Behind the Scenes of Our Third Teacher – Part One: The Environment

Sat 7 Jul 2018

by Preety Sehgal, Development & Mentoring Manager, Chrysalis Group

“A classroom that is functioning successfully as a third teacher will be responsive to the children’s interests, provide opportunities for children to make their thinking visible and then foster further learning and engagement.” – (Susan Fraser)

With so many topics and tips we wish to share with you, it is hard to work out where to begin a series of blogs. The idea to write “Behind the scenes” occurred when Chrysalis was featured in the opening introduction of the latest TV series- Click here The Block NZ

This brought through the idea of introducing ourselves not just as a childcare centre focussed on being world class and well thought innovative building designs, but show how our awarded inventions and innovations flow right into the curriculum and actual learning that happens here when we envision environment as the third teacher.

The environment in any given child care centre can be divided into two aspects:

  • Part 1 (this article) – The functional environment (everyday set ups and activities)
  • Part 2 – The physical environment (Furniture/walls/building designs).

In our introductory blog, we will take you through some aspects of a functional environment.

Walking into a daycare, you come across wonderful interactive toys and set ups on the tables, pictures, art work and outcomes of learning on walls, but have you ever wondered why the set ups are such an important part of the rooms and how this impacts your child’s learning and development?

If not, let us take you behind the scenes and show you why teachers ensure environments are carefully designed for your child each day.

  • Inviting: The early morning set ups are based on knowledge and relationships we form with you and your child. Teachers are quick to observe and recognize children’s interests, and so, can cater to their needs for a smooth transition from their home environment each morning.    We know who might be anxious to see their parents leave and so we bring out activities and materials accordingly for this important initial settling stage. These set ups each morning are the most crucial as they ensure a smooth daily running.
  • Connectedness: The walls with pictures of children in action, art work and planning values children’s voices and activities happening each day and showcases the kind of learning that happens in the room. The purpose here is that parents can have a glimpse of those special learning moments while their child was in our care.
  • Enriched experiences: When we display and lay out activities, we plan what areas will need just observation and where we will base ourselves for more interaction while extending children’s learning and development in meaningful ways. We create the environment to provide active areas for inquiry, investigation and wonder. We also value the importance of reflective, quiet areas for reading and thinking.
  • Social skills and independent play: We try to have an environment organized in a way that allows for flexibility in a group. Children may choose to play independently or may invite friends to join them. Ample material and resources are offered to encourage collaboration, team work and form friendships. We do not support the situation of limiting one’s imagination due to lack of materials and resources and it is satisfying to have this recognised by parents, and even in audited reports by the Education Review Office about our centres (e.g. “They enjoy their play in inviting and well-resourced spaces that offer multiple opportunities for exploration and sensory play.”  ERO, Magic Kingdom Childcare, December 2017, and “The centre is well resourced to enhance child-directed learning. Children are confident and well engaged.”, ERO, Fern Garden Preschool, June 2018.
  • Extending skills and knowledge: Teachers observe, recognize and respond to children’s interests. We are continuously evaluating our children’s skills and plan activities which challenge and promote more learning. From holding a pencil to hammering a nail, from rolling a ball of playdough to baking cookies, we ensure we see an upward trend in the growth of your child’s understanding and skills.
  • For effective supervision and engagement: Teachers know they have to be on their toes throughout the day in terms of supervision for safety, while concurrently setting the environment for engaged, attentive and interested children. Hence we set up activities knowing what areas can be left for independent play, what areas can bring out challenging behaviours (e.g. think about a water trough with only one net and many fish – can you imagine the outcome?) and hence we plan accordingly. We spread out activities that cater to a wide range of interests like science, literacy, building and construction (& deconstruction), reading, pretend play, arts and crafts so children can have varied experiences and can satisfy their curiosity and urge to learn.

At the end of the day, there is no better feeling than knowing we’ve made a small difference somewhere for someone and then taking on the personal challenge of resetting the scene to extend on interests the next day. I’m sure one day one of our teaching colleagues will be on the “The Block NZ”, decorating the homes with the functional nooks and learning experiences every home should have!

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