Creating responsive and inclusive environments that maximise children’s learning and development in a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program
An ecological model: factors influencing environments for learning
When planning learning environments, educators need to consider a holistic view of children’s learning. This requires paying attention to children’s physical, personal, social, emotional, and intellectual learning and development, as well as the context that shapes them, including family, culture and experience.
The Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF), using the Ecological Model (adapted from Bronfenbrenner 1979), highlights that ‘all children influence and are affected by the environments that surround them’ (p.5). The Ecological Model acknowledges that children are central in planning, and there are a range of contexts which have an impact on a child’s learning and development, including the social, environmental, political and economic context.
The physical, emotional, and intellectual environments within a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program are particularly important to consider. These three environments have a direct relationship to each other, and combined, support the advancement of children's learning and development.
- The physical environment impacts how children learn and behave. The way a room is set up, how welcoming a space 'feels', and the ease of movement from one space to another can either enhance learning or have an adverse impact on learning. Children attending a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program should have access to inclusive spaces and resources that inspire and challenge them to engage in learning.
- The emotional environment includes the things that educators say or do to make children feel safe, welcomed and valued. All children attending a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program should feel supported to try and test ideas out, and to work towards goals without negative consequences when things don’t go as planned. When early childhood professionals take into account the emotional environment, they recognise that they play a critical role in establishing and maintaining an environment conducive to learning.
- The intellectual environment provides children with the ability to be challenged, to test ideas, and to demonstrate their theories in practice. Intentional teaching and scaffolding children’s learning are important pedagogical practices. Creating an environment which provides significant challenges for children requires early childhood professionals to engage in assessment practices in order to identify where children are currently at and to plan experiences which extend children’s current levels of competence.
Environments matter, and educators should draw on the VEYLDF Practice Principles when making decisions about their kindergarten environments. They should consider the flow of the program and think carefully about the experiences planned, and how they support the individual, group learning and development needs of all children.
Creating thinking spaces for three-year-old children
Environments have a significant impact on how children learn.
When early childhood professionals consider the needs of all children
attending a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program, and adjust the environment accordingly, they can maximise children’s learning and development, enhance inclusion, and support children’s curiosity.
Learning environments include the selection of resources and materials and the use of time and space. Giving attention to how time is structured across the day is important for children’s sense of agency, safety and security. Time considerations may include how transition times are managed between experiences and routines, how choices are offered, and ensuring that children have enough time to practise and extend their learning and have a balance between calm, restful experiences and more active experiences. These considerations will support careful responses to children’s individual learning and development needs and contribute to the flow of the program.
When creating environments for learning, educators should consider all children’s individual strengths, interests and requirements for effective participation, and the links between the educational program goals and the materials required to achieve this. This will ensure all children’s learning is maximised and that the materials and resources used invite curiosity, exploration and challenge.
Early childhood professionals should reflect on whether the environment provides sufficient opportunities for children to play alone as well as in smaller and larger groups, to explore and test ideas, and be supported with transitions across the day. Equal attention should be afforded to both the indoor and outdoor environments.
Connections to the VEYLDF
The VEYLDF acknowledges the important role the environment has on children's learning and development, and the need for early childhood professionals to reflect on the relationship between the built environment, the social environment and children's learning.
Equity and diversity, as one of the eight VEYLDF Practice Principles, promotes the creation of responsive environments that provide inclusive and equitable opportunities for all children, to advance their learning and development outcomes.
Other VEYLDF Practice Principles supporting the creation of responsive and inclusive environments for learning include:
Respectful Relationships and Responsive Engagement, which notes that early childhood professionals should ensure that children experience safe and stimulating learning environments
Integrated Teaching and Learning Approaches, which recognises the need for teachers and educators to create physical and social environments that expose children to learning experiences and physical activity, both indoors and outdoors in the natural world.
Questions for reflective discussion
To explore the role of environments within a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program, take some time to reflect on the following questions.
- What kind of environments allow all children to thrive and grow as competent learners?
- Does the physical environment support the inclusion of all children in learning opportunities, and encourage safe risk-taking?
- What resources might be provided in the environment to support three-year-old children's learning and development?
- Does the environment support collaborative learning and social skills development, as well as allow time for children to play alone?
- How can three-year-old children's learning be maximised in the outdoor environment, and how might this be reflected in an educational program?
Connection to the Box of Educational Resources
Box of Educational Resources has been provided to services funded to deliver Three-Year-Old Kindergarten in 2020 and 2021. It includes resources that specifically focus on creating environments for learning.
Resources available online
Tip sheet 3 - Utilising physical and social environments to maximise learning: This tip- sheet provides information about the role of the learning environment and strategies to support educators to create dynamic and powerful learning spaces.
Tip Sheet 3 (pdf - 606.37kb)
Tip Sheet 3 (docx - 7.14mb)
Resources available in the box
Children's imagination: Creativity under our noses: This book presents observations of children's imaginative and creative thinking. It explores what sparks children's imagination and reflects on how to nourish and support children's creative thinking.
See Page 68 titled 'Learning from children', which focuses on being present alongside children, learning to be still and observing. It offers opportunities to value the art of listening and valuing children's thinking and play.
Imaginative Play Every Day, Music Every Day, Read Every Day: These three wall friezes provide illustrations and ideas for engaging in play with young children.
Just Discover! This resource provides experiences for connecting young children with the natural world with an emphasis on hands- on, play-based learning opportunities.
Just Imagine! This resource provides an understanding of how to establish stimulating creative play experiences for children.
Just Investigate! This resource provides science and technology experiences for young children with an emphasis on hands-on, play-based learning opportunities.
Just Improvise! This resource has practical ideas for providing innovative play experiences for children. Educators are supported to find new ways and reasons to improvise in creating learning environments.
ACECQA National Quality Standards, Quality Area 3 – Physical environment: This National Quality Standard (NQS) is assessed by each service’s regulatory authority. This information provides support to teaching teams to ensure that the physical environment is safe, suitable and provides a rich and diverse range of experiences that promote children’s learning and development.
DET, VEYLDF Practice Principle Guide Integrated Approaches to Teaching and Learning (pdf - 429.9kb): This practice guide supports early childhood professionals to critically reflect on what is integrated teaching and learning, why it’s important, and what it looks like in practice. The practice guide draws on the
VEYLDF Evidence Paper Practice Principle 6: Integrated teaching and learning approaches (pdf - 807.34kb) and should also be used in conjunction with the
VEYLDF Practice Principle Integrated Approaches to Teaching and Learning video.
Think, Feel, Act Series, Early Years Learning Environments: This video supports teaching teams to recognise the environment as a teacher and create a flexible space that is designed with input from children to create many possibilities for learning and growth. It is part of the well-respected Think, Feel, Act series.
Think, Feel, Act: Lessons from research about young children (gov.on.ca): This website provides a series of videos and a research brief. It encourages early childhood professionals to reflect on their practices and think about the learning environments they create for and with children that value children as competent, capable and curious learners. Learning environments include indoor and outdoor spaces, daily routines, and relationships between children, adults and all of these elements.
Conceptual Playworld: This is an evidence-based model of intentional teaching developed by Professor Marilyn Fleer at Monash University. It values children’s play and stories in their learning of science, technology, engineering and mathematics concepts.
The environment as the third teacher: This article considers how the environment can ’teach’ children and covers the environment as a teacher, including how environments support learning through the senses and play and learning preferences of each child. It also states that environments should be content-rich, provide feedback, support learning and the development of feelings, as well as be aesthetically pleasing.