What does a room say?
What do we want it to say?
Do we know what the children want from the room?
Do we know what the children NEED from the room?
Sometimes what the children want and need are one and the same thing - sometimes they are at the opposite ends of the spectrum. I remember when I was in the middle of a mini-project to design a preschool yard with 18 five year olds their ideas were truly glorious but had very little to do with how the ACTUALLY played outside. It was fantastic to hear about the swimming pools, and water slides and the fancy climbing frames - but what they really wanted to do in the yard was dig and build and create dens - as well as run, play team games and role-play - if we were to create environments from the children's spoken wishes there is a risk that we end up with something they neither need or want! BUT if we create environments based on our observations of what the children do, are interested in and their needs - the chances increase that we create an exciting learning environment that captures the children's imagination and stimulates play.
I think it is necessary to take the time to research what is going on at preschool.
Where are the children playing?
Do the children play in the same groups all the time, or do the groups change over the course of a day, week?
Do either boys or girls dominate a particular area of the setting? If so, why?
Is any area of the setting not used, or used very little?
Are there any problem areas? frequent falling out; constant need for a teacher's help to reach/do things etc?
If changes to the setting are needed, it can be good idea to document the reason why the changes need to be made. It is a good idea to discuss with everyone at the setting first - does everyone see the same need - if not why? The changes also need to be discussed -
How will the changes affect the routines?
Do they comply with fire-safety regulations?
How will the changes pedagogically benefit the children/staff?
Does there need to be a limit on the number of children playing there at any one time?
At the time of the change/re-arrange it's a good idea to plan a evaluation meeting 4, 6 or however many weeks you deem suitable, later. This gives the preschool team the chance to voice opinions as to whether the changes have met expectations - exceeded them or have fallen short. If they have fallen short then you should ask yourself why - was it because pedagogues had not been active in scaffolding the children's use of the room - this could be due to the staff not knowing how to use the room - for instance the construction room/area is not being used positively, items are being thrown around, there is little collaboration and/or children tend to run into the room/area and knock over any creations that are being built. If this is the case instead of simply changing the room again, ask yourself what human resources can be used?
Does there need to be a teacher in the construction room building WITH the children for a while?
Is there ample space for the children to save constructions?
Do other children respect saved constructions?
Do children spread toys around and just leave them?
Are children able to put things away in the right place? Have they ever been shown? Is there any sort of routine? In Sweden taking care of the preschool is part of the curriculum, so these are things Swedish preschool pedagogues should be thinking of.
How are doors used? Some settings are open plan, while others are a series of rooms. These can give the option of shutting down areas as the day comes to a close and limited staff numbers make it impossible for children to have access to all rooms under adult supervision.
Are children allowed to be in a room without an adult - with the door closed/open? Why? How long for?
Is the furniture child height or adult height? If child height can the children sit on the chairs with their feet on the floor (feet dangling down actually means they are stressing their backs - think how the tripp trapp chairs have adjustable foot support to allow for proper back support).
Now I have been writing lots of questions - but for me Reggio is asking questions. And listening.
Listening to what the children say.
Listening to parents.
Listening to what children do? I think we need to listen to that not just watch...
In a way the listening part is more complex than hearing words - since many children we take care of do not have their spoken language in full function - either due to their age or for some other reason, and just because they don't talk doesn't mean they do not have plenty to say.
Listening to colleagues.
Listening to myself.....
and then more questions...
Does the setting allow the children to be competent? To be creative? Inventive? Does it allow the whole curriculum to be followed? Does it allow you to say yes, or limit you to no!? For instance when I visited Täppan preschool they had used small fences to naturally prevent running indoors - which means there are no "Don't run" (although I would never say that - I tend to use the phrase - "please walk inside") - I like the fact that the environment instructs the children how to use the room - large rooms do tend to invite speed (which can mean bigger crashes and bumps and bruises), by dividing a room up into smaller areas means that high speeds cannot be obtained - and if low fences/shelves etc are used to divide the room it also means that the open feeling is maintained - it also allows the teachers to keep a watchful eye over the children but at the same give the children a feeling of independence as they experience being in their own space.
Over the years the environment has really become like a colleague. It needs to be treated with the same respect - and we all need to work together. I am hoping that I will be able to visit more preschools to see how the environment works for them - and then to be able to share here. I know I love taking people round the preschools where I work (potential parents/customers as well as other preschool teachers) - as I always feel that as I explain how we work and why we have chosen to set up the preschool as we have - everything becomes more clear, and often they ask really good questions that make you think, or tell you about something similar or a solution that they have used at their own setting.
Anyway - its late - so I will end part 2 here...