From the “Ready to Learn” series
As early childhood educators prepare their classrooms for the upcoming year and a new set of children, it’s important to keep in mind that the most effective learning space for young children is both calm and welcoming.
Early learning experts from the Ounce of Prevention Fund and Educare Chicago say that it is easier for teachers and children to develop strong relationships—the foundation for learning—in a space with fewer distractions. Studies have shown that classrooms with too much noise or color can overstimulate children, and inhibit the development of trust and relationships among children, their teachers and their peers.
When teachers create a calm classroom that avoids overstimulation, they are helping children to learn better decision-making skills. The fewer opportunities children have to be overwhelmed, the more opportunity they have to be intentional about their choices. “The more organized something is, the easier it is for teachers to be deliberate,” says Marsha Hawley, an early childhood development expert at the Ounce. “If the selections are fewer, and the choices are books or just a few things, that helps children make a choice initially.”
Early childhood educators at Educare Chicago take a “less is more” approach to decorating their classrooms at the start of the year. The classroom is set up to encourage the development of executive function skills such as managing emotions, planning and problem-solving. Children begin to develop executive function skills in the first five years of life with the help of nurturing parents and caregivers. Such skills are essential to a child’s later success in school and the workforce because once children master them they are better able to concentrate on more academic tasks.
Most regular classroom toys are put away, leaving items like stackable blocks and clay that promote executive function skills and encourage sensory development. For example, children can create different objects with clay, giving them a chance to be creative with malleable material and use their planning skills.
A minimalist approach to decorating the classroom fosters an environment where children are encouraged to use their imagination and creativity to engage in make-believe play that lets them express their feelings and interpret their personal experiences. Prop-free activities like “Simon Says” and “Dance Freeze” games are a great way to build a child’s listening skills.
Our experts recommend that classroom walls be left bare for the first 45 days of the school year. Children can bring photos from home to keep in cubbies as a comforting reminder of home, and to promote a sense of safety and security in the classroom. Once children have fully adjusted to their new setting, teachers can begin to feature student art work on the walls and hang posters related to songs, routines or activities that the children have learned about in class, such as a visual step-by-step guide to hand washing or teeth brushing.
- Executive Function: Skills for Life and Learning—Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University
- Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function—Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University
Read more articles in our “Ready to Learn” series.