|YOUNG CHILDREN | September 2013|
|Planning Environments and Materials That Respond to Young Children's Lively Minds|
|by Deb Curtis, Kasondra L. Brown, Lorrie Baird, and Anne Marie Coughlin|
During our many years working as teachers of young children, teacher educators, and colleagues offering professional activities together as Harvest Resources associates (www.ecetrainers.com), we have come to admire toddlers’ avid curiosity, determination, bigheartedness, and delight in engaging with people and the world around them. From our review of current research about the learning capacities of children under age 3, we realize that the eagerness toddlers have for almost every encounter is no accident, and we took it upon ourselves to study more about them.
Research confirms that during the toddler years children experience one of the most significant periods of development and learning. Children under age 3 have exceptionally flexible brains that allow them to hear more, see more, and experience more than adults. Their enhanced learning abilities reflect special features in their brains that make them more conscious than adults. They also innately approach learning in the same way scientists do, using the scientific method to experiment and analyze the results of what they discover. When toddlers use their brains well, through focused, sustained activity, their potential is enormous (Gopnik 2009).
Some materials limit exploration
Many times, the environments and materials offered to toddlers emphasize health and safety. While health and safety are important, an overemphasis on these features can limit the possibilities for richer experiences of exploration, collaboration, and learning. Some commonly used materials provide few opportunities that engage children in the complex ways their lively minds deserve. Most toys chosen for use in child care settings have hard, plastic, unyielding surfaces that adults can easily sanitize. Toddler toys frequently teach simple concepts like color and shape or have a cause-and-effect component, such as a button or knob that beeps or lights up. Children might accidentally discover this feature or adults show them what it does. Once children figure out the minimal uses for these objects, there is not much else to challenge their lively minds . . . . Continue reading
About the Authors
Deb Curtis, MA, a teacher of adults and children, has coauthored several books for early childhood educators, including Designs for Living and Learning: Transforming Early Childhood Environments (Redleaf Press). firstname.lastname@example.org
Kasondra L. Brown, BS, is a consultant and trainer with Collaborative for Children–United Way Bright Beginnings in Houston, Texas. Kasondra serves as a coach, mentor, and college instructor. email@example.com
Lorrie Baird, RECE (registered early childhood educator), is the associate executive director of Kawartha Child Care Services in Peterborough, Ontario. She has been a teacher, program director, and college faculty member. firstname.lastname@example.org
Anne Marie Coughlin, ECEC, (early childhood educator and certified), RECE, is program director for London Bridge Child Care Services in London, Ontario, and provincial director for the Canadian Association for Young Children. She is an associate with Harvest Resources.
The authors would like to thank teachers Lauren Forcier and Lachana Fisher, who contributed notes about children engaged in schema play.