Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Exploration of Early-Childhood Learning Environments

Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Exploration of Early-Childhood Learning Environments

Article excerpt

A review of the literature indicates that effective learning environments must take into consideration children's socio-cultural context, utilizing indoor, outdoor, and natural learning spaces. Emerging research also highlights the breakthrough towards understanding early brain development within the context of early learning (Jensen, 2013). According to Barnett (2004) an important factor influencing children's learning experiences in early-childhood classrooms is the quality of such environments. Barnett (2004) suggested that a high-quality classroom is one that is developmentally appropriate, is nurturing, and effectively responds to the changing and emerging needs of young children. A learning environment in an early-childhood classroom is "one part home, one part laboratory for exuberant (and messy) little scientists, one part stage that transforms itself daily, and also one part gallery" (Greenman, 2005, p. 164). In partnership with teachers and peers, learning environments are the third educator (Berris & Miller, 2011; Moore & Sugiyama, 2007). Other researchers (Doppelt ÔC Schumm, 2008; Rushton & Juola-Rushton, 2008) explained early-childhood learning environments as they relate to larger spheres of knowing in which learning occurs as viewed through the lenses of psychology, sociology, and pedagogy. Thus, in addition to focusing on the indoor classroom environment, it is important to take into consideration the outdoor spaces and other natural learning environments supportive of learning that occurs within a meaningful context. Teachers with educational backgrounds in early-childhood or related fields are known to have early-childhood classrooms with higher quality and that encourage collaboration and exploration (Espinoza, 2002; Ogu <5¿ Schmidt, 2013; Phillipsen, Burchinal, Howes, & Cryer, 1997).

Characteristics of Successful Early-Childhood Learning Environments

Early-childhood teachers have been acutely aware that young children are more receptive for some kinds of learning during the early years when the brain can absorb and process large amounts of information (Rushton ÔC Larkin, 2001). A quality early-childhood setting should be structured to include learning centers that facilitate opportunities for hands-on interactive involvement, individual experimentation, and opportunities for selfdiscovery; designated spaces such as block centers, book/library/writing center, art/studio areas, and science center, just to name a few. Such learning spaces are organized so that children can choose materials and learn within the context of self-selected, meaningful experiences. Blocks, construction materials, puzzles, and dress-up/sociodramatic play materials transform the space into a place children recognize and in which they can gain hands-on relevant experiences within a meaningful context.

According to Cabrera and Cotosi (2010), hands-on-exploration facilitates the development of critical thinking skills that are essential to learning, such as making distinctions, recognizing relationships, organizing systems, and taking multiple perspectives. These learning environments frequently include a play-based and literacy-based focus towards facilitating an integrated, meaningful context for learning. Opportunities for oral and written language are abundant in such contexts, as children are presented with opportunities to express themselves orally and in written forms (Cleveland & Fisher, 2014). For example, when children are exposed to sociodramatic play, they experience everyday problems that need to be resolved. In one instance, a group of 4-year-olds could not find items in the grocery store, so they developed a shopping list and store map. They also created advertisements because they wanted to purchase sale items.

Brain Research and the Learning Environment

Recent discoveries in neuroscience have led to exciting revelations and new theories regarding brain development. Among the most significant findings as it relates to early experiences is the notion of brain plasticity (Rushton 8i Larkin, 2001). …

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