Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Creating a Classroom Environment That Teaches

The Reggio Philosophy believes that there are three teachers within the classroom walls:  The teacher, the students, and the environment. To create an environment that actively teaches, I put out materials that will encourage children to wonder, explore and look closer.  If you watch a child closely as they play, you will be able to pick out the concepts that they are exploring! Add paper, writing tools and books and they will want to use them as they have seen adults use them and they will want to imitate that! Play is truly a child’s work! I have learned to observe and grab onto opportunities while they play to incorporate the Common Core Standards in ways that are authentic and meaningful to them. Here is our 2018/19 classroom environment. In this post I will go over the learning that happens in each area.

In one corner we have what we call our Math Corner.  I will introduce the kids to the term “Mathematician” and discuss exactly what math is and how we use it everyday and see it all around us in our environment, at home and in nature and art! They will be taught how to recognize the math concepts that we learned in our whole group lessons in their daily lives and will be given opportunities to practice those concepts as mathematicians by using the materials set out to explore here. 

This number chart was made during a Color Inquiry by last years students. A piece of history left for new classes to use. They created and named each color on this canvas, then added the numbers.

This area is our Building Area. Here, the kids will be Designers, Architects, and Engineers. They will explore how math, science and art are all heavily connected here as they build, design and create! This area fosters math concepts such as measurement, grouping, sorting, patterning, and symmetry. It fosters science concepts such as balance, force and motion and cause and effect. It also fosters social-emotional growth as they will be forced to practice patience with each other and problem solving socially with friends. They will problem solve as projects don’t work out as planned, collaborate with others as they work together to a common goal and get along with each other. They will practice grit, a growth mindset, perseverance, and learn to deal with disappointment properly. 

The shelf below is where we keep random open ended materials. A lot of creative thinking, math and design elements happen as they incorporate these materials with their creations. Some are from nature, some are reusing items that otherwise would have been thrown away, some were purchased.

This is our Engineering Table within the building area. We are starting out with a limited number of Legos but other Engineering materials will be available at different times of the year such a K’Nex, Magnetix, MagnaTiles, and marble runs. Many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) challenges will happen here!

The next area is our Dramatic Play Area. It is starting out as a house where they can roll play. All of the Language/Speaking and Listening Common Core Standards are covered in this area. Here the kids use writing skills in an authentic way as they use writing just as we do in everyday life! It can turn into a store, restaurant, bakery, Santa’s toy shop, vet clinic or Doctor’s Office, airport, market, school, Starbucks, donut shop, Haunted House, etc. They will write lists, write prescriptions, take orders, make signs and posters, write recipes, create magazines for waiting rooms, etc. Then they will practice reading as they reread what they and others have written! They will also write as they come up with a plan to turn this area into something new!

Open ended materials are used for food rather than play food to foster creative thinking. These wool balls can be soup, drink, peas, grapes, salad, etc! A pine one can be corn on the cob, a stirring utensil, a steak, etc. They are only limited by their imagination and at this age their imagination has no limits!

Another area is our Literacy Area. We have a library to explore different types of literature and later some leveled books they can choose to read. The wooden shelf will hold containers with experiences to practice what we have learned in whole group lessons. What is missing is a table to put out some literacy experiences to explore. I need just a little more room here to fit one! I might still try to squeeze one in!

In the middle of our Literacy Area is our Peace Table. This is a place where if friends are having a disagreement, they can go to the Peace Table to talk it out and make peace. Whoever is holding the rose gets to talk, whoever is not gets to listen. This is also an area where a child can go to calm down and self regulate their emotions if they are feeling angry, hyper, sad, etc. There are sensory bottles, fidgets, and a cuddly friend to help them self regulate.

Next is our “Look Closer” Area. This is where they will explore science and social studies. Here they will learn to slow down, look closer, notice and discover new things and document what they notice as a scientist would.  They will predict, explore, inquire, wonder and experiment here. They will use the tools of scientists such as magnifying glasses, microscopes, safety googles, and more. They will use art materials such as crayons, pencils, different kinds of paints, oil pastels, charcoal, and clay or other sculpture materials to record what they notice here as scientists! Their writing skills will be practiced here and will be informational writing as they record their wonders and observations. They will practice reading and research skills as they read informational books about what they are exploring. I started out with some simple nature materials.

The Art Studio is a corner of our room dedicated to fostering Creative Thinking Skills, though some Science happens here also within art! We start out with very limited materials, but as I teach them how to use and take care of different artists tools, more is made available for them to use when they want. Throughout the year they will use tempura paint, acrylic paint, watercolors, tempera cakes, oil and chalk pastels, charcoal, and many kinds of brushes. They will also use oil based clay, play dough, mud clay, wire, beads, pipe cleaners, recyclables etc. to create sculptures and loose parts to create transient art.

At the big beginning of the year my sand table is covered up. This will be a place where they can have the wonderful sensory experiences of running their fingers through sand and water. They will explore the concepts of cause and effect along with measuring volume. They will also write creative stories here after they play what we call “small world play.” That is when they use small animals or people and materials I set out to create an environment and play with them. This play creates very creative stories! They then write narratives about what went on with the characters they played with, so writing skills are also fosters in this area. They are also sequencing events in a story and showing that a story has a beginning, middle and end. 

For now, I have a fine motor activity to help strengthen their finger muscles to prepare for holding a pencil correctly and writing. Homemade play dough and dried lavender will be set out along with objects to explore texture and patterns. They can work those muscles by kneading the lavender into the play dough.

Another area we have is our MakerSpace! This area is not opened right away as it is a hard area for them to take care of at first. Here they start out by using their writing skills to create a plan on a planning template kept in this area. In the beginning they just draw and label a picture of what they are going to make. As they build stamina in writing, they must write the name of what they are creating, draw a colored picture using correct colors they plan on using, label the parts, and make a list of materials they will need including how many and what color. It takes a good while for them to plan, but this prevents them from gluing all the materials available into one mountain of materials. Here they will be engineers as they create magnificent things and as I put out STEM challenges here, or they will be artists creating collages and sculptures. I rely heavily on parent donations of items and recyclables for this area.

Here is my desk and my small group table (pardon the mess) where I do guided reading and work with kids in small groups or individually in writing, math and projects. 

That is our room! As you can see, reading, writing, science and math are all incorporated, practiced and used in all areas of our room. I set out the materials and as they explore and play, they learn and apply the skills I have been introducing them to. It is through play that they will learn the 21st Century Skills needed to be successful in future grades and careers. Without play, those skills will suffer. Now the only thing missing are precious little children to come and explore!

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