What Will You See in a Quality Early Childhood Learning Environment?

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Charlotte Brantley, President and CEO of Clayton Early Learning guest posts today on what you should see in a high-quality early childhood (preschool) learning environment – from teachers, the classroom, the environment to the children.

Quality Early Childhood Learning Environment

Note from Melissa: I’ve never seen a better early learning environment than Clayton Early Learning. Simply put, it’s exceptional –from the space itself to the playful learning and parent involvement. All the classroom materials are natural, including hardwood floors; every room has huge windows which fill the rooms with natural light; each room has it’s own green space for outside play, snacks, and learning, spaces different than the playground areas; the playground areas are built with bathroom access from outside; all classes have a low teacher-student ratio; teachers continue degrees, are guided by best practices and continually give and use developmentally appropriate assessments; there’s a a parent library, community computer area and large, technology-friendly meeting rooms for staff development. (To just name just a few amazing things about Clayton!) Charlotte Brantley posts on this topic because her school is truly a high-quality early learning environment.

Quality Early Childhood Learning Environment

What you should see in the Classroom:

  • Materials and room set-up are responsive to and reflective of the cultures of the children and teachers in the classroom
  • Several interest areas that promote small group and individual activities, and support imagination and learning in dramatic play, math, science, language, literature, art, music
  • Children’s literature/books are available in several areas of the room, not just displayed in a traditional “book corner”
  • A variety of learning materials, interesting objects and art media (paint, crayons, scissors, papers, pencils, glue, etc) are freely available for children to explore
  • There are displays of child created artwork (as opposed to pre-cut and ready to assemble “crafts”)
  • There is evidence that each child is valued as a member of the group, e.g., child accessible individual storage areas with each child’s name, seating areas labeled with names, posted lists of children’s ideas identified by names, etc.
  • At least one area of the room removed from the major activities, for children to retreat to when they need quieter time
  • Outdoor areas enhance and support children’s natural curiosity about nature, function as extensions of the classroom, and provide support for children’s physical development

Quality Early Childhood Learning Environment

What you should see from the Teachers:

  • Teachers are fully engaged with children, one-on-one and in small groups
  • Teachers look children in the eye with warmth, acceptance, and real interest in what the child has to say
  • Teachers extend children’s language by asking related questions and waiting for children to respond
  • Teachers gently guide and support children in learning self-regulation and friendship/social skills with their peers
  • Teachers tailor their interactions with each child in ways that support and respond to the child’s individual personality and unique developmental needs
  • Parents are welcomed and encouraged to become involved in the classroom

What you should see among the Children:

  • Children are busily engaged, genuinely interested in activities that challenge them and build on their curiosity about the world around them and how it works
  • There is evidence of children beginning to write letters and words, particularly their own names
  • Children have opportunities to make choices among a variety of activities
  • There is an abundance of language/conversation among children and between children and teachers
  • Children seem to feel comfortable, safe and cared for in the environment
  • The sounds coming from the classroom are joyful, calm and inviting

What you should ask when interviewing a preschool:

  • How will you decide what my child should be learning next?
  • How will you know, and how will you let me know, whether my child is successfully getting ready for kindergarten?
  • What kind of training (at hire and ongoing) do your teachers have?
  • How many adults, teachers and aides, will be in the classroom with my child throughout the day?
  • What opportunities do you give parents to become involved in the school?
  • How will you help my child adjust to the new experience?
  • Will my child be allowed to bring something from home for comfort (e.g., a blanket, favorite stuffed animal, etc)?
  • If my child has special needs, how will you go about meeting them?
  • What is a typical lunch and snack menu like? What will you do if my child doesn’t like what you serve?

Note from Melissa: I can’t say enough about what an amazing instructional leader and woman Charlotte is! She has so much knowledge and great passion for children. I crossed my fingers that she’d agree to a guest post and am so glad she did, aren’t you?

Clayton Early Learning (in Denver, CO) received a $1 million award this September from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Head Start, for excellence in all areas and is one of only ten to receive the accolade. The school serves over 400 Denver area low-income children and their families starting from age six weeks to age five. Among other things, Clayton is NAEYC accredited, an Educare model and is 4-Star Qualistar Rating.

Classroom photos courtesy of Clayton Early Learning.
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Quality Early Childhood Learning Environment

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  1. My daughter is turning 5 this year and I feel that I’d want her to be in a collaborative learning environment. Thanks for mentioning here that children are in a good preschool if they are seen to be engaged in different work activities, communicative to teachers, and comfortable in their surroundings. I’ll take note of this as I start looking for a new school for her.

  2. If only we could make our politicians and administrators understand that this is what we want for all our children!

  3. Melissa,

    This post made my heart leap for joy. As I was reading the post, I was nodding my head…and thinking to myself…”Wow, these are the same wonderful things I see happening at the Head Start programs to which I consult.” When I read on to see that it was, indeed, another Head Start program, my heart grew a size bigger! I’m so glad to see this is happening in so many other places, too! I have been impressed with Head Start from the moment I began consulting to them. Way to go, Charlotte…and to the many other “Charlotte’s” out there! Thank you for “getting” what it is really all about!

    To C. Harrison…my apologies that your experience has been substandard. I am even more saddened that children have had to experience that as their entre into the world of education. Please direct your administrators to the Robert-Leslie Investigator Club F*REE Webinars in Early Childhood: http://www.investigatorclub.com/AbouttheProgram/Webinars/tabid/263/Default.aspx#webinar1

    Hopefully, your administration can find some new approaches that are in line with best practices!

    Wendy @Kidlutions

  4. I work in a preschool where a few of the day care workers will use police whistles to regain control of their classrooms. The children will be happily chattering and giggling in an excited fashion over some interesting event and then, THERE GOES THE WHISTLE!!!!. I had my back turned when one of these ladies blew her whistle and it startled me terribly. These women routinely yell and bark orders from their comfortable chairs that are situated in the corner of the room at a large desk. The negative climate of the classes is horrible and the children are very stressed. I try to model appropriate behavior, but sometimes I really hate my job. The directors yell and bark orders also. They’ll come into the doorway and will yell, “Everybody sit down!!! Sit down now!!! Now put your heads down on the table!!!” Then they’ll turn the lights out. Then the director will say, “You all keep your heads down on the tables and be quiet! You have to keep your heads down for five minutes!!! When the clock gets to right time, then she’s going to turn the lights on and you can sit up in your seats!” Let me emphasize, that this is the director who’s hollering all this at the kids!!! Yeah, I hate my job sometimes.

    1. This sounds awful for everyone, especially the children. I hope you can be the bright light for the kids and help make changes. Let me know how I can help.