Creating a Welcoming Environment

As a school, our year-long intention is belonging. In the Copper Room, as the teachers began discussions about our focus for the school year, we knew we wanted it to be on identity. We started the year with a question: Under what conditions do people feel like they can be their whole, authentic selves both inside and outside the classroom? How can we celebrate our similarities and differences in a way that is affirming for all?

Since the Copper Room teachers love a good children’s book to use as a springboard for learning, we decided to begin our year with All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold & Suzanne Kaufman.

As we thought about how to make the Copper Room a welcoming space for all, we felt it was important to hear from all of our community members about what it means to them to feel welcome and safe. We asked each family: 

  • What are your child’s hopes for our classroom space? 
  • How do they want to feel when they enter the room? What kinds of things do they want to do and explore?
  • What are your hopes for our classroom space? 
  • What does a calm, welcoming, and creative space look like to you?

Being a Reggio-inspired educator means that you understand the role the classroom environment plays in a child’s learning. We often say the environment is the third teacher in our PSA classrooms, but what does that mean exactly? As we reflected as a team and with you, it became clear that the “environment” means more than just the physical space. The emotional environment is just as important. So, what does that look like

“A cool, calming, neutral-ish color on the walls; not too much clutter, or at least clutter with some purpose and intention; quiet corners for kiddos who need a minute to be alone; open spaces for larger movements, singing, dancing, and creative play with friends; a sense of balance throughout the space; structure and labels and the ability to “put away” the classroom materials, but with ample freedom and flexibility within those boundaries.”

We believe that in order for a space to feel welcoming, the people in it need to know what to expect and feel confident in their role within the community. As we become familiar with our rhythms and routines, we begin to feel more comfortable and able to try new things and find space to share our authentic selves. In the Copper Room, we believe these first few weeks of consistent, yet flexible rhythms and routines are crucial to a successful school year and try to involve the children as much as possible.

“Opportunities to learn letters, practice cooperation skills and politeness, independence with daily tasks.”

As we build our community, we have made three agreements to one another.

  • We take care of ourselves.
  • We take care of each other.
  • We take care of our learning spaces.

We have conversations where we come up ways to show these commitments to each other and how sometimes kind and helpful acts can take care of more than just one thing! Each day this week, we have asked the children to make a promise to themselves to focus on one of these areas. We have modeled this language throughout our time together and have witnessed the children beginning to use it as well. As new adults enter the room at various times throughout the day, the children have begun to spontaneously invite them to make a promise to themselves too.

With intention, we starting our day outside. We have found that the transition from home to school just works better outside where the children have space to run, challenge themselves, and play with their friends or spend a quiet moment with their teachers before the day begins. Offering time and space for outdoor exploration and learning right at the beginning of the day sets the tone for the rest of our time together.

When children’s work is displayed, it shows that it is important. Our art materials are always open for the children to explore. We find ways to incorporate art into further learning ideas. In these first few weeks of school, we have taken time to focus on each color of the rainbow and create a backdrop for our art shelves in order to help the children take ownership when putting materials away. This was also helpful for us to spend some time teaching the children about different art materials as well as to observe their fine motor skills.

“Our child can be slower to warm in new environments and appreciates space to observe and do an independent activity until she feels comfortable to participate. Loud, overwhelming environments can sometimes be tricky for her and she is more likely to withdraw.”

We have already noticed the children utilizing our quiet spaces when they need them. We have introduced different manipulatives at Morning Meeting for them to use to take a pause and re-regulate such as a breathing ball and bubble timer.

We are looking forward to being more intentional with our dramatic play area this year. Its previous location (under our loft) made it feel like an afterthought which didn’t live up to our belief in the importance of this type of play. Our hope is that, since it has moved to a prominent area in our classroom, it will become an ever-evolving space. As we were setting up for the school year, we decided that a space that felt like home would be a good way to begin. 

We have already seen the children transform this area into different scenarios… a house, a restaurant, and a castle concert to name a few. Throughout the year, we will change out our materials so their creative ideas can be brought to life in new ways. Less defined materials such as fabric pieces, blocks, or containers allow for more imaginary possibilities, thus inviting a plethora of play to occur.

I know the classroom is the third teacher and I believe that fully. However, I also believe that a calm, welcome, and creative space starts with the teachers that create, plan, and dream in that space

We will continue to assess and adjust our classroom environment as we get to know the children more.

Reflection by Amanda Lautenbach and Mickey Willis, Copper Room Co-Teachers

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