Nature is an incredibly powerful aspect of classroom environment design. It provides an infinite supply of experiences. It also conveys a sense of calmness and a home-like quality to provide a conducive learning environment for children.
Therefore, we decided to make number posters from sticks and pebbles (in 2019). Note: This is a great activity that can be done while still maintaining social distancing between students!! Add to the activity by taking the class outside for a much-needed breather and break to collect the pebbles and sticks. You can then add in additional objectives prior to gluing them such as counting, sorting, placing in length or size order, patterning, etc.
This activity not only brought in some nature to the environment but it was also incorporated multiple learning targets:
Numerals- how they are formed= straight and curved lines
The vocabulary of horizontal, vertical and diagonal
Measurement: measured with cubes to determine the length of the stick needed
Pour sand, dirt, or water from one container to another. How many small containers full of sand/water does it take to fill the big one? Can you pour it without spilling a drop?
3. Draw shapes, letters or numbers using a paintbrush and water on the garage door (large, vertical writing is great for both fine motor and gross- motor development. Tape paper on the garage wall to draw on.
4. Clean the sidewalk using a spray bottle and water.
5. Fill each section of an egg carton with dirt, make a small hole, and pinch 3 seeds to place them in the hole. Use a spray bottle filled with water to give the seeds a drink. Remember to spray the dirt and the growing plants with water each day.
Collect nuts, pebbles, and/or leaves and then sort them. How many ways can you sort the items you found?
Collect pinecones and snap off each piece. Design a picture out of them by laying them on the driveway or gluing them on paper.
10 Frames are magical tools to build number sense in our young children instead of just rote counting. A strong sense of “10” will enable children to see relationships between numbers. Children need to first develop this strong understanding of the numbers 1-10 before they begin to work with larger numbers.
They are two identical rectangles stacked on top of each other divided into five equal segments- thus a “10 frame.”
A 10 Frame is a tool to help children be able to visualize the quantity of numbers, compose and decompose numbers. A 10 Frame supports children’s knowledge of 10 by visually seeing patterns and numbers. For example, if the top row of 5 is filled and the bottom row has three, we want children to be able to automatically think of this quantity in relationship to 10 and state that the quantity is 8 because two are missing.
10 Frames can be incorporated into the curriculum throughout the day- not just to use only as a tool during math time.
Allow children to play with 10 frames during free-choice play time…
Allowing children to play with 10 Frames during free-choice play centers
Incorporating 10 Frames into a Behavioral Challenge…
Taking Attendance using a Question of the Day and a 10 Frame…
Allowing students to produce the number posters for the classroom…
We are Teachers provides some great hands-on activities to play using a 10 Frame.
THE BENEFITS OF OPEN-ENDED ART…
Children learn so many more skills than they would in the same amount of time completing a template art activity designed by the teacher that often holds no interest for the child.
Sometimes, we provide provocations to incorporate our learning objectives while still providing the students freedom to express their own creativity and personality.
A very reflective teacher chose a different way to create pumpkins this year. The students practiced cutting on a straight line on paint chips. They also then drew and cut their own pumpkin shapes instead of cutting on a teacher developed template. Students were learning fine motor cutting skills along with math skills of shapes and counting, critical thinking, problem-solving, and proportions.
EXPLORING THE COLORS OF AUTUMN:
This is also a great time to explore the beautiful colors of autumn.
Autumn is also a great time for classroom art projects in which students can choose to work on a project together- building collaborative skills along with creativity and fine motor.
More information on the benefits of open-ended art, see blog post: Honoring the Process
State standards require children to explain, describe, define, ask, compare and contrast, respond, and so on.
To accomplish these skills, children need an expanded expressive vocabulary to both describe and tell the use of many familiar objects and to incorporate new, less familiar or technical words in everyday conversations.
Block/Construction Building, Designing and Play offers excellent opportunities for introducing, reinforcing and expanding upon vocabulary while children are engaged in fun, hands-on experiences. While the teacher is interacting with the students during block play expanded vocabulary can be introduced and reinforced through questioning, scaffolding, and “I wonder” or “I notice” statements.
Examples of Vocabulary to Introduce/Reinforce during Block Play:
Block play can be used to challenge, scaffold, and
extend children’s learning through the intentional
placement of additional accessories.
