Learning Environment - Areas of Interest to promote your child's curiosity
Triona Gunning has kindly written this informative post for us. She is an early years educator and has created a variety of workshops "in order to reduce some of the pressures that come with parenting and allow room for some joy in the everyday with our children". Find out more information on her website https://earlyyearsinsights.ie
The environment in which a child plays can have a huge impact on their learning and development.
But how it is set up will play an important part in whether they interact with it at all. In early years settings we spend a lot of time setting up interest areas, for example a home area, a reading corner, a construction area, a creative area and so on. We ensure that all toys, materials, and tools are accessible, clean, useable, labelled and inviting. We support children in using these areas, encouraging them to explore as they want.
We observe where they go, how engaged they become, and we use these observations to expand the interest areas so that they continue to meet the growing needs of each child. Most importantly, we allow children to become involved in the evolution of these areas; taking control and evaluating their own interests leads to deeper understanding of their own learning abilities.
This may seem like a huge amount of work (it is!) and it is worth it when you can see the progress that a child makes when afforded the time and space to explore what interests them most at any given time. The amazing news is that we can adapt this practice to a home setting. We can scale down the areas to fit into our home and with few simple observations and rotations, we can support our children’s current interests.
First, you need to find a small space in your home that you can provide for your child.
A small table in a corner, a playmat with a box or an area that can be used for a certain period of the day without interfering with the family routine. It is important that the area is accessible to your child and that they can use this space and the materials freely.
Second, you need to take a few days to observe your child.
What do they play with frequently? What are they constantly talking about? What are they doing when they are most engaged? This is the easy part; you can probably answer them now. This information will form the basis for the first interest area that you will prepare for your child.
Third, you need to gather the items to support the interest you have identified.
Think outside the box here; we tend to group toys together as they were bought. If your child’s interest is the farm, you might have animals and a barn. But you might also have blocks that can create a fence. You could include the bath ducks in a pond. You could have farm books that might be displayed beside the toys. It can also be beneficial to include real life items or elements of nature. This set up could have grass for the animal feed, sticks to create pens or be in a box to be easily transported to the garden.
A sensory element could be added using dry rice or beans. You could also extend on the farm theme by including vegetables thereby sparking a conversation about the various types of farming. This is a simple example, but we always have more than we think we do to expand the areas in which a theme can be explored.
Next, an interest area should catch the eye, be colourful and attractive to your child.
Consider what boxes you can put the items in, which items can be displayed on the table, place the books as a backdrop or use real life photos for your child to look at. You will observe their level of interest increase as they discover the area and take the time to play with the materials as they are provided.
You can take the time to set up the interest table on your own, leaving it to be discovered by your child or, if your child is old enough, you can also include them in the set-up of the interest table. This will work to your advantage as they will often think of combinations and additions that we would never come up with. This will also allow them the opportunity to feel that their ideas and contributions are valued.
Finally, an interest area should never become static.
This will be an evolving area and as you observe your child’s interest evolve or change, so should the interest area.
Interest areas allow children to experience themes directly and in detail. They will have the opportunity to follow their own initiative and intrinsic motivation. Children get excited when they learn something through their own play and exploration. This motivates children to discover how they learn best and push the boundaries of what they can discover.
‘We are trying to create an environment where education will be almost inevitable.’ - Margaret McMillan
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