Building Optimal Environments for Learning and Development—at Home and School
All young children are naturally eager to learn and explore their world. The early years of a child’s life are nothing short of amazing!
We know more today about the brain than ever before, including how it works and critical periods for development. While the brain isn’t fully developed until age 24, the first six years of one’s life sets the foundation and path for healthy development later on.
There are “windows of opportunity” in a child’s development when her brain is particularly ready to learn specific skills, such as gross and fine motor skills (holding and using crayons and pencils, working puzzles, working with blocks, shapes, paper, and scissors).
Parents and early learning professionals are children’s first teachers. Children learn through relationships, play, and active exploration, so early learning environments—whether at home, in preschool, or daycare—set the foundation for a child’s future learning and success in school and beyond. This is the time to maximize each child’s learning potential.
Did you know?
- Brain development is a combination of genetics and environment
- A 3-year old’s brain is two and a half times more active than an adult’s
- An enriched learning environment actually increases brain size through the development of dendrites.
- The quality, quantity and consistency of stimulation for a child contributes to the structure of his brain and the effect of these experiences lasts for the rest of his lifetime
Children learn in and through their environment.
What you put in that environment matters! So ask yourself the following questions when putting together a learning environment for young children.
- Does the environment create a sense of belonging?
- Is it safe and organized?
- Are the spaces flexible and accessible?
- Does the environment give the child opportunities to explore, wonder, and try new things?
- Is it appropriate for the child’s age and stage of development?
- Do materials for the child to play with allow a variety of uses?
- Are there different things to see, hear, feel?
- Are there opportunities for the child to use their hands and fingers?
Suggestions for creating an optimal environment.
Exploration is key – Carefully designed environments feature structures, objects, and props that engage children in choices, problem solving, investigating, and discovering. Check out ECR4Kids’ ActivePlay line for indoor and outdoor products that will allow your child to explore and problem solve.
Create opportunities for fun and creativity – If you enjoy what you do and can laugh in your environment, children will do better at everything they try. Make sure to have inviting materials (colorful, varying textures, sizes, shapes, etc.). ECR4Kids’ SoftZone products has colorful climbers, seating, and more to build a fun environment.
About the Author:
Lisa M. Lasky is the Senior Director of the National Equity Project. She has worked in education for over 25 years as a teacher, leader, school and district coach, and has led several organizational/system change projects across the country. She is a founding director of the National Equity Project, based in Oakland, CA, and has served in many roles including Associate Director, Director of Elementary and Middle Schools, Director of the School Grants Program, and Deputy Director. She currently leads NEP’s Leadership Development and Coaching Division – overseeing support and services to a portfolio of clients from California to Mississippi to Washington, DC. Lisa holds a B.A. in Sociology and English from the State University of New York, College at Cortland and an M.A. in Education from UC Berkeley.