4 Learning Environments for Children

For children in the early years (ages 1-5), the learning environment plays a critical role in brain development and productivity in later years.

The learning environment is an area that a child lives or plays. Positive learning environments in a home, daycare, or school foster emotional, physical, and academic development as everything from wall color to seating arrangements can affect the way a student learns. For children in the early years (ages 1-5), the learning environment plays a critical role in brain development and productivity in later years.

Children learn best when immersed in an environment that engages the child. There are four primary types of learning environments which include integrated, auditory, visual, and social and emotional. Creating a space that integrates these 4 components provides an environment that is respectful and considers a child’s development regarding their social and emotional well-being, their ability to understand and apply verbal direction and appeals to their sense of curiosity while being developmentally appropriate.

1. Integrated. An integrated environment helps children make connections between their experiences and the world around them by providing young children with activities that foster the development of one or more domains at a time. In this way, new concepts are not taught nor experienced in isolation. A child might engage in learning a specific mathematical concept while also engaging and activating their expressive language skills, hand-eye coordination and social-emotional development.

children playing in sand

An example of an integrated activity across multiple domains is a group of children playing at the sand table with different sizes of buckets and shovels. The goal in this activity is to have the children fill the different sizes of buckets full of sand and discuss which bucket might hold the most sand and which bucket might hold the least amount of sand. While they are engaging in bucket selection, shoveling, and sorting, the children are also learning about volume and weight. This is an example of an activity that has integrated more than one concept or developmental domain in a single activity.

In a home setting, it is important to define separate learning spaces so that quiet activities such as reading, writing and drawing are separate from areas where louder activities occur. It is easy to define smaller learning spaces within a larger space using signs indicating what the space will be used for, such as a bean bag chair in a corner with a sign that says, “reading nook”. It is important to provide visual representations of the learning space and the activities that might take place so that children can begin to make the appropriate connections. Once children become familiar with the defined spaces and their requirements it will become easier to develop the activities that will take place in them.

baby playing with instruments2. Auditory. Auditory learners are children who process information by listening. Thus, an auditory environment helps to strengthen young children’s verbal-linguistic and auditory processing skills. An auditory environment should be rich in dialogue with lots of discussion between caregivers and the child as well as child to child. Auditory learners enjoy listening to stories and engaging in social activities such as dramatic play and role-playing.

Auditory learners can listen and complete activities without visual representation and enjoy stories with repetitive lines. A childhood favorite is the story of The Gingerbread Man. The repetitive line in this story is “Run, Run As Fast As You Can, You Can’t Catch Me I’m The Gingerbread Man”. When reading repetitive lines aloud, children latch onto the pattern and often repeat it with you. These children enjoy listening and creating music as well as hearing stories read aloud and on tape.

visual schedule3. Visual. Visual learners process information using their sight. Providing children with visual representation helps their brain process and store new information. Visual aids also help them retain the information especially when the visuals are left up for the children to access when needed.

Young children should be immersed in a print-rich environment. Providing a picture along with a word helps build their visual memory. Labeling materials and items help children learn new words in print from and help them to understand where to put materials back when they have finished using them.

A visual environment might include pictures, labels (such as door, clock, or math center), and other visual aids such as charts, calendars, poems, alphabet charts, and number charts. Visual cues can also include a daily schedule and instructions with pictures such as how to wash hands properly, how to clean up, and how to put toys in proper places.

The visual environment is important to have in any learning space because children make the connections between printed words and language at a young age. Even before children can formally read, they begin to recognize that printed words have meaning. An example is when children recognize the sign M for McDonald’s or they see and understand the meaning of a stop sign.

baby playing with toy4. Social and Emotional. A responsive caregiver strives to meet the individual needs of all children entrusted in their care. Research shows that the relationship between the caregiver and the child can affect the way in which the child forms relationships later in life. Treating each child as an individual with individual needs is an example of being a responsive caregiver and the social-emotional environment is built upon this mentality. It is important to understand that no two children are alike so responding to their needs, needs to be individualized.

