I have always paid attention to children closely. And as a child I became keenly aware of how sensitive I am to the environment around me. One of the things I have always known in my guts is that children are inquisitive. If we set up a lovely, prepared environment for them, they will have the most opportunity for independence and creativity. Loris Malaguzzi, the founder of the municipal schools in Reggio Emilia, Italy, called the classroom environment the “Third Teacher.”
The “prepared environment” is Maria Montessori’s concept that the environment can be designed to facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration by the child. -North American Montessori Teachers’ Association
If I prepare an environment that is highly attuned to the children that I anticipate welcoming in September, and keep it that way, I am getting it mostly wrong. A thoughtful learning environment anticipates the children, but listens to children and adapts to their interests and needs. It is not the same in June as it was in September, and that is an absolutely natural and expected outcome in my learning space.
In the picture here to the right, I brought in a log from my farm. I fully expected it to just be a cool wood piece to have in our science room for the children to investigate along with other natural materials. It took the children only a few minutes of inquiry to discover that there were ants laying eggs in it, and that it was full of ants. They were entranced! I put the wood in my tactile table to attempt at containing the ants.
Some of the children wanted to get closer up and see the ants deep in the wood. It is important to note that they are NOT poking them in the above picture, but rather letting the ants crawl on the sticks and viewing them. The child in the long blue sleeves was very distraught that anyone would potentially hurt the ants, and he took on the role of public safety officer. The ant log was so captivating that a small group of children continued to work with it for two school days, until I decided to put the wood in the garden and let the ants carry about their lives.
These children are engaged in the inquiry of investigating straws. Children adore cutting things that cut easily. Have you ever cut play dough with regular scissors? Cut open a tight zip-tie? It feels satisfying, doesn’t it? Cutting straws feels amazing. Trust me. Try it right now. SEE??? Why would you not let your Kindergarteners cut straws? Better yet, let them cut straws and then stab them into play dough! Can you imagine how much they are learning? They are building fine motor skills, problem solving, supporting language development, designing, engaged in social interaction and activating their sensorimotor systems.
The close-up is of my little buddy that is so sensorily driven that he loves to touch everyone’s hair no matter if they want him to or not. Having a sensory activity for him is crucial. And there is NOTHING WRONG with him. He knows what he needs. Developmental psychology supports this-children know what they need to know. He knows he needs to touch things to learn about them. In this picture he is opening up the bellows on every single straw in the bin. He was so overjoyed to do this, I could see massive relief in him.
Here we are painting the head of our dragon for our Chinese New Year parade in February. I had cups of paint and long brushes and a banana box. Children just kept painting. If they covered up someone’s art, no problem. I started that “face,” and by the end it was totally different. It doesn’t matter. They were exploring. For them, the process is very much where the learning is.
When we really examine that, the process is where the learning is for all of us. Did I learn more from the time I was in college or from the diploma I’m holding? You get the picture.