One of the most important pieces of interest-led learning is often left out of the process of developing learning experiences in the classroom/home – adapting the environment.
Once you’ve determined an interest that your group has, and you’ve figured out their background knowledge so you have a good foundational place to start with new learning experiences, you naturally want to start researching ideas for activities to explore that interest. But before you head to Pinterest or start exploring teacher blogs for ideas, you need to bring your attention back to your own environment first!
We already know that our environment should be ever-changing and evolving with the needs and interests of our group, as it fulfills that “third teacher” role. So before we consider what additional resources to bring into the space, look first at how we can adapt our environment to best harness the new excitement and energy of the new topic at hand.
What this does for our children is gives them the opportunity to explore this new interest in a play-based, open-ended way during the free play times of the day. Sure, it’s great to have provocations and structured activities related to the interest at hand, but when the environment also allows the children to explore and create in the best possible way – through play – even deeper and more meaningful learning is happening!
Here are some examples of my favorite ways to adapt your environment based on the interest of your students:
If you’re not rotating your books on a regular basis, this is the first thing you should start doing! When you know what the group’s interest is, go through your book collection and head to the library to find books that are related to that topic. Then, put them everywhere! Put them in the reading nook, place them on shelves with activities and provocations, use them during read-alouds, etc. The more opportunities your children have to engage with meaningful literacy practices, the more you are helping to develop early literacy skills AND inspire learning!
Example: If your class is exploring rocks, get some beautiful books about rocks (like this one) to display near an activity/provocation shelf to inspire the children to get creative.
Physical Space Setup –
What can you move around or use to ignite the children’s interest in this new topic that is already in your space? Change your activity shelves to connect with the learning. Bring in more/different loose parts. Add real-life related things to the dramatic play area. Move things around to make space for big play. Basically – before you head out looking for new things, use/reuse what you already have!
Example: Have a group that’s interested in pipes and water? Make space in your classroom for some big group creations, and bring in some various PVC piping for children to build their own “underground” water systems!
Creative Expression Opportunities –
Do you have a well-stocked art space where children have access to a variety of art materials for their creative endeavors? Consider the materials that you have available and how children could utilize them to create something in relation to the topic they’ll be exploring. If you’re struggling with an open-ended art space, check out the workshop I have available to help you set this up in your classroom.
Example: If your group is going to be exploring Christmas or winter, make sure your creative space is well-stocked with natural elements like pine cones and pine branches for exploration and creation!
Community Resources –
Finally, never forget to reach out to your community to see how you can make learning most meaningful!! So many businesses, companies, professionals, and families are ready and willing to donate materials, bring in resources to showcase, invite children in, or visit the class for a demonstration. Consider who in your community would be considered an “expert” on the topic your group and reach out to them to see how they might be of service!
Example: For your group that is interested in bugs, reach out to a local entomologist, university department, or pest control community members and ask them to bring something in for your kids to see and touch!
How do you utilize the magic that your environment provides to harness excitement about a new topic with your group?