An intentionally designed block center encourages students to construct meaning of their world, to encounter problems and discover multiple solutions, to interact and share with others, to extend their creativity and to reflect on their discoveries. -D. Honegger
Examples to intentionally design the block/construction center to incorporate academic standards: (this is just a sample…)
artificial plants, plastic animals, felt and/or material, and accessories to build habitats for the animals
Intentionally Designed Block Play for Geography journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Geography Provocations in Construction Play journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Geography: maps, road signs or the materials to make road signs, shower curtain laid out with grids, small wooden buildings or even individual cleaned out milk cartons to become buildings, Familiar signs, such as “One Way,” “School Crossing,” “Bus Stop”, “STOP”, tongue depressors for making fences, door and dresser knobs, small vehicles
Intentionally Designed Block Play with Natural Elements journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Earth and environment: natural materials such as acorns, shells, rocks, pinecones, wood cookies, stumps, and twigs. Stumps are great for encouraging vertical building.
Intentionally Designed Block Play Incorporating Visual Arts journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Visual Arts: clipboard with markers, colored pencils to add designs to the structures and/or to make a “blueprint” or map of the structure.
Geometry: 3D shapes (which rolls the best on a ramp- a cube, a sphere, a cone, a cylinder, etc.), tin cans, flat pieces such as a ceiling fan blade, long sticks (discuss parallel, perpendicular, diagonal, horizontal and vertical lines), tile or linoleum samples, PCV pipes. canning jar lids
Intentionally Designed Block Center Physical Science journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Intentionally Designed Block Play Wide Range of Cognitive Skills journeyintoearlychildhood.com
Wide Range of Cognitive and Developmental Skills: hard hats, food containers, dollhouse people, steering wheel and any other materials that will encourage dramatic play within blocks to move students building, design, and play to a more complex level
Four and five-year-old children are very capable and independent. If manila and colored construction paper, a few crayons, scissors, masking tape, and string are always available in or near the block corner, the children will begin to make their own signs and draw trees, people, and other things they need, thereby using their imagination in a constructive, purposeful way.
Note: The above lists are simply suggestions. Obviously, no teacher will ever put out all these accessories at once. However, the larger your supply of odds and ends, the better you will be able to help the children in the block corner when they begin to need accessories for specific purposes.
WOW! Teachers in the Union Public Schools in Tulsa, OK are incredible. I recently had the opportunity to visit some of their classrooms. They so graciously allowed me to take pictures to share with you the intentionality of their classroom design.
The environment in which children spend their day at school needs to support developmentally appropriate practices that allow children to freely move, to explore with hands-on opportunities, to engage in dramatic play experiences, to build social/emotional skills, and to develop their symbolic thinking and cognitive flexibility among others.
Learning theories from constructivism to social learning
to experiential learning underscore the importance of
active and inquiry-based learning, knowledge construction
through interaction with the environment, social contexts
and meaningful experiences.
-“Most Influential Theories of Learning,” Unesco Education
Intentional Design for hands-on exploration while encouraging symbolic thinking, problem solving, and cognitive flexibility.
Intentionally Designed Art Centers that encourage the process of art instead of the product, and free exploration of creative ideas instead of template art.
Intentional Design of the Classroom Aesthetics so that the students can live and breathe in a beautiful space. Use of natural colors as we use in our homes for a calming effect.
Intentional Design of Student Contributions, the classroom belongs to the students. It should be a reflection of the students instead of the teachers passions or “cutesy/pinteresty” type themes.
Intentional Design to Include Dramatic Play. Students require dramatic play experiences to build executive functioning skills.
Instead of letter of the week, children benefit from exposure to all letters with meaningful experiences. Children need to compare and contrast letters based on formation and sounds. To help students with comparison, we can provide multiple experiences for them to sort letters.
As noted by researches Fountas and Pinnell:
“Children’s first efforts at matching and sorting may be with letters of different shapes or colors, but they can soon learn to sort letters, match letters, find letters with features in common such as tails, circles, short sticks, tall sticks, tunnels, dots, capitals, and so on. Their time spent sorting letters in a myriad of ways is essential to learning how to look at print in the early levels. They need to develop fast, flexible recognition of letters. Begin with just a few letters rather than all twenty-six, and concentrate on the lowercase letters and get the children to develop speed in matching or sorting.“
From Guided Reading: Responsive Teaching Across the Grades by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Copyright (C) 2017 by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell. Published by Heinemann.
Students into design of classroom and visuals on walls
Classroom walls are a public statement about the educational values of the teacher.
The challenge is to ponder how the walls can be used to enhance the educational objectives while including the students as a part of the learning.
If the students are allowed to create or co-create the displays on the walls, they will refer to, look at and engage with them more often making them learning materials instead of visual noise.
The walls should invite engagement, wonder and imagination; reflect the student’s learning, have an emotional or meaningful connection to the students and engage children in active interaction with the displays.
Classrooms should be filled with natural elements… not only are natural items great learning tools but they also enhance your space with beauty.
Displays should be hung on a simple neutral or natural background with neutral border to decrease visual over-stimulation.