in terms of gender, culture, and ethnicity but rather in stereotyped ways.

Purpose of display

The challenge for early childhood educa- tors is to think beyond decorating to consider how walls can be used

effectively as part of an educational environ-

ment. In Reggio Emilia the walls display documentation panels of projects that children are engaged in. These become the basis of

ongoing research and dialogue between the children, teachers, and families. Panels of

photos, artifacts, and text make "learning visible" to participants and to outsiders

(Rinaldi 2001). Documentation dif-

fers from display in that it includes explanatory text and children's own

words, helping the viewer understand children's think- ing and their processes rather than just end products. Documentation is ongoing and part of planning and assessment. It encourages children to revisit an experi- ence and to share a memory together. It can provide opportunities for further exploration or new directions (Gandini 1998).

Here are some questions teachers can ask themselves:

• What is the pur- pose of the materi- als I am putting on display? Who is the display for? The children? Families?

Other visitors?

• What image of a learner is conveyed by the materials displayed?

• Does the display honor children's

work or has the work become sim-

ply decorative by being cut up into shapes contrived by an adult?

• How can the walls reflect the

lives, families, cultures, and interests of the learners within?

• Do the posters invite participation and active involve-

ment or passive reception of infor- mation (Shapiro & Kirby 1998)?

• What is the atmo-

sphere of the class- room? How do the

materials on dis-

play contribute to this atmosphere?

• What are the

assumptions about how children learn, and how are these

reflected by the classroom walls?

90 Young Children • May 2004

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Kindergarten and primary teachers are under in- creased pressure to support literacy development. Lit- erature in this area suggests that teachers create class- rooms that are rich in print, incorporating such things as word walls (Houle & Krogness 2001), signs, labels, bulletin boards, and more. However, Neuman, Coppie, and Bredekamp caution that "More does not mean better. In a room cluttered

with labels, signs, and such – print for print's sake – letters and words become just so much wallpaper" (2000, 38).

If a word wall, alphabet, or other material is intended as a reference, is it located where children can actually use it? Perhaps alphabet strips for desk use are more helpful to children than alphabets hung high above their heads (Neuman, Coppie, & Bredekamp 2000). If this applies to alphabets, could it also apply to other didactic materials, such as number charts? Could the wall space be used to better educational advantage?

Another question that should be asked: "Is the information on posters and charts accurate?" Tracey (1994) argues, for example, that children should use mathematically correct terminology from the beginning, replacing words such as diamond and oval with the terms rhombus and ellipse (although oval and diamond may be the common terms used on posters marketed for young chil- dren). Similarly, there are many variations of tints and shades of

color – is a chart illustrating primary and secondary colors too simplistic a description?

Do children have any input into the design of displays? British educator Penny Hegarty (1996) links children's involvement in

creating classroom displays with curriculum goals in the area of visual literacy and visual communi- cation. Not only might children be involved with selecting work that goes on display, they also can be part of the process of creating the display.

Finally, are commercial materials a wise investment? Teachers fre-

quently spend their own money on materials to decorate their class-

rooms. Rethinking what is put on the walls may help teachers make thoughtful choices and save money.


Feeney and Moravcik (1987), concerned about the aesthetics of classrooms, suggest that one of the ways

that educators could enhance the

aesthetic education of young children is through the design of the environment. This idea has been taken up more recently in literature from Reggio Emilia, particularly in Children , Spaces , Rela- tions: Metaproject for an Environment for Young Children (Ceppi & Zini 1998), that looks closely at educational environ- ments that support children's learning through conscious use of design elements of light, color, texture, sound, and smell. Curtis and Carter (2003) spotlight North American classrooms that have consciously used these

design elements to engage children's curiosity and wonder. Their Designs for Living and Learning: Trans- forming Early Childhood Environments is an excellent reference for any teacher wishing to reconsider class- room aesthetics.

While much of the early childhood literature suggests that rooms for young children be colorful, color is too often used for its own sake rather than deliberately chosen to enhance a particular area or to create a sense of unity throughout the room. Walls painted in neutral

Not only might children be involved

with selecting work

that goes on display,

they also can be part

of the process of

creating the display.

Young Children • May 2004 91

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