Environments matter.

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This beginning time of the year in our country, sees literally thousands of Educators across Australia scrambling to “get ready for the new year”.  And one of the things about the new year, is that it seems to always want us to make new beginnings.  I often wonder about this notion.  Why is it that time seems to just cut off, and then start again?  I mean, it’s really just a change of calendar dates…… isn’t it?

There does seem to be a huge focus on environments.  And I guess a new year is a great excuse to reflect, rethink, declutter and make changes.  What I do think gets missed in the process is the deeper thinking around why we are doing all this.  And who we are doing it for.  There is some argument that it is the “child’s space” and so the space should only be reflective of the child’s needs.  My issue with that thinking, is that there are adults who also live in these spaces….. spend a great portion of their lives here in fact.  Should that not entitle them to some consideration in design also?

“Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.”
~Earl Nightingale (American Entertainer)

I recently heard the statement that we should wait until we observe the children in the space, before we make any changes.  Wait?  I know in our environment, we already have a good knowledge of the children that will be in the rooms, and we’ve done some thinking and reflecting on what they will need, and what changes we might make to best accommodate them. And there have been some changes.

It’s nice for children to begin their transitions to new rooms that have already considered them, rather than waiting until they officially become part of the room to give that any air time.  Imagine if we waited to make changes for a child who uses a walking frame – to ensure that there is clear access around the room and to all areas for him. That’s an extreme case obviously – but that doesn’t mean that this same type of consideration is not valuable for all children.

We’ve also done a lot of reflecting on spaces, to consider what we can improve as a general function. We’ve done some of that end of year assessing.  We’ve done some visioning.  We’ve put our spaces under a microscope.  Examined them.  Through different lenses.  Seeing the room as though you are a parent.  A child.  An educator.  Heck – even an assessor.  What are the things those people see?  And ensure if you are looking from the lens of a child, that you are at the level that their eyes see the space from.  On your knees.  Sitting.  Even lying on the floor in the case of babies.

Reflection on how and why environments are changed, is definitely something that should be engaged in. And doing this with a knowledge of the children who will be in the space is imperative. That doesn’t mean having to wait until they are actually there though.  There is a lot we can do to spaces before the children bring their moving vans in.  We can use what we know about children in general, and how space can be utilised.  Ensuring that we are providing intimate spaces for children to be.  Alone and in small groups.  By using low and open vision furniture to make divisions.  By avoiding the temptation of creating a ring of little pods around the outside of the room.  By creating clear paths for children to make their way around.  By creating a sense of order about the space.  By considering what the room will need to cater for in terms of routines – children eating, sleeping, resting.  By making our space a living space – one that oozes our values, beliefs and philosophy.

img_1539Children are deserving of beautiful and carefully planned environments.  Environments shape behaviour.  They influence opportunities for learning.  They help us, or they hinder us.  They support relationships.  When your environment calls to children, from the moment they set foot in the space……. when warm and welcoming is the feeling that erupts from deep inside…… when you walk into a space and let out a long breath…. a sigh…… those things are the things that matter.

As you move through the beginning part of the year – of course this is when observations of children interacting in the space will allow you to make the space truly reflective of the people within in it.  But remember – as educators – we matter too.  This is our space too.  These are our lives together.  And together, we create harmony.  Enjoy creating new spaces for the new year.  Do it thoughtfully.  Do it with knowledge.  Make it matter.

Children are filled with an innate sense of wonder about the world around them.  Create spaces that will feed their hunger to discover and learn, to build on knowledge.  Create spaces to dream and fill children with awe and fascination, that will spark imagination.  Create spaces that will nurture hearts and souls, and support loving relationships.  What you create matters.  It matters a lot.

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“You can dream, create, design and build the most wonderful place in the world, but it requires people to make the dream a reality.”
~Walt Disney

 

What do they really want?

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At this time of the year, there is a surge in the debate of children “Graduating” from Pre-School/Kindergarten/whatever it is that you call the year before starting school.

In our centre – we call it the Possum Group.  This group of children – these capable little humans – whose days with us are right now very numbered.  We feel like it’s a sad time.  And in many ways it is.  These little people have often staked claim on a piece of our hearts.  Four and five years old, and some of them we have known their entire lives.  It literally brings tears to my eyes, to think about them leaving us.

But this week – we got together with them, and their families……. and we celebrated them, and their time with us.  We are still getting good at this.  So don’t get me wrong – I think there is still a long way we can go to making it better.  But every year, we do a bit more reflecting, and then the next year, we become a bit more open, and things change.  One thing that never changes though – is that celebrations are important.  This is a big time in children’s lives, and it is special to come together to not only recognise this change – but to come together to create joyful memories.

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“…our image of the child is rich in potential, strong, powerful, competent, and most of all,  connected to adults and other children.”  ~Loris Malaguzzi

I wonder if there will come a time, when this celebration is completely in the hands of the children – and to be honest, it’s what I strive for.  We still seem to take it on in our adult capacity quite a bit.  We’re still learning.  That’s what I like about us.

But this year, for the first time – the planning process DID start with the children, and asking them what they wanted.  I think we put words into their heads, because they wanted to call it their “Graduation” when we discussed that.  I don’t think a child would necessarily come up with that word to describe this on their own.  But “Graduation” it was.  For now.  We used our Floorbooks, and we consulted WITH children.  Asking them what this celebration would look like,  how it would happen.

They got very adamant about a cake.  They really wanted a cake.   Specifically – a chocolate cake with pink icing.  Because I think that children and celebrations and cake all go hand in hand.  Don’t they?  And the decorations?  Well – they wanted very specific lollies, sprinkles, and they wanted to write on it themselves.  So, that’s what happened of course. And as for the way it turned out – I’ve never seen a better “Graduation” cake in all my years.  It touched my soul.  It was their work of art – completed together, and might I add, very proudly displayed!  They wanted balloons, streamers and a big sign.  They wanted to have a photo show, and they chose their own music – “Geronimo” and “We Will Rock You”.  They even went through probably thousands of photos, to choose the ones they wanted to depict their year.

We had our input also.  We did have a time of seating everyone.  To bring these little people forward one by one, and give them the chance to tell everyone what they’ve loved about their time with us.  We presented them all with a special keepsake card with photo and poem, as well as a little native tree – which we offer them to plant in memory of their time with us.  This is a tradition we started a few years ago – and it is our part of input into the celebration.  Because I believe we deserve a bit too.

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We had invited our reading volunteers along, and the children thanked them with a box of chocolates and a bunch of flowers.  As for Keith, who drives the bus out to Mayfield (bush kindy) for them – well, his time honoured gift was chocolates and a water gun.

Short speeches by the teachers and myself, and the viewing of the slideshow, followed by the cutting, and of course eating of the cake.  The children able to do what children do best – and get their play on – whilst the adults had the chance to reflect with one another, and spend time together.

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The place was filled with parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents and close friends.  The circle of security was tight.  All the people there, who really mattered.  Even a set of grandparents all the way from Adelaide for the occasion.  We do pride ourselves on those extended relationships.  They are special to us.

What will next year bring?  I believe it might be even more relaxed again.  I believe that the children’s voice will speak even clearer and louder.  Because we are getting so much better at letting go, trusting children, and remembering that after all – this journey is all about them.  It’s about the memories that they can create and hold.  And not for a minute, do we want to control what is important to them.

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“Sometimes, you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.”
~Dr Suess