Overview: The environment in which you set up for you child to learn helps motivate them to test out new ideas and concepts. You don’t need to force your child to learn letters and numbers when you have an encouraging home preschool environment.
Welcome to the #ChildLedEnvironments Series where we are exploring how to set up and cultivate an environment conducive to child-led learning.
- How to Cultivate a Love of Learning
- Toy Rotation: Why It’s Beneficial for You and Your Child
- How to Incorporate an Encouraging Home Preschool Environment
- 9 Reasons Why Worksheets Are Inappropriate for Young Children
- 4 Aspects of the Adult’s Role in a Child-Led Approach
Where’s your favorite place to think, read, or learn?
Personally, I love my bathtub. The warm water just helps me relax and opens my mind to new learning opportunities. I know…I’m strange!
Even though kids learn a great deal in their bathtubs, we can’t host our whole day there. So how do we create an encouraging environment that will help our kids grow and learn through a child-led approach?
We value space, to create a handsome environment and its potential to inspire social, affective, and cognitive learning. The space is an aquarium that mirrors the ideas and values of the people who live in it.-Loris Malaguzzi
The environment is a part of your teaching strategy. We can’t just throw a bunch of toys in a bin and call it a day. You need to give yourself time to reflect and set up an area that will encourage your child to freely explore, learn, and grow.
What is an Encouraging Home Preschool Environment?
This is the area in which your child will spend the majority of his day, so it should be a place where he feels safe to explore. An encouraging environment should provide multiple exposures to concepts and provide multi-sensory ways to explore them.
Let’s take letters for example. In our learning area, I have a letter “station.” In this area, I have letter puzzles, letter books, sandpaper letters, magnetic letters, a salt tray, and writing utensils.
Even though Sicily is only a toddler, she does have an interest in letters, so I provide her with different ways to explore the letters with the various senses.
An encouraging home preschool environment provides meaningful exposure. Meaningful to the child…not you!
In order for a child to be ready to learn, he needs to have a reason to learn it. He needs to see the concept in action and have multiple opportunities to play with the concept in order to develop his own reason for learning it.
Related: What Do I Need to Teach My Child and When Do I Teach It
Meaningful exposure means the child can relate to the materials and concepts. The items you decide to add to your environment should match your child’s interests and the signs he is showing that he’s ready to learn certain concepts.
By placing new objects and toys in the learning area, you are supporting meaningful exposure by helping them identify new interests.
Learning styles should also be kept in mind when trying to decide if the object would bring meaningful exposure to the environment. You want to represent all learning styles, but the majority of your learning tools and toys should represent your child’s strongest learning style.
Related: How to Cater to Your Child’s Learning Style
An encouraging environment also shows the value of learning concepts without forcing it upon your child. Your environment should help your child understand the purpose of learning different concepts.
When they have a purpose for learning, they will want to use the concept or tool intentionally. However, intentionally may not always be the “right” way in our eyes. By intentionally, I mean they will be using the tools to help them learn whatever it is they want to learn in a way they want to learn it.
What Does an Encouraging Home Preschool Environment Look Like?
1. Clutter Free
A child can be overstimulated very easily. Having a lot of clutter or even a lot of toys in your learning area can overstimulate a child, which can cause them to not reach deep, concentrated play where all the learning happens.
Materials should be organized and easy to find. Shelves work best in a learning area. They make it easy to see what’s available, plus clean up is easier because every toy has a home. Toys should be placed in a neat row, or for small shelves, one toy per shelf to help cut back on clutter.
I like to keep toys to a minimum as well. Less toys equals more engaged play. I have little stations set up in my learning area. They are a letter/math exploration, a construction station, a pretend play station, an art station, and our toys. I only have 3-4 toys in each station, except our toy area has 10. Then I rotate the toys every time we change themes or about every 2 weeks.
When setting up your area, every toy/tool on your shelves should serve a meaningful purpose. As you lay each toy on a shelf ask yourself,
Why is it here?
What is the benefit of this toy/tool?
The answer should relate to the goals/skills your child is ready to work on and their interests.
For small areas, you won’t really be able to set up stations. My recommendation is to assign one shelf per “station.” So you would have one or two materials that relate to each type of station.
2. Wide Range of Materials
It’s important to offer a wide range of materials for your child. Every child learns in a different way, and having a variety of materials helps them explore their interests in multi-sensory ways and with meaningful exposure.
