At Huili Nursery Hangzhou, we opened a garden because the children wanted to learn how plants grow; we built a zoo because they like animals; we allowed them to park their "used cars" in the meadow because they wanted to know more about vehicles. Every child is curious about the world.
In addition to a group of passionate and highly qualified teachers, children at Huili Nursery Hangzhou have another mysterious teacher, the environment.
Children are naturally drawn to be close to nature. Their interest in things in nature is boundless. Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and educator, famously said, "The child has a different relation to his environment from ours… the child absorbs it. The things he sees are not just remembered; they form part of his soul. He incarnates in himself all in the world about him that his eyes see and his ears hear." As a result, environments and settings help to maximise children's engagement and desire to learn, rendering the environment an essential link in early years education.
In the recent programme about Egypt, how does the environment actively contribute to the development of the children? Let us learn more from Ms. Li, one of our early years class teachers.
The environment is the space children encounter most every day in school and carries the necessary conditions for children to learn. As the classroom's "other teacher," it is hands-on, explorable, interactive, and can create more links between children and knowledge; it must meet the needs of children's current developmental level and their existing learning experiences and be closely aligned with their current interests.
Class project studies and links in the classroom environment
Changes in the environment should follow the flow of children's developmental needs and interests in inquiry; at EY4B, the children are delving deeper into their study of ancient Egypt. The classroom environment is constantly changing as the children's inquiry needs, the results of their inquiry, and the areas they still want to learn more about develop during project-based learning. The fantastic discoveries children made while exploring ancient Egypt through the use of computers, tablets, Google Earth, and other media: the orderly arrangement of the pyramids, the geomorphic environment of the Egyptian region, the Nile River running through the middle of the desert! are also all constructed in the EY4B classroom environment.
Empowering the environment to become another important educational resource
In the Ancient Egypt project, a large amount of sand, clay, stone and other related resources were also added to our environment at the right time during the children's exploration. These vibrant materials significantly increased children's autonomy in exploring the environment, and children spontaneously formed sharing groups, investigation groups, and expert groups for inquiry. This phenomenon promoted children's active social development in the environment. An ongoing, dynamic environment can help produce positive guided learning for children.
The role and inspiration of project documents in the classroom
The findings from the Ancient Egypt project are also visible in the environment along with the children's findings - how did the project start? What have the children already learned from the project? The developmental process of the project is visible in the environment. It leads the children to reflect and review what they already know and have achieved, thus leading them to a higher level of development.
At Huili Nursery Hangzhou, the environment has a unique educational meaning to the growth of each child. By creating a diversified environment at the nursery, we encourage Huili children to be inspired and let them feel trusted with a sense of belonging so they can explore the world around them.