The environment as the third teacher by Louise Smith

13th June 2017

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The latest blog from Louise Smith as she discusses out with the old and in with the new…

We’ve recently had our 2-4 year old room repainted and I fell in love with how wonderful and clean it looked without the furniture and various velcroed pictures up on the walls. I felt calmer just looking at the blank canvas. Previously, it felt like being in a branch of TKMax; some people love to rummage through the muddled piles of clothes, whereas others break out in a sweat just looking at all the mess. Children, I realised, are the same, some thrive in order, some like the chaos, so I began to reduce the resources and rearrange the room with the notion that the environment is the third teacher and the children could choose what it looked like.

I had inherited a lot of old, clunky brown furniture which I swiftly replaced with low-level light furniture on wheels so the room could grow with the children. I cut the number of resources by two-thirds and invested in one or two new capacity toys from charity shops (stainless steel bowls in three different sizes). I began to read more and more about ‘In The Moment Planning’ which I had switched to without really realising as it really worked for my current cohort and with my Forest School ethos. I follow the children in their play with their interests and the new environment enabled me to add embellishments to progress their learning which wouldn’t get lost in the bottomless plastic boxes as before.

I removed the old, busy displays and replaced them with hessian backed spontaneous displays. Last week I read ‘Supertato‘ to the children for the 30th time and then announced that I was going to try and make my own Supertato book. I ended up with well over half the class drawing different characters from the book series and we made a display together which they add to every day. The display means something to them, it links to what they know and understand and they know the words that we have put on the display are their words spoken to me about their pictures.

Yet, I was still concerned that the environment wasn’t as word rich as it was but, why does a child need a light switch to be labelled? They know what it does and what it is called. I endeavoured to provide text in other ways. I added book baskets all around the room, together with writing materials so that the children could mark-make no matter where they were. I added wooden letters and name cards so that the children could write to each other. I also introduced a method of storytelling whereby the children make up a story together and watch me write it. At first, they said that they couldn’t make up stories as they weren’t grown ups, but now I cant write them down quick enough! Once we have written the story, they take photos or draw pictures which illustrate it, they help me to laminate the pages and then we put the book with the other published books. Now the children make their own books, without adult support, sounding out the words they want to write.

The difference in the engagement levels of the children was incredible after the new furniture and tidy-up time became exactly that! The children have more respect for their new room and the depth and quality of my observations have improved immensely. I won’t ever stop analysing and tweaking the room, just like my practice, I reflect upon the outcomes and constantly strive to make it the best that I can.

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