Preparing the Environment

Topic Progress:

“Children are miracles. Believing that every child is a miracle can transform the way we design for children’s care. When we invite a miracle into our lives we prepare ourselves and the environment around us…We make it our job to create, with reverence and gratitude, a space that is worthy of a miracle! Action follows thought. We can choose to design spaces for miracles, not minimums.” –Anita Rui Olds

Preparation for Story Workshop begins with our image of children. It begins with our beliefs and knowledge and trust in the incredible capacities of children. I know that the spaces we invite children to learn and live and connect and make meaning in matter. This is why I’m committed to communicating my strong image of children through the environment.

Maxine Greene writes,

“Learning is activated within situations of dialogical interchange, open questions, and environments rich enough to provoke proactive efforts to make sense.”

During Story Workshop, I work to create environments that invite, extend, and sustain these “proactive efforts to make sense.” This is why such a large part of our preparation focuses on the environment we are asking children to work within. I strive toward creating conditions in the environment that are playful, engaging, and naturally motivating, with multiple opportunities for all children to enter into the work.

My hope when preparing the environment and materials for Story Workshop is that the environment communicates my beliefs about children:

  • that they are competent and capable.
  • that they come to this work full of experiences and with stories worth telling.
  • that when given the time and tools to do so, they will readily and eagerly take every opportunity to share those stories, those pieces of themselves.
  • that they will do so because that is what we do as human beings, from the moment we are born: we share our stories to make sense of this world.
  • That their work in school will be to connect, understand, and build relationships with each other and the world.
  • That they will use their most innate and natural learning strategy to do all these things: PLAY!

I consider providing multiple kinds of spaces for telling stories: whole group, small group, with partners, and space to work independently.

I want to ensure there are quiet spaces, spaces dedicated to telling stories together, and spaces where a large variety of materials are readily available.

I wonder what can be accessible to the children. What kinds of materials might wake up memories of experiences I expect they might have? What kinds of materials are open-ended enough that they may invite possibilities I can’t yet imagine?

I work to create spaces that are flexible, which can be changed with the needs of the children or the classroom; spaces that can easily be moved, transformed, and offer multiple different possibilities.

I seek an environment where children are invited to play, to wonder, to be inspired, to ask questions, and to seek connections that support them in their work as authors. Through play and the use of materials, children are creating images to help communicate their ideas. Play creates images and images nurture words – which lead to more play, more images, and more words. The invitation of this reciprocal exchange is what I’m hoping to cultivate through the environment during Story Workshop.

I’d like to invite you to watch a short video of images from Opal School classrooms that highlight the kinds of qualities we are working to create as we prepare the environment for Story Workshop.

Preparing Environments for Story Workshop video

As you view these images, jot some notes down about what you notice.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS

Questions to guide your reflections, in your notebook:

  • What do you notice about the materials you see?
  • What motivations do you imagine lie behind the teacher’s willingness to give such detail to the preparation of these environments for Story Workshop? What do you predict are the outcomes of these efforts?
  • What do these environments communicate to children and about children? What do they communicate to adults and about adults?

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Designs for Living and Learning (Deb Curtis and Margie Carter)

Maxine Greene Center

The Environment as the ‘Third Teacher’ (Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority)

Course Discussion