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Arranging Learning Environments to Support Developmental Goals & Interests

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

As an early childhood educator, your primary goal is supporting and facilitating your students' development. This lesson offers some ideas for how you can arrange a learning environment to support developmental goals and interests.

Arranging a Learning Environment

Though Will has been teaching for many years, this is his first year in an early childhood setting and he is anxious to get things right. Will knows that one of his tasks as a new teacher of three year olds is to arrange his learning environment, or classroom and connected outdoor spaces, to support the development of his students across different domains. This includes fine motor, gross motor, cognitive and social and emotional development! Will also knows that his children will be happier and more effective if he attends to their interests, incorporating them into the learning environment. He sets about strategizing for what he can do to arrange the learning environment well.

Know Your Goals

First of all, Will understands that arranging a learning environment means having some particular goals in mind. This means understanding what is developmentally appropriate, or suited to the competence and capacity, for the age level you teach. Before planning his classroom, Will researches these questions:

  • What are typical three-year olds working on in terms of their motor development?
  • What kinds of cognitive skills might many three-year olds be focusing on?
  • What are the social and emotional skills that three-year-olds are most likely to need help with?

He then considers what he can do to arrange his classroom suitably to meet developmental goals. For instance, Will learns that many three-year-olds are really working on separating from their parents. He ensures that there is a window they can use to wave goodbye when their parents leave, but that the window is also near some books and soft toys that will encourage students to console themselves and transition into their classroom space each morning.

Listen to Children

Will also knows that even though there are developmental averages and norms, no two three year olds are alike! Supporting his children's goals and interests means watching them closely, especially during free play times, and listening to the things they talk about. It can also mean meeting with families to learn more about home cultures and the passions children have. Early in the school year, Will observes that during outdoor time, several of his students love to play that they are in outer space. In his free play area, he puts a few toy rocket ships and model planets. He also makes sure to stock his bookshelves with some books about outer space and to have art materials like black construction paper so that students can pursue this interest.

Furniture and Shelving

Having a learning environment that is well suited to supporting developmental goals and interests also means arranging furniture and shelving in ways that are accessible to students. Will pays attention to what his students can and cannot reach and ensures that they can move freely around the classroom and transition efficiently. Every week or so, he revisits the book shelves that are within children's reach and makes sure they are tidy and well stocked. He tries to keep furniture simple and minimal so that students can use everything appropriately.

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