Social and emotional environments for children can vary. An important thing to remember when building the social and emotional learning environment is to always address a child at their eye level whether it be to talk with them directly or to redirect the type of behaviors you are witnessing. Young children do not understand sarcasm, so it is never a good idea to use it when talking with them.

To address negative behaviors, it is a best practice not to call attention to the negative behaviors or reprimand a child in front of everyone. Instead, use a gentle touch on the shoulder and redirect them by quietly stating what it is you want them to do. An example of this might be “Please show me you understand how to share your toys.” When the child complies with your request, give them a positive affirmation by saying, “that was a good choice – thank you”.

Children learn about the world around them in multiple ways. Creating a learning environment based on these 4 areas taps into the different learning styles and ways in which children process information.

To learn more, a Learning Environments course is available with enrollment in the Advanced Childcare program.

About the Author: Annemarie has a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education from Wheelock College and a Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Fitchburg State University. Annemarie is a published children’s picture book author of How the Finch Got Its Colors and a public-school teacher in Massachusetts. Annemarie is an adjunct faculty member of Amslee Institute and authored a Learning Environments course for Nannies and Sitters.

5 Ways to Reduce the Summer Slide

Summer learning loss, the summer slide, or summer setback is the when school age students return to school in the fall at lower levels of achievement than before the break.

School’s Out! School’s Out! Children love this chant and we are about to hear it a lot as we near the end of the school year. After all, summer is a time for sun, fun, and relaxation. In addition to planning vacations, have you thought about adding some structured learning?

Summer learning loss, the summer slide, or summer setback is when school-age students return to school in the fall at lower levels of achievement than before the break. The learning loss can be as much as 30% of their previous school-year achievements. Their skills – especially in reading and math – can regress. As a childcare provider or parent, what can you do to minimize the summer slide?

child reading a book1. Daily Reading. Reading is an important aspect of learning and the best way to keep up academic achievement. Set a goal to read at least one chapter book a week. Let the children pick out their own books so that they enjoy their time reading but encourage them to read about science, history, and other topics. For beginner readers, encourage them to read to you every night before bed and help them with challenging words. For older children, they should read on their own each day. You should take an interest in their readings by asking questions during dinner about what was read that day.

2. Incorporate math into everyday activities. Adding math to your conversations requires some though but once you get into it, the amount of math you can add to your day will surprise you. A young child learning numbers and shapes can read house numbers during a neighborhood walk. Children learning fractions can help with cooking by measuring the ingredients. Older children working with percentages can help figure out a tip at a restaurant or the cost of an item on sale.

child playing with puppet doll3. Structured Playtime. Help children use their imagination to create stories and plays. Younger children love making up stories and can use old boxes and crafts to create a stage. Older children may enjoy filming themselves in a movie or writing a short story. For older children, a summer project such as building a model airplane, coding a simple video game, or mapping constellations can be fun.

4. Local trips. Your local community may have some great attractions including parks, parades, fireworks, and museums. Take time to attend some of these community events. A trip to the local historical park helps young children understand their history and how their town evolved. On the 4th of July, talk about the history of how our country was founded and teach them about US flag etiquette. If you visit a museum, encourage the children to read about the exhibits and talk about what they see.

child on bike5. Make it fun. Incorporate learning into whatever activities you do as a family. If you are camping for the weekend, talk about how fire impacts the forest and why it’s important to pick up trash and keep the animals from eating human foods. If you enjoy bicycling, review a book on birds and trees and spend some time on a bike trail learning about how the ecosystem works together with rivers, plants, and animals. A summer thunderstorm creates the perfect opportunity to research and learn about weather phenomena.

On average, a child loses 1-2 months of learning during a summer without instruction. This academic regression can be reduced with some thought and planning while still keeping the summer relaxed and fun. Children in your care can stay active, involved, and learning all summer long.