What Does Your Centre Say About You?

What Does Your Centre Say About You?4es blog 34

How do you feel about the environment you work in or your child is in at preschool? Does it feel busy and chaotic or calm and organised? Not sure what makes it feel this way?

Chances are it’s the decoration and displays on the walls and windows surrounding you. Displays in an Early Childhood environment can be hugely varied and there is still a lot of debate about how important they are for children’s learning and their sense of belonging. There seems to be a growing shift in the sector towards the importance of ‘planned learning environments’.

The importance of the environment as having an integral role in the learning taking place may not be anything new. Children learn about the world based, somewhat on the environment around them. It is how these environments look that seems to be changing in many preschool settings.

The biggest debate between educators seems to concern differing philosophies on the use of displays in centres. ‘Decorated’ versus ‘bare’ walls and how these assist in the learning of children. In Montessori classrooms teachers create what is known as “the prepared environment” with open spaces and accessible learning materials. Reggio Emilia educators see the environment as the ‘third teacher’ and consideration is given to making displays ‘the visible trace of children’s thinking’ with artwork by the children featuring. Nature preschools are taking the inside outside and Steiner preschools like to incorporate objects from nature in play, art, display and sensory learning experiences. All these different environments have three key factors in common. They feature more natural light, less decoration and more natural materials.

But isn’t it true that children learn better when they are surrounded by words, numbers and bright, happy pictures? Is it??…. Researchers at Carneige Mellon studied the impact of brightly decorated preschools on “distractibility” and found that visual displays can have a huge impact on learning for young children. It is this idea that is leading many experienced educators to develop the ‘less is more approach’ in the aim of creating calmer, less distracting and overwhelming learning environments.

How many posters to do you have on the walls in your setting? How many of them are dog eared and tatty? How many of them are actually used, looked at and promote discussion? How long have they been there? Who are they there for? It is important that the environments children are in create a sense of belonging and ownership for them, but could they also feel overwhelmed by the amount of decoration?

So then, the challenge is to find a fit with your philosophy and what you want your environment to achieve for the children in it. Are wall displays essential artefacts or decorative clutter? Visually enriching or sensory overload? A necessity or a distraction? Promote discussion at your next staff meeting so you can all be on the same page about the type of displays you want. Here are some questions to raise in order to promote this discussion:

  1. What is the purpose of using displays in our learning environment?
  2. Where are they?
  3. Who are they for?
  4. How do they look from children’s eye height?
  5. What questions/discussion is promoted amongst children by the displays?
  6. What feedback have we had from families?
  7. Who is responsible for changing them?
  8. Are all the children represented?
  9. Is our community reflected?
  10. Do they invite/stimulate further learning
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