This doesn’t mean a lot of materials. Remember we want to be clutter free and each material should have a purpose for being out.
Your shelves should include books, letters, math tools, loose parts, materials related to their interests, art materials, and construction materials.
Related: Encouraging Environments Mini Course
3. Provide Opportunities to Make Learning Visible
This goes along with a wide variety of materials. Children are hands on learners, no matter what their learning style is. They need to experience every concept using all of their senses.
It’s important to provide materials that allows them to construct their learning and make it visible. Materials such as paint, drawing tools, clay, playdough, loose parts, and blocks are a must in a Tot School and Home Preschool environment.
4. Always Available
These materials should be available for your child 100% of the time. Yes, you can keep paint on a shelf where they can reach it 24/7.
The key is to teach them early on how to use these materials properly and to set your expectations. Children will obey our expectations when we make them clear and teach them what they mean. They need you to model what you want them to do and be consistent with your expectations.
It’s important to remember that even after teaching them how to use materials accidents will happen sometimes. Usually these accidents are purely accidents and not intentional. To keep a positive learning environment, we don’t want to punish a child for these accidents. Simply have them help you clean it up and quietly remind them of the expectations if needed.
Materials that are not in rotation should also be available at all times. Children get ideas and want to learn about different things all day long. Even though the farm set was out two weeks ago, your child may have a breakthrough and need to explore the farm set again. If they ask for it, bring it out.
Allow them to ask for materials that are put away. We never really know what’s going on in their brains, and providing any material they ask for, within reason, may just be the key to unlocking a new skill.
5. Playful Experiences
An encouraging home preschool environment is all about learning through child-led play. Providing 1-2 invitations in your learning area per day gives them the learning experiences that relate to their interests.
But learning through play isn’t always in our hands. Children can learn through the play that they create if we give them the time to get to a deep concentrated play.
Related: Play and Learn: Can You Do Them at the Same Time?
We try to have 2-3 hours of free play each day. I introduce any activities that have directions in the morning before we start playing. Most of the activities I plan are invitations, so I set them up the night before. They don’t need any direction because these invitations are completely child-led.
I try to encourage Sicily to explore them in a certain way by the materials I provide.
6. Not Always in One Room
An encouraging home preschool environment is not contained to one room. Learning is constant and all around us in our everyday interactions.
Part of the encouraging environment is the everyday experiences. Look for letters and numbers as you’re driving. Count the steps as you go up and down. Cook together. Tend to the garden. Make a list and go grocery shopping.
There are so many learning opportunities in these everyday experiences, and an added bonus if your child sees you use letters and numbers in everyday life.
7. Always Changing
Your home preschool room should be ever changing. When your child develops a new interest or shows new signs of readiness, switch out the materials to meet their needs.
I typically rotate materials on a 2 week basis, but I don’t rotate all the toys. I purposely think about each material I put on or take off a shelf. The cars have been on our shelves for 3 months now because Sicily plays with them every day. She loves lining them up, and will reach deep, concentrated play with them.
What’s Your Role in an Encouraging Home Preschool Environment?
The adult plays an important role in an encouraging environment, but it may not seem like it. Your job is to be a guide.
Model everyday uses of important concepts like reading and writing in meaningful, real situations. Let them see you write your grocery list before heading to the store. Sit down and read one of your own books. Show them how reading is important by reading a recipe to make a yummy treat.
When we let our kids see us using these skills we are naturally giving them motivation to learn the skills on their own.
The adults role is to encourage learning of these skills without being pushy. That means you are not quizzing them while playing. Questions such as “What color truck are you playing with? should not be used. Instead add it in naturally by saying something like “I want to play with the red truck. Can you please hand it to me?”
Your role is to provide the materials needed for learning the skills and interests your child is ready for then becoming the puppet in their play. Sit back and wait to be invited into their play, if they even invite you. Let them lead and do as they say. It’s their turn to construct knowledge, not your turn to force it upon them.
Be encouraging and let them figure it out on their own. When your child asks a questions say “Let’s figure this out together.” or “I think we have some materials to help us figure this out.” Then set up an invitation or head to the library to find the answers together. A child who investigates their own theories and answers will have a deeper understanding.
An encouraging environment is not hard to obtain, but it can pull us out of our comfort zones. Creating an encouraging home preschool environment is worth every uncomfortable step because we are setting our kids up for deep, engaged, meaningful learning experiences. This type of learning experience results in a deeper understanding and love of learning.