Updated January 27, 2017
Learning happens in all environments, in all aspects of life. In school, children are often expected to learn through sight and sound only. Their other senses do not stop working in school settings, and can sometimes be a source of unintended learning (i.e. I have no idea what the teacher said about fractions, but I’ve learned that the smell of disinfectant coming in from the restroom makes my head hurt). In an afterschool program, children can be allowed to experience materials through a variety of different combinations of senses.
Fractions on a worksheet may be mystifying, but fractions of an apple can be eaten. Pictures of firefighters in the social studies textbook are interesting, but the special guest, a firefighter, has a much more interesting, very heavy coat that smells like smoke. The teacher can tell you about volume, but at the water table you can pour purple water into all kinds of different bottles, and maybe even learn something about light refraction while you’re at it. The materials set up around the room should appeal to a variety of senses, and all senses should be considered when introducing a new element.
A child-centered environment consists of several elements:
- Staff working closely with children, observing them carefully, and following their lead when possible
- Stimulating, challenging activities available throughout the day
- Program scheduling, physical layout, and procedures that are best for the children in that space
- Children choosing activities
Points to remember when designing curriculum and environments in your program:
- School-age staff need to plan for individual differences when scheduling activities for groups of children.
- Each child is on his/her own timetable for growth and development. Each reflects their own temperament, learning style, experiences, and family background.
- What may be a risky temptation for one child may never even be noticed by another child.