By: Diane Kashin, Ed.D, RECE. When the physical environment acts as the third teacher it holds the potential to influence what and how children learn. Carter (2007) suggests that “if we are to embrace the idea of the environment as a significant educator in our early childhood programs, we must expand our thinking … We must ask ourselves what values we want to communicate through our environments and how we want children to experience their time in our programs” (p. 22). As we prepare for another school year to begin, expanding our thinking about environments is an important suggestion. As an early childhood educator, who supports the adult learner in workshops and consulting, I have been thinking about ways to engage others to think beyond the status quo. Recently, I facilitated a workshop at a Forest Retreat in Wisconsin and provided teachers with knives and peelers to whittle so that they could experience for themselves the wonders of whittling. Imagine the skills that a child can develop from whittling. Not only is whittling wood a pleasant past time, it is something that has spanned generations and is often a family tradition. Children can learn safety skills and they can explore their creativity. The experience will also contribute to their problem solving and critical thinking.
We found the perfect wood for whittling and the teachers spent hours together outside, creating all sorts of sticks – some suggested they could create counting or talking sticks while a few landed on the idea of magic sticks or wands. This got me to thinking about what I would do if I had a magic wand and could wave it to add three things to every early learning environment and then wave it again to remove three things from every early learning environment. What would these things be? I am curious to know what you the reader would do if you had a magic wand? I find it fascinating to learn from and with others. In previous posts with a little incentive such as a give away, I have been able to generate multiple comments on blog posts. Next week , Cindy Green and I are going to be announcing the winner of the “Loose Parts Give Away” from over 100 possible entries. Here is another chance for you to win something and all you have to do is comment and make your three suggestions for additions and three suggestions for deletions. I don’t yet know what I will give away as that will be a surprise! Will this ambiguity be enough to entice you to comment? Will you join me in magic wand thinking?
If I had a magic wand, every early learning environment would have two awesome sets of blocks, one for indoors and one for outdoors. In the tradition of the great Caroline Pratt, blocks are loose parts! In addition to children learning so much from blocks they are beautifully crafted from wood. For my grandson’s first birthday, he will get his own set! Every child should play with blocks!
If I had a magic wand, every learning early learning environment would have clay. I adore clay. It comes from the earth and can be used inside and outside. I get my clay from a local supplier and feel very fortunate to be able to share clay with educators in workshops so that they too can feel and experience this magical substance. Understanding the stages of development as they relate to clay helps us to realize that children need exposure to clay beginning at a very young age and continuing throughout childhood and beyond.
If I had a magic wand, instead of pre-determined costumes, every early learning environment would have fabric such as scarves, sheets, swatches and more. I love these rainbow scarves from Louise Kool and Galt. Just imagine the possibilities for play. One day they can be tied together and wrapped around the playground. Another day, they are used for dress up and another to dance to music. What would be your three additions? What about your deletions? For me it is plain and simple … I will be bold … worksheets, cut-outs or pre-cuts and cookie cutters shaped like cut-outs to be used with playdough should all be eliminated. Worksheets don’t work, pre-cuts or cut-outs reduce creativity, originality and are so much less beautiful than children’s own representations. Cookie cutters in shapes of jack-o-lanterns for Halloween or hearts for Valentine’s Day discourage the child from using the most important tools they have (their thinking and their hands) to create their own unique representations. What would be your three deletions when thinking of the environment as the third teacher? Please do some magic wand thinking and add your ideas to the comments below.