3 Key Components of Early Childhood Learning Environments

3 Key Components of Early Childhood Learning Environments

Author: Dr. Christina Counts

Deciding what to include in an early childhood learning environment may seem like just choosing what color to paint the room and which chairs to buy, but there’s so much more to consider below the surface. The building blocks of effective early childhood classrooms do include the physical components of the space, but they also include the components that create the social and temporal environment, as well.

In order to ensure high quality outcomes for children in early childhood learning environments, it’s important to design spaces that nurture children both academically and socially. Meeting the developmental and academic needs of each student in an early childhood classroom can be a challenge, but by combining these three key components, you can create a learning environment that supports the success of every child.Early Childhood Learning Environments

Here are three key components of early childhood learning environments:

1. Physical Environment

The physical environment includes the overall design and layout of a learning space, along with any learning zones. When designing early childhood learning environments, the physical components of the space might include furniture pieces, floor coverings, walls and room dividers, and even built-in technology elements.

When selecting furniture for early childhood learning environments, it’s important to consider the size, physical abilities, and needs of children who will be interacting with the space. For instance, high stools or spinning chairs may be hard for young students to sit in. Instead, opt for a mix of standard chairs with backs, modular soft seating options, and floor seating. Adjustable height furniture is also effective for early childhood learning spaces, as it can easily be adjusted to meet the needs of students of different ages.

How you design each space is also an important physical component of early childhood learning environments. Focusing on principles of active learning is an effective strategy for elementary classroom design, as active learning spaces promote engagement, improve student focus, and support student comfort. Active learning spaces offer a variety of different learning areas to meet different learning needs. Young students benefit from switching between different learning approaches and activities throughout the day, including independent learning, one-on-one learning, small group activities, and whole-class activities. Plus, active learning spaces offer the added benefit of multiple seating and workspace options so students can choose to learn from wherever their body and mind feels most comfortable and focused.

2. Social Environment

Creating a functional social environment supports interactions within the classroom between students, peers, teachers, and family members. In the same way that the physical environment enables a variety of different learning activities and approaches, the social components of a classroom should support a variety of classroom interactions. In early childhood learning environments, social components include the orientation of the space, flexibility for different group sizes and activities, and materials and activities that promote interaction.

The way student desks or tables are oriented will set the tone for day-to-day interactions between students. To create a more collaborative space, group students together so they are facing one another, either by selecting desks that are designed to be clustered or by using tables instead of desks. Alternatively, orienting desks in rows may help students to focus better on whole-class activities and independent work. The flexibility of the environment is also a critical social component, allowing the space to change to meet the needs of different interactions. For instance, mobile furniture allows reconfiguration of the space for different group activities, presentations, or even parent conferences and open houses.

The orientation of a space plays a big part in the social environment, but the items and activities that are available to students throughout the space are also key to designing a space that meets their social needs. Creating zones in the classroom that facilitate spontaneous social engagement can be beneficial to young students who are building critical communication and social skills. Makerspaces, free play areas, and even reading nooks all promote creativity and connection, and require students to share and collaborate with their peers.Early Childhood Learning Environments

3. Temporal Environment

The temporal environment is less about the furnishings and layout of the space, but rather how the space is effectively utilized each day, from routines and schedules to the activities students engage in.

The flow of early childhood learning environments is particularly important as a temporal component of the space. The resources that students need to reference throughout the day, such as the schedule, any classroom “jobs” they hold, or extracurriculars for the day should be visible from anywhere in the room, ensuring students always have access to the information they need. Additionally, the supplies and workspaces they need to progress through the daily schedule or participate in these jobs and extracurriculars should be accessible, and the use of these supplies and spaces should never hinder the productivity of other students.

When designing an early childhood learning environment, it’s critical to find a balance between an efficiently designed physical learning space that provides each student with the space and resources they need and an effective temporal environment that helps students easily engage in all of the activities, assignments, and interactions they need to be successful in the classroom.

Early childhood learning environments are a crucial part of giving students the learning foundation they need to be successful learners for years to come. Here at MiEN, we’re known for our attention to detail when designing early childhood learning environments, and our established background in elementary classroom design means we’re ready to help you create engaging and effective pre-K-5 learning spaces and beyond!

Dr. Christina Counts, VP of Education for MiEN Environments, is a proven leader with a successful background in transforming learning spaces into modern engaging learning environments. Dr. Counts has worked in education for over 17 years with experience as a classroom teacher, district instructional leader, school administrator, and digital and innovative learning designer. In her most recent position, Christina leads a team of professionals that support schools making the transition to a flexible, collaborative, & student-centered learning space.  She holds a doctorate in K-12 Educational Leadership, National Board-certified, and Google & Apple certified. Dr. Counts envisions a learning space in which educators are empowered to transform education through design, technology and innovative instructional pedagogy to create learners ready for any future!