Monday, April 23, 2012

#2 - The Environment

"An environment for the child that is physically safe, cognitively challenging and emotionally nurturing."
I love this quote from the RIE tenets from their website, but I find that if I interchange the words it would be just as true for how I view creating a child centered environment for children.

"An environment for the child that is emotionally safe, physically challenging and cognitively nurturing."
"An environment for the child that is cognitively safe, emotionally challenging and physically safe."

What I tell my children is, "We are responsible for everyone feeling happy, healthy, and safe.  I wonder how we can do that?"  In my now toddler classroom this has lately been our main goal as the boys find every moment to test personal boundaries in various ways.  I find myself constantly returning to the environment to set the limits they need to feel safe and secure, yet challenged and happy and supported emotionally, psychically and physically.  

I have written a few times about creating environments that are safe, magical and supporting inquiry, but I have found that I can now narrow it down to a few key points.

* A Safe Space : The beginning of safety is creating an environment where all needs are met.  Once a child feels safe, then they are able to explore and use their imagination.  This also means that the child feels love from the adults and children in their space.  They feel like they are seen and have all of their needs met and even predicted. This includes ease of caregiving activities, a sense of security and the presence of basic trust and respect between peers and adults.  The adult is the key element in maintaining this safety, especially securing the child's ability to express them self effectively and confidently.  We also are the model and the limit through our expectations and construction of the environment based on our knowledge of the children in our care, our own needs, and the basic needs of a normal day. 

* A Place of Magic  Giving children the gift of wonder can be a satisfying motivation to their play, inquiry and imagination.  Using natural materials as much as possible gives a child the ability to explore and learn the parts of their world by touching it as much as possible.  Little treasures and scenes hidden in various areas invite the children to naturally become inspired to tell their own stories and even to ask why, while using their own gathered information about the qualities of their world in ways that inspire them.  Using beauty of materials and asthetics, you can draw a child into normalcy and focus, inspiring their imagination and helping them creating their own magic.

* My Own Place Where a child see where and how they fit into the environment.  This is their space and their sense of ownership gives them the confidence to expand and explore.  Children have access to anything their body might need and they are able to do for them selves to the best of their ability.  Supporting functional independence by following their interests in self care and caring for the space, both inside and out, enhances the child's view of the world that surrounds them and naturally fosters a sense of responsibility.  The adults in the environment feel their place as well.  They feel the confidence in showing their personality in the classroom and use it as a method to inspire the children.  There is an ease to how each child or adult fits: chairs of the right size; materials, manipulatives and toys supporting interests; safe places for things to be.  The environment should say, "I see you.  I know you.  Touch me."


*A Connection to Our World  The biggest work of childhood is to become a part of the world they have been brought to.  Everything they do from movement to language, play to social interactions is all about figuring out the world.  A successful environment includes as many opportunities for a child to learn more, question more, be more.  Bringing artifacts from outside, inside from a young age gives a child the ability to learn the qualities of the natural world.  I view the outdoor environment in equal with the  indoors.  At TIH we are blessed to have unlimited access to a beautiful yard, blossoming with puddles, rocks, leaves, gardens, plants, birds, worms, sand.  By giving a child free access to any environment allows them to become masters of their surroundings and contributing members of their community. 

While we are heavily influenced by RIE at Tumbleweeds, we also take parts of all of my collective knowledge of various philosophies and who my unique children are when creating an environment: nuggets of beauty and order from my Montessori training, moments of wonder and curiosity from Reggio, bright colors and imagination from Waldorf, and hours and hours of play outside from Richard Louv.  It is this mixture of our own experience and that of those that have come before us, mixed with observation that creates the Tumbleweeds environment.

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