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Creating a Developmentally Appropriate Learning Environment

Instructor: Clio Stearns

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

As a teacher, one of your most important jobs is to establish environments in which all of your students can learn. This lesson teaches you the importance of creating a developmentally appropriate learning environment.

Creating Learning Environments

Mr. Howard has been teaching fifth grade for several years, and this year, he has been switched to a second grade classroom. He knows that one of his most important jobs is to create developmentally appropriate learning environments, or indoor and outdoor scenarios that meet the developmental needs and capacities of his second grade students. As Mr. Howard sets up his classroom for the new school year, he thinks about what he can do to ensure that students can:

  • physically and cognitively access the materials that they will need
  • remain motivated to ask questions and pursue deeper learning
  • move comfortably around the classroom and to other areas in the school
  • stay emotionally present and safe throughout the school day.

Knowing Development

Mr. Howard knows that the first step to creating a developmentally appropriate learning environment is understanding development. Of course, he took several child development courses when he was getting his license, but he also knows that it can never hurt to brush up on the following:

  • What are some of the typical cognitive, social, emotional, and physical characteristics of the age group you are teaching?
  • What are some of the common challenges that students at this age face in many domains?
  • What are the developmental variations that make a group of children this age diverse and engaging? What are the variations that might lead to a student needing extra support or guidance?

Mr. Howard takes some time to research seven and eight-year old children, and what he learns about their developmental stages helps him think about the design of his classroom environment. It even helps him make some suggestions for the school recess yard!

Development and Culture

Although many scholars have written about child development as though it were a monolithic phenomenon, Mr. Howard knows that culture can play a substantial role in diversifying development. To be a culturally competent educator, or one who responds to the needs of a diverse set of learners, he also needs to think about the ways students from a variety of homes might access an environment and the materials in it. For example:

  • Are students more oriented toward working alone or collaboratively?
  • Will students move around the classroom without permission?
  • What languages will students hope to see represented? What kinds of images will be meaningful to them?

All of these questions and more help Mr. Howard ensure that his classroom and the outdoor spaces his students are in meet the developmental needs of each student in his class.

Attending to Individuals

Mr. Howard also knows that it is important to think about the specific second graders he is teaching, not just what second graders look like on an abstract level. As he gets to know his students, he focuses on thinking about what their strengths are, how they do their best learning, and what areas they struggle in. Then, he tries to design environments that let them work from their strengths to help address their struggles.

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