It’s not just another classroom with neutral colours, stones, and baskets. We live in Muskoka and our environment as the third teacher reflects our culture of living and how we encourage children to care for our forests. We spend lots of time exploring forests using a forest-school type approach: playing with bugs, building dens, and inquiring about animals and plants. Our environment is nature-based and contains lots of plants, natural materials, light and shadow play, sensory and small-world play with open-ended materials like loose parts where children can come play to construct their own learning. We follow a reggio-inspired philosophy in our room that is about much more than just neutral colours, stones, and baskets.
The environment as the third teacher plays an integral role in our play-based learning classroom both indoors and outdoors. Invitations for learning (or provocations) are essentially centres that are co-created by educators and children to spark and inspire wonder and curiosity. They are centred around children’s interest with intentional materials that promote deeper thinking skills, as well as math and literacy skills. These materials provide learning opportunities through playfully enriching environments for children to bump into literacy and math throughout their day. Children are actively involved in deciding the direction of learning each and every day. Through discovery, exploration of playful and intentional materials children are able to construct their own knowledge and understanding. This process of constructing their own knowledge in turn makes the learning more meaningful, relevant, and powerful. Invitations for learning allow students to apply knowledge they are constructing with and in amongst a community of learners.
We like to organize the design of the room in a way that feels open and creates a nice flow. The tables are in approximately a third of the room as this makes the space feel large and open.
We have a teepee for and are respectful our the land that is rich with native culture. Our land is right beside the Oxtongue River in Dwight, ON, where indigenous people would travel every summer to get to Algonquin Park to hunt for food and clothing. We also have a Trading Post close by. We continue to learn about our land’s history from the Lake of Bays Heritage Foundation.
We believe in displaying tools so children can self-select what they need. We like the placement of shelves/cupboards near sensory tables so children can access their own tools independently. The same goes for the art space as children can get what they need when they need it. Our art area has a mirror in the middle of the table where we have a lazy susan with art utensils in metal containers, mini easels to display books or art samples for inspiration, and mini chalkboards where we write prompts. An art display board has picture framed to display student art. Most of our tables have provocational prompts on them with open-ended materials, writing utensils and clipboards. We believe writing materials should be all over the room to invite children to express themselves through writing. We have one table set aside for loose parts that changes around student interest. We also have 4 sensory tubs that we stack under the loose parts tables that is covered by a table cloth. Our sand trays are kept under there as well. Our maker space includes shelving to house recycle materials, tools, etc. The round writing table is in a corner and quieter space with a lazy susan in the middle. It has many tin cups with beautiful pens, permanent markers, feathers for calligraphy, and folders where each student can organize photographs of their learning. They can use these photos as inspiration for writing in addition to their writing books, letters, cards, etc. One of our shelves has a sign that reads, “unfinished projects for children to come back to at a later date. Children are encouraged to write something like, “please don’t touch!”.
We believe having a dramatic play centre in a corner of a room is important as this space can get louder than other centres while children are exploring communication through role play. Conversely, having the quiet area well away from the dramatic play centre allows children a space for self-regulation, puzzles, reading, etc. An aspect of our flow of the space is that our light table and teepee are in a darker quiet corner. The teepee is a quiet cozy nook while the light table provides a calming sensory experience in a quiet space that encourages problem-solving skills. We gave away our teacher desk years ago as we found it takes up a great deal of space and that it was more important to use every space we could for the children. Instead of having a desk we place our important documents in cupboards and plans and on clipboards hanging from the wall. This also allows our plans to be made visible to anyone entering our room. Another item we gave away was the guided reading table as I believe they reflect a more teacher-directed style of instruction as opposed to student-directed learning where children are viewed as a competent and capable.
View of our building shelves near our community carpet.
View of another building shelf near our community carpet.
View of our cubby area where we use some space to create a quiet/calming area with a magnet and lego table.
On the wall near the building centre we have some mirrors that reflect the structures that the children are able to create. There is also a platform there for children to build their structures on. The blocks are on the large community carpet where our SMARTboard and literacy cart are. This is where we do our whole group learning (i.e. knowledge building circles, music, literacy and math). Since children love surfaces to play on we have a set aside some shelves near a carpet that have different small world play or playscape. Children paint backdrop scenes and together the children and educators co-create the invitation to play whether it be an arctic landscape, ocean with pirates, or fairy garden. We have tried to maximize all areas in our room: even our cubby area. Since our class has empty cubbies we have built up the bench into a magnet table and lego table with a lego wall. We put a bench there so children can sit and create with metal, magnets, Magnetix, Magformers, etc. We put christmas lights along the hooks to maintain a calm atmosphere. Each centre has spaces on walls or backs and side of shelves to post documentation to make learning visible and spur thinking forward. We are in the process of looking for a trellis to display more documentation that can be clipped with clothespins and become a room divider near our art centre.
View of our cabinets with co-created number line and shelf containing spectrum of open-ended materials. Behind are our cubbies with sticks and clothes pins to display student work. This table is another sensory table. Right now it has cloud dough in it and a portable sensory tray on top.
We also have lots of plants and an herb garden near the windows. Counters are displayed with different inquiry materials that invite students to come play and explore their interests. These are continually changed based around child-led interest. Out in the hall we have a few shelves with literacy and math games for small group instruction.
We have a piece of mural paper when you first enter Kinderland that asks, “What do you want to learn about?”. Children are continually writing questions and wonderings and we use this as a guide for selecting inquiries. We believe this prompt sets the stage of exploration and inquiry in our learning environment. Hope you’ve enjoyed the tour.