Transforming the Learning Environment

Inspired by my new book for Preschool and Kindergarten Teachers, Outside My Window, I have set three goals this year for our learning environment; reduce the amount of plastic, pare down resources, use nature's loose parts for indoor/outdoor learning and select learning centres which encourage open-ended social learning experiences. A surprise for me was how much space has been created in our room. I have less storage needs which has translated into more floor space for building and working.

Here are a few ideas that have been very successful this term as I make my shift to natural resources:

Use nature's loose parts for science investigations
 Our first inquiry this year is about Woodstream Park, the forest across the street from our school. To help the children learn the name of the trees and plants we played a memory game in small groups. First we named the nature objects then covered it with a clothe and them hid one object. The children took turns naming the missing object. (sorry I was working with a group so no photos)

A second activity was float and sink using nature's loose parts found in Woodstream Park. The learning intention was to help the children  become familiar with the name of trees and plants i.e.: fir cone vs. pine cone. The children each collected five nature's loose parts. In small group the child made a prediction and then tested the theory. Each time the object was named. (again I was working with a group so no photos).

Use nature's loose parts at the storytelling table

An Invitation to create a story
This was probably the most fun to observe!!! I laid it out so tidy and within minutes the loose parts were on the table and a story was quickly underway. The children went around the classroom hunting for more objects to add to their story. They found blue fabric at the farm and used it to create a waterfall with sticks floating off the edge of the table. They really wanted a beaver but we don't have one (yet). It was hard to leave the storytelling table to go and observe other children. 




Use nature collections for math investigations 
We collected nature's loose parts at the forest and added some from last spring's nature collections. The children laid out egg cartons and then began to put one object into each egg carton cradle. This has been a popular math centre.



I used mini tree cookies for counting and growing patterns. I made my own but you can purchase small tree cookies from scholastic now for about $25.00.  The hazelnuts were a donation from a local grocery store. I have over 100 tree cookies  now so they are used in multiple centres: counting, patterning, sorting, weighing and measuring. Oh and did I mention that this resource was FREE.


Use nature's loose parts for gross motor

This year the forest floor at Woodstream Park is littered with large tree branches which make large amazing forts! The children have been working tirelessly to create complex enclosures which they can sit in. Right now they have been building enclosures for themselves but I suspect that as they learn about the animals who live in the forest they will begin to build animal enclosures.


Use nature's loose parts for process art
We took several baskets to the forest one morning and collected a wide variety of loose parts. Later in the afternoon the children worked in small groups to sort the loose parts. 

The next day they created story pictures using the nature loose parts. 

On day three, the children did a picture walk and then met in their small groups to talk about what they needed to complete their stories. We did a whole group Think Pair Share using the question: What loose parts from nature will you need to finish your story? 

During our next forest morning the children returned with baskets and collected the loose parts using their own check list. In the afternoon they added to their stories. I met with students who wanted to tell their story. Finally the stories were added to their portfolios to be shared with the families.



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