One of my biggest passions is creating adaptive learning environments that are inclusive, welcoming, and nurturing for diverse children and their families in the early childhood education setting, regardless of religious affiliation or economic background. As such, teaching the course EDU 314 - The Indoor and Outdoor Environments: A Classroom View here at AJU is an incredible opportunity for me to bring my passion and knowledge to other educators.
This course will investigate principles, models, techniques, and materials for creating learning environments for young children both inside and outdoors. Through the integration of theory, practice, and observation, we will explore how to use the environment for enhanced teaching, learning and development. Attention will be given to learning new ways to observe and examine within the students’ current environment through using one’s current classroom as a laboratory for experimentation and reflection. The course also supports each learner's understanding that all classroom environments are inherently unique and strives to push learners to form her or his own classroom environment philosophy as well as how to adapt for their particular learners.
I strive to add additional Jewish content to the course and as we move through the semester, we will dive into the holidays of Tu B’Shvat, Purim, Pesach, Lag B’Omer and Shavuot. We will also discuss and explore Yom Haatzmaut and Yom Hashoah and how we can mark these important days in the families and young children’s lives whom we serve.
In this week’s class, we discussed Tu B’Shvat, the new year for the Trees. The students met in break-out rooms where they first created their own trees using whichever objects they could find around their homes. Using loose parts and open-ended materials in the ECE setting invites creativity, innovation, problem-solving and encourages imagination. The students noticed that we all came up with completely different ways to create our trees and we discussed the value of offering open-ended materials for the children to express themselves creatively. The students also discussed various ways to introduce, teach and create experiences in their classrooms for Tu B’Shvat. We discussed how Tu B’shvat is the perfect time to learn about nature’s life cycles and doing so in the outdoor environment.
There are many advantages to being outdoors with young children and I view both the indoor and outdoor environments to be equally important in the overall development of the children in our care. When children are offered ample time to explore the outdoors they become little scientists, as they observe and engage with nature. Children make sense of their world by exploring it, and the outdoors is the perfect place to engage children in dramatic and engineering play. Think mud pies, and sandcastle construction, as the children reinvent themselves as their favorite super heroes and role models. They explore cause and effect, gravity and learn how to problem solve and cooperate with their peers all while playing! The outdoor classroom also promotes physical health as children are walking, running, and climbing which in turn boost brain development and the ability to retain learnt content.
I believe in the relevance of child-centered play, and encourage my students, teachers, and staff to teach with intention through thoughtful, respectful interactions with the students, and well-designed and utilized indoor and outdoor spaces to facilitate real world exploration, learning, and growth. A supportive, meaningful, child-emergent environment is essential for all children to discover that knowledge and community are both built over time, that learning is about the process rather than the end product, and that meaning and purpose can both be found within their reach. This whole child approach, coupled with the willingness to question our own practices when a child is not thriving, and to work unceasingly to enhance each child’s educational experience is a huge part of what enables us to help each child grow at their own pace.