Tag Archives: early learning environment

Invitations to Learn

When children are comfortable and engaged in their environment, we find that productivity increases, challenging behavior decreases, and child-directed learning is plentiful! Using the physical classroom space effectively can be a teacher’s most useful tool.

One of my favorite tips to build excitement about learning opportunities in the classroom is to create invitations to learn that are ready and waiting when the children arrive. An invitation to learn involves arranging the space in a way that “invites” the children to come to a particular area to explore open-ended and meaningful materials.

A personal favorite from my time in the classroom involved setting up a table with a real pumpkin during the fall season. In addition to the pumpkin, I provided a variety of spoons and other tools, plastic trays, and also some paint with brushes. When the children entered the room, that morning they were excited by the new addition and intrigued about what activities were in store for the day.  My overall objective was working on motor skills by scooping out the insides with the tools and picking out the seeds, but the freedom to choose how they explored the pumpkin provided a multitude of other experiences. The children chose to sort and count the seeds, spread them on the plastic trays, pretending to bake and sell yummy treats to their friends. Some chose to paint and decorate the outside of the pumpkin, while others painted the seeds. They talked about the textures and shrieked when the gooey pumpkin guts grazed across their tiny fingers. By simply setting the stage with materials that were already in our space and adding something a little extra, an entirely new and engaging experience occurred!

While creating an invitation to learn doesn’t need to be time-consuming or expensive, it should be intentional. When planning, keep a broad goal of what you think might occur (like the strengthening motor skills in the pumpkin example above) while leaving room for their imaginations to run wild.

Some questions to keep in mind during preparation:

  • Will this activity capture the interest and curiosity of the child?
  • Are the activity and materials age-appropriate?
  • Are there enough materials for all children to participate?
  • Are the materials hands-on and open-ended?
  • Are there opportunities to be challenged and express creativity?

With a little planning and preparation, a teacher can use the classroom environment to spark engagement, inspiration and joy!

How to foster learning using the walls of your classroom

Quick…what color is the ceiling? Did you have to peek? It’s ok if you did, I did too. It’s not something we look at on a regular basis because it’s not at our eye level. Did you know that grocery stores often put the lower-priced items on the top and bottom shelves, and the higher-priced items at our eye level? Now, imagine yourself as a child in a classroom, maybe your own classroom. What is at your level and what is high above your head? Where are the pictures you’ve drawn and the stories you’ve written? Where are the classroom guidelines and schedule posted?

How you set up your classroom space matters!

When you set up your classroom environment, you should take a page from the supermarkets. Put what you want the children to see at their eye level. This includes their artwork, pictures from projects and field trips or the class pet. Whatever you display, it should be purposeful; try not to put up maps of the United States or posters of shapes and colors if you won’t use them as teaching tools. In an article for NAEYC  by Patricia Tarr, she states that “the challenge for early childhood educators is to think beyond decorating to consider how walls can be used effectively as part of an educational environment.” I was observing a staff recently who guided the children through a display depicting  flower growth by comparing it to actual flowers they had in the classroom. It gave purpose to the display and made it a more concrete experience.

Teachers should also display classroom guidelines and schedule at the children’s eye level. Try to limit the number of guidelines to 3-5, phrase your expectations simply and with positive language (replace “no running” with “walking feet” or “do not talk back” with “listen to the teacher”) and accompany them with pictures. If you can get pictures of the children in your classroom doing those things, even better! Depending on the age of the children in your classroom, the schedule you post may be pictorial or it could use words. Children thrive when they know what to expect.

Here are some questions from Patricia Tarr’s article to help you reflect on your environment:

-How can the walls reflect the lives, families, cultures and interests of the learners within?

-Do the posters invite participation and active involvement or passive reception of information?

-What are the assumptions about how children learn and how are these reflected by the classroom walls?

-What is the atmosphere of the classroom? How do the materials on display contribute to the atmosphere?

I’d love to hear about displays you’ve done in your classroom and the children’s responses. Please share in the comments!