New Classrooms: Welcoming Environments

The First Week of School

This week marks the start of a new school year at SEEC and I took the opportunity to walk around and see the classrooms. SEEC teachers have been working tirelessly over the past few weeks, so I was pretty excited to check out all their hard work. I was especially interested because the classroom environment has been a hot topic amongst my colleagues and over the course of the last year, I have really seen the teachers contemplating the meaning and importance of their surroundings. This shift was well illustrated in an earlier blog by one of our teachers entitled:  Rethinking the Environment

The Power of the Environment

As early childhood educators, we think about arranging classrooms in ways that make sense – i.e. put the art area next to the sink or don’t put a reading area next to a noisy music area. We also think about safety and logistics too — all important. But the environment can be so much more – it can be a comforting, soothing locale that inspires children to learn, create and gain independence. Teachers are challenging themselves to think about how their classroom can engage and empower their students. The question of environment is, of course, of much broader scope than this blog, but I thought it would be great to look at some photos of our classrooms to see how our teachers are thinking about their classroom environments.

 

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Research has proven that bright colors like red, yellow and orange, can often be over-stimulating. These colors solicit a calmer, more welcoming feeling.

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This cozy corner provides a space for reading and a nook where a child can deal with feelings of frustration or anger. The canopy makes it feel especially protected and the green pillows evoke nature and feelings of calm.

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These photos were posted along a seated area in one of our toddler rooms. It portrays something that all children can relate to from multiple perspectives adding a multicultural component.

"Computer lab" has never looked so good. The bench and the table are the perfect height for the 4's intro to technology.

“Computer lab” has never looked so good. The perfectly sized bench and table encourage the four’s to tinker with the computer.

Visual reminders of how a preK class wants to approach apologies.

These visual cues help SEEC’s preK class remember their classroom conversations about apologies.

Your Feedback

Teachers – do you have a space you are particularly proud of? Please share it with us. Museum educators – we would also love to see photos of learning spaces in your museums.

Parents Are Part of the Class Too

Besides being an educator for the Smithsonian Early Enrichment Center, I am also a mom. I know all too well what it is like to be unsure of oneself as a parent. That is one of the reasons we have set up our programs with the parent in mind. We want to encourage your confidence as a parent and, as your child’s first teacher.

One of the ways we do this is by encouraging one-on-one _MG_4086interaction during the museum visit. Often we ask parents to lead simple activities in the galleries that are open-ended and encourage observation and conversation. For example, we might ask infant/toddler parents to find all the boats in a gallery space or simply describe an object. If it seems odd to talk about having conversations with your little one, remember recent research is making direct correlations between how much a parent talks to their child and their literacy.

_MG_0715_72dp_webiPreschooler families might be asked to create a story  or make a list of questions they have about an object. In both of these scenarios, we are encouraging independent thinking, literacy and providing time for you and your child to learn together. It is also giving the parent practice having  open-ended conversations and ideas of how to use museums when there is not an educator around.

All of our classes include a classroom component, where teachers have carefully thought out and prepared art projects, dramatic play areas and sensory experiences. The classroom experience is less structured and gives you and your child time to explore their interests. In order to help our parents make the most of their time, we make the following suggestions:

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1. Let your child choose the activity and how long they want to stay at that activity.
2. There is really no wrong way to do something – let them be creative and get dirty.
3. If they are frustrated, ask them if they want help. Otherwise, let them solve the problem on their own.
4. While you observe your infant, narrate what they are doing. Ask older children about what they are doing or why they made certain choices.

With these guidelines, parents can feel confident that they are giving their child autonomy and encouraging their interests. They are also giving them space to figure out problems on their own – this will lead to more confidence.

Are there things that you struggle with as a parent when participating in classes with your child? Let us know, we would be happy to help.