By Jodi Healy
Imagine giving a bicycle to an adult who has never seen or ridden one, and not showing them how or what to do. The adult may be able to figure it out, but it is unlikely. The person would try, fall, and probably never ride again.
A child, new to the world, is the same. If you give a child a cup, they will hold it for a minute, then drop it. Without instruction, the cup holds no purpose for the child, and he or she does not know the possibilities. However, if you create the proper setting and facilitate learning, giving this same child a cup and a spoon full of water, the minute will turn into five. If you give the child a spoon and a cup with a bucket of water outside, or with pasta or bubbles, the five minutes will turn into thirty, and so on. Rather than simple observation, the activity will turn into exploration and a rich sensory integration experience.
Open your mind to the possibilities and opportunity you have to create a home of learning. This is not a daunting task or more work. I actually had more free time because I took the time to facilitate such an environment, which kept my children occupied. I was not their sole source of entertainment. I kept my children busy, learning through play, while I was able to do the dishes, make phone calls, check email, or do other things. I also had the peace of mind knowing I was giving them the right opportunities of discovery and exploration, not sticking them in front of a TV so I could have a break (even though I did do that at times). And teaching happens naturally in this type of rich learning environment because it also keeps you engaged in your child’s development and progress. They will ask for help, guidance, and engage you with questions.
By being conscious of the constant opportunity you have to create and facilitate learning while a child plays, you can also become your child’s greatest teacher. The concepts of structuring a child’s environment and learning how to facilitate it around the home and beyond will become a new way of life.
A facilitator’s role is to create a positive and enriched environment with resources and circumstances for enhanced learning and development. Many parents believe they are doing facilitation right, providing play dates, sending the child to preschool, signing them up for soccer, or even buying them the toys they want. And these are ways to facilitate a child’s life. However, without facilitating learning, much of our opportunity to serve as the greatest resource for our growing and ever-changing child is lost.
The importance of play
Young children learn when they play — and work very hard when they do. They use all their resources and energy to participate in and make sense of the world around them. Children learn when challenged by settings and tools that foster their growing skills and abilities. A child’s brain triples in size the first three years of life and absorbs more information than any other time. The first five to eight years are the most important in preparing a child for what is ahead: establishing confidence, independence, and a joy for learning. The home environment can set the stage for all future life experiences, interpretations, development, competency, and understanding.
We have the opportunity right in our homes to facilitate learning by using the toys, practices, and techniques that naturally target the learning domains of a developing child. We can bring the resources any accredited program offers and implement them right in our homes. Materials and concepts used in nationally accredited early learning programs have been developed and used by early childhood practitioners and educators for decades, combining experience, knowledge, and practical application.
Parents can offer the same rich experiences and create the same environment at home. This approach can begin as soon as a child can crawl and can be used through formal schooling (to age 8 and beyond), providing years of discovery and fun. The objective is not to create a preschool in the home, supplement a preschool experience, or create an academic world. Creating a home of learning is not building a prescribed, teaching-based environment, but rather providing the child with the right toys and resources to experiment, discover, evolve, and grow through play.
Inside Learning Areas
In national accredited early learning programs, learning domains — essential areas of learning in proper development — are targeted and promoted by using specific toys and equipment through intentionally designed work and play centers. Centers are dedicated areas for art, blocks, discovering science, dramatic play, literacy, math and manipulatives, music and movement, sand and water play, technology, or more. In these areas, toys are rotated, and activities are changed regularly, often following a curriculum or theme. Centers are also designed to accommodate multi-aged children’s interest and abilities.
The concept of centers can be implemented easily in a smaller home setting, by setting up spaces called Learning Areas. There are 12 dedicated Learning Areas (see diagram, next page.) Each is designed to target learning domains and facilitate proper development through different types of play. All areas should be established, but you can start with a few toys or items in each and add as you go. Toys and equipment will evolve with age and competence. Children between ages 3 and 6 will require more complex and rich play, where infants up to age 2 will be more interested in shapes, colors, textures and sizes, and exploring toys rather than engaging in play with them.
If you do not have a large enough space for all the Learning Areas, some can be established in different parts of the home. When my children were very small, the easel served as the Art Area and the Writing Area, but as fine motor skills and writing became more developmentally appropriate, I established a dedicated Writing Area. I have a small, sturdy, round table and four chairs in my kitchen with a clear plastic three-drawer container that holds different types of paper, crayons, markers, scissors, paints, glue, colored pencils, and more.
The 12 basic Learning Areas and sample equipment:
1. Center Activity Table (for manipulatives and free play collections)
2. House Area (babies, changing station, kitchen, dress up clothes)
3. Climbing & Movement Area (climbing structure, rocking horse, sit and spins)
4. Play House Structures Area (various houses to play in)
5. Art Area (easel or small table and chairs)
6. Reading Area (bookcase, books, reading area, cushions, soft elements- blanket)
7. Listening Area (recorder, CDs)
8. Writing Area (small table and chairs)
9. Construction Area (blocks, cars,car tracks, parking garage, dinosaurs)
10. Doll House Area* (full-size doll house or Barbie house)
11. Sensory Table (i.e., water table)
12. Outdoor Area (chalk, balls, jump ropes, other)
To small children, the world feels very big. This is why we create Learning Areas and a set up a playroom sized just for them. Everything in the playroom should be in reach of and be able to be used by the child. A child’s play space should be their own little world. Items, such as tables and chairs, should be child-sized,
All children are alike and all children are different. Some will naturally be drawn to and play in certain workspaces and with types of toys or equipment more than others. Some children may spend most of the day playing with blocks or cars, while others may be in the reading space looking at books. This is normal and healthy. Learning is influenced by many factors: genetic heritage, age and size, sex or gender, culture (home and community), interests, ability and disability, and medical conditions.
Offering children choices of Learning Areas, toys, and activities will give you insight into their interests and abilities, and you will find yourself changing your setup to accommodate their interests. However, if a child needs work in one area, it is important to facilitate them to that activity or area. Some children may need to practice coordination, such as using their large muscles for climbing or pumping a swing.
Areas of learning will cultivate a whole and competent child with the foundation necessary for success. Understanding how children play, the right toys to provide, and techniques to follow will transform the life of your children and open the world of learning and discovery right in your home. For more information, visit Facebook or createahomeoflearning.com.