Nancy Wood, a beloved children’s librarian, says, “Environment is a teacher that we kind of take for granted. We don’t always realize what environment can do in teaching the child.” The environment allows children to discover new things and learn in a variety of ways. There are many ways to set up an environment in your home or school that will help foster learning for young children.
It is helpful to have a structure for children’s learning environments. In a school or library setting, teachers can start with an opening and closing song, for example. Each session can follow the same general structure. In the home, parents can set aside a consistent time for children to have access to this learning environment.
Give children open-ended toys to play with. This means toys that don’t just do one thing. These kinds of toys can be used in a variety of different scenarios. Children can put their own imagination into these open-ended toys, rather than the toy telling the child what to do. Usually these kinds of toys are simple and not battery operated. These are things like blocks, dolls, puppets, cars and many more. Even non-traditional toys, like empty boxes, or real-life objects, like pans and wooden spoons can open a child’s imagination. When choosing toys, find toys that are fun and engaging, and children will want to return to them again and again.
Crafts are also best used for learning when they are open ended. When children are provided with craft materials and allowed to decide what to make, their imaginations are able to grow. Often, a child will put his or her experiences into the craft, coming up with a story to go with it.
When working with young children, we can foster their natural creativity by letting the crafts be the child’s works of art—and not having a right or wrong way to complete it.
Music and Language
Music is another great tool to add to a learning environment. Nancy says, “Music is a key factor in helping children hear differences in language.” She adds that it also helps with vocabulary and understanding language concepts. Singing with a child is especially powerful. Through repetition, children will better understand these concepts.
When caregivers and parents are playing and spending time with children, they can take the time to narrate what the child is doing. This will give the child new words and concepts.
Reading aloud is another element of the learning environment. When reading, you don’t have to stick to the words on the page. Use the book just as a starting point! The book can turn into playtime by acting things out, or using toys to act out what the child is hearing. The more the child gets involved with the book, the more they will enjoy reading.
Setting up a learning environment for children is something that parents, educators, librarians and child care providers all strive to do. Adding these elements to a child’s learning environment will enhance learning and growth for children.