What can teachers do to make the classroom environment more conducive to children’s learning and development?
Page 1: Early Childhood Environments
Safe, responsive, and nurturing environments are an important part of supporting the learning and development of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Such environments also help to prevent challenging behaviors and serve as a core component of interventions for infants and young children with identified disabilities. According to the Division for Early Childhood Recommended Practices (DEC-RP):
“Environmental practices refer to aspects of the space, materials, equipment, routines, and activities that practitioners and families can intentionally alter to support each child’s learning across developmental domains.”
Unfortunately, many practitioners are unsure how to create environments that support their children’s learning across different age groups (e.g., infants, toddlers, preschoolers) and developmental domains (e.g., social, communication, cognitive, motor). Well-designed classroom* environments:
- Support responsive caregiving
- Foster independence and feelings of competence in young children
- Encourage staff efficiency
- Promote children’s engagement
- Decrease challenging behavior
- Facilitate appropriate social interactions among children
- Provide structure and predictability
Research ShowsChanges in classroom environmental arrangement, such as rearranging furniture, implementing activity schedules, and altering ways of providing instructions around routines, have been found to increase the probability of appropriate behaviors and effectively decrease the probability of challenging behaviors.
(Chandler et al., 1999; Dooley, Wilczenski, & Torem, 2001; Martens, Eckert, Bradley, & Ardoin, 1999)
The table below describes three interdependent components of early childhood environments.
|Components of Early Childhood Environments||Definition|
|Physical environment||The overall design and layout of a room, including its learning centers, materials, and furnishings|
|Social environment||The interactions that occur within the classroom between peers, teachers, and family members|
|Temporal environment||The timing, sequence, and length of routines and activities that take place throughout the day|
In order to create an environment conducive to the learning and development of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers, these three components must be carefully designed and implemented. Indeed, every aspect of a classroom environment’s design should reflect its program’s priorities and philosophy. For example, a program that concentrates on improving children’s math skills is likely to emphasize the availability of materials related to numeracy, as well as to learning shapes and patterns. Additionally, if this program’s philosophy was Montessori-inspired—that is, it helped students to learn concepts through hands-on work with materials, rather than by traditional direct instruction—you might expect to see bead chains to support the teaching of mathematical concepts.
The following pages address these physical, social, and temporal components in more detail.
Ilene Schwartz, PhD
Professor, Special Education
Director, Haring Center for Research
and Training in Inclusive Education
University of Washington
Including Children with Disabilities
A well-designed, safe, and responsive environment is an essential first step in including young children with disabilities in early childhood settings such as inclusive preschool, Head Start, and childcare programs. If, however, the learning environment does not provide the support necessary to help children with disabilities to succeed, teachers must make changes to maximize their participation in planned activities, interactions, and routines. These intentional changes can be small and are often easy to implement, yet they can yield immediate improvement in the level of child participation and learning.
*In this module, the term “classroom” refers to any out-of-home setting in which group care is provided to infants, toddlers, or preschoolers.