New Furniture is Nice But Interactions and Teaching Process Actually Matter
Appearances are not everything and in this social media world, we sometimes forget and focus on the wrong things. We are so used to pictures and appearance everywhere that we forget that what we see isn’t necessarily substance. This is particularly troublesome in the world of early childhood education.
I have toured the most magnificent buildings and heard teachers yelling at young children. I have been shown the new furniture and winced at the meaningless projects been done on them. I have admired the very expensive playground equipment while witnessing teachers barking at children, talking to each other and missing teachable moments. I have also been in preschools in at-risk neighborhoods that had older puzzles, blocks, furniture and fading paint but seen very meaningful interactions and deep learning.
Recently, several articles have been in newspapers, magazines and in social media about the importance of classroom setting. Yes, settings need to be developmentally appropriate offering many opportunities for exploration and self-expression; however, that is not only benchmark by which we should determine the quality of a program.
Don’t let appearances be the only means by which you determine the quality of the experience that young children will have in a setting. Use all of your senses to form a more comprehensive impression of an early childhood setting. To use all of your senses, be sure to visit when classes are actually in session and note the following:
Listen: Are the sounds coming from classrooms pleasant? Are the classrooms respectful of children with all different processing styles?
- Behavioral lessons should be taught with calm and kindness. You should hear staff members interacting with children with the same respectful tones we are trying to teach them.
- We now know that constant background noise can be very troublesome for young learners. The days of music constantly in the background are in the past. It is respectful to all students to understand that some children cannot function well with sensory overload and background music in the usual busy-ness of a preschool classroom is overwhelming and detrimental.
- You should hear conversation. There is a big difference between talking with and talking at students. When we talk with students, we teach them how to have conversations and we enhance their literacy learning. Teachers should be asking good, open ended questions and encouraging their students to interact.
Look: Do you see evidence of self-expression or do all products look alike? Do you see children looking like they know they belong and freely moving around the classrooms?
- Parents like crafts because they can relate to what they are seeing; however, those paint blobs and scribbles are actually what you want to be sure to see. Self-expression teaches young children decision making skills. It shows them that their own thoughts have value. Self-expressive and open ended art teaches social/emotional lessons as children create and show pride in their own work. Some crafts are fine – they do help the teacher to hone in on particular motor skill practice and the social lesson of following teacher directives. They should not be the only thing you see by any means.
- And if you see worksheets, beware. Worksheets and workbooks are not developmentally appropriate learning for early childhood settings.
Smell: Do you smell the bleach/disinfectant being used?
- It’s true – early childhood settings where diapers are changed will have a less than pleasant smell sometimes. You should, however, still smell evidence of the consistent cleaning that should be happening in classrooms.
Taste: Are children offered healthy food? What is happening with the other classroom items they attempt to taste?
- You may not have the opportunity to taste yourself but you should note what the students are tasting. Appropriate portions of healthy food should be offered by schools that provide snack and/or meals. If parents send food to school, it is harder to control but anything provided by the school on a steady basis should provide nutritional value.
- It is age-appropriate for very young children to attempt to taste more than food. They learn about their world through all of their senses. Classroom items that are tasted should be put separately for disinfecting. They should not simply be put back with all of the toys.
Touch: Are the students permitted to touch everything within their reach and are all toys, books, etc in their classrooms reachable? Is there respect for the autonomy of their bodies?
- It is important that young children can make choices. How do they learn decision making if they never make decisions? Everything in an early childhood classroom should be available for them to touch and explore. If they are not allowed to touch, it shouldn’t be in their space.
- We try to teach body boundaries and respect for the human body so teachers should be demonstrating that. Staff members should be respecting the students’ personal space, not grabbing them (unless there is a dire emergency) and modeling the body behavior they expect.
Do you look around your early childhood setting or your child’s preschool and think, “This furniture is kind of old” or “It could use some paint in here.” It may be true but if the furniture isn’t broken and the paint isn’t peeling, don’t fret. Old furniture and a dated paint job are not nearly as important as the daily interactions and the process of learning that takes place every day.
You may also want to read:
- Shopping for a Preschool
- Put Away the Workbook and Engage in Early Literacy Learning
- Does Your Preschool Care About Relationship Development?
- Art vs Craft: The Difference in What Children Learn
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