Imagine you walk into an early childhood classroom, what would you see? Would it be busy and bright with lots of colours? Would you see a calendar board noting the days weather? Fully equipped with clip art and perfectly formed fonts. Would you see a birthday board with the child's faces adorned on balloons, vehicles or inside a cake? Would you find displays with nearly identical crafts displayed with each child's name in careful block lettering. Or would you see alphabet bunting with cartoon representations of the letters? Would there be a range of table-top activities that reflect what we think of when we think of children, blocks, jigsaws and flashcards? And then ask yourself: what evidence exists that children inhabit and own this space?
Adapted from Emily Plank (Discovering the Culture of Childhood).
The above description stuck with me so much! Emily Plank used this to introduce a concept known as "artifacts". She explains that in an environment, the layout, resources, approaches, toys, crafts and creativities all indicate to us whether it is a room full of adult or child artefacts. And it is an important reflection point when we think of early childhood environments.
I recently saw a tweet from a teacher who expressed that she had become tired with the environment shaming within education. She proclaimed: do you, it's your classroom. On the one hand, I could totally see her frustration because social media has indeed become a space to showcase our pedagogy and ideas which can in turn add increased pressure to those who are at different stages. On the other hand, however, it highlights that we as educators often completely overlook an important factor...it is not our classroom...
...it belongs to our children.
I realise this may sound completely harsh considering the relentless efforts early educators put into providing enabling environments for children, but equally it is a concept we need to embrace more often. I always say in training:
Children are not entering our world in the early years environment, we are entering theirs. And our role within that is to reflect who they are in the spaces, places, attitudes and practices.
This felt particularly pertinent at this time of year because there is always lots of redesigning of early years environments ready for new children. I always find this slightly odd considering we haven't yet met the children, tuned into their interests and identified their play and learning behaviours. For this reason, I always encourage educators to organise their classroom but to leave space for design once the children have started. This gives the children the opportunity to take ownership of their play space and to get the most out of the environment.
So when you are looking at your environment, ask yourself again: what evidence exists that children inhabit and own this space?
1. Introducing a planning session at the start of September to discuss with children what areas of play they would like, how they think it could work and provide them with cameras to take pictures of their favourite artefacts/areas/toys/resources.
2. As a settling-in experience, ask each child (if able) to bring in a small item from home (it can be anything) that can live within their nursery environment.
For example, one nursery I worked with asked each family to donate a "home corner" item and this then became much more diverse and meaningful to the children's worlds. It also generated lots of language for learning about similarities, and differences. The cutlery for instance, reflected the different cultures within the nursery including Japanese, English and Indian origin.
3. Embrace your own mark-making. Labelling, displays & paperwork should all include handwritten elements, and avoid the overuse of obvious fonts such as comic sans. Our world is print rich and therefore so should children's
A good CPD task for this is ask every member of staff to tally how many different fonts/print they see on their commute to and from work. This opens their thinking that not all displays need the same template.
4. Allocate a space for on-going work by the children, such as an art gallery, or "Come back to it table". Provide children with sticky notes so that they can stick it to work they wish to return to, for example, a construction in the block area.
5. Encourage independence from day 1: never do for a child what he or she can do for himself. Self-care stations such as a nose wiping area, or including items in the bathroom such as hairbrush, bobbles and wipes are small but powerful examples that the environment is organised to encourage autonomy.
Coming next week:
The adult artefacts seres #2: Displays & "Aesthetics"