Posted on

Creating Welcoming & Calming Learning Spaces

Creating Welcoming & Calming Learning Text and Plant pot Vector graphic

What a year it’s been!

In fact, what a few years it’s been! A few years of a rapidly evolving ‘new normal’ which is affecting us all in countless ways. We’re all impacted by what’s happening around us, and when the physical and emotional demands of our day-to-day tasks and experiences exceed the amount of energy we have, over a long period of time this can lead to feeling overwhelmed and drained.

Often called burnout, many of us are experiencing physical and emotional exhaustion, and this includes educators, the families who rely on education and care settings and of course the children, who may be struggling to cope with events and changes happening in the world around them. There’s a lot to process!

In this piece we will discuss some of the valuable ways in which learning spaces can be shaped to support and respond to children’s and families’ needs, ensuring everyone feels safe, connected and comfortable in the setting, including all the great educators out there worth their weight in gold!

 

Comfy & Cosy Spaces

Young girl sat on beanbag chair in childcare learning environment

 

Soft furnishings ensure children have access to a comfortable learning environment and can include anything from rugs and carpets to cushions, canopies, netting, fabrics and more!

Soft furnishings can transform a loud and busy learning environment by absorbing noise and helping to create pockets of calm where children can, for example, snuggle into a big cushion to read a book, or lie down and have a rest in a cosy and comfy spot. Soft furnishings can modify a rustic cubby house into an inviting and comfortable cave or create a welcoming area for the class to sit together to yarn, share stories and plan out the day’s events.

 

Featured Product:

MTA Spaces –  Navy Foam-Filled Lounger 

 

 

Calming & Reflective Spaces

Young girl sat in cosy nook reading

 

Calming and reflective spaces offer a peaceful learning setting in which children can embrace quiet. Here, children can spend time relaxing and reflecting away from the hustle and bustle of a busy classroom.

Cushions, fabrics, tents and dens can all contribute to quiet and reflective spaces, making cosy and comfortable spots for children to explore and make their own.

Combine these spaces with books, puzzles, soft toys, tea parties or anything else that children would like to add to their retreat. A calming and reflective space can be just the thing to refuel children’s energy.

 

Featured Product:

Stockholm Spaces – Cosy Retreat 

 

 

Spaces of Belonging

Peg People of the world on table

 

The way children and their families are welcomed into the learning environment makes an incredible difference to their sense of belonging. Belonging is all about feeling connected and secure, valued and accepted with the community’s people and place. A deep sense of belonging ensures the emotional wellbeing of children and their families can thrive, including their self-worth, confidence, capability and adaptability, to name a few.

Feeling secure and connected within their social and physical learning environments will also ensure that these settings become places of safety and refuge for children and families to work through the challenges and difficulties they might be experiencing.

Educators are in an excellent position to build a sense of belonging, not only with their words and actions but also with the physical settings too. Seeing welcoming resources such as wall hangings or displays or children’s names on parent communication pockets will invite families into the settings. Classroom journals will also empower children and their families to contribute to the program and the day’s happenings.

A place where everyone belongs.

 

Featured Product:

Peg People of the World

 

 

Mindful Spaces

Birds eye view of young girl surrounded by mindful picture cards

 

Affirmations, mindfulness and restful breathing activities, including yoga, can all help ‘cultivate calm’ while fostering a peaceful and positive mindset. Creating a daily ritual with affirmations and yoga
or meditation and breathing will empower young children to nurture their self-awareness, set positive intentions and work through emotional regulation in healthy and helpful ways.

Focusing on gratitude – the feeling of appreciation – is also a powerful way to see the silver lining when everything seems gloomy. These Positive Mindset Affirmation Cards and I Am Me Affirmation Cards can enable the building of confidence, resilience and self-esteem by helping children to find the sunny side of any situation.

 

Featured Product:

Mindful & Co Kids Yoga Flash Cards

 

 

Engaging & Inspiring Spaces

MTA Light table with chids hands and coloured shapes on top

 

It’s hard to feel motivated when you’re burnt out.

Refreshing your learning environment with a new and exciting project can go a long way in helping to reignite energy and enthusiasm. Light boxes and panels along with light box resources are wonderful tools to drive children’s motivation to explore and investigate with energy and enthusiasm. They light up the room in the most magical of ways, in turn bringing delight and wonder to learning curriculums.

Creating an engaging and inspiring learning environment ensures everyone wants to come back for more. What will happen today? The possibilities for discovery are endless!

 

Featured Product:

Stockholm Spaces – Round Table & Light Panel

 

 

Culturally Meaningful Spaces

Young girl playing with culturally meaningful resources on table

 

Culturally meaningful curriculums in early childhood settings increase opportunities for its community members to feel connected – a place to feel safe and secure, to feel loved, appreciated and valued. A place to belong.

If you’re thinking, ‘This sounds great, but where do I begin?’, a good starting point is to have a wander through your setting. Does everything in your setting reflect the diverse backgrounds of its community members (the children and their families, the educators and service staff, as well as the wider community at large)?

There’s no end to the items that you can meaningfully interweave throughout your environment. Include dolls, figurines, pretend food, dress-ups and props from around the world. Ensure children’s books portray the diversity of the world’s peoples, perspectives, cultures and abilities in a positive light. Make sure there are truly authentic cultural and Indigenous resources for children to connect with on a daily basis. Invite educators and families to share their cultural backgrounds – learn some keywords and phrases from different languages, learn a song or dance, cook foods from around the world or engage in traditional storytelling.

 

Featured Product:

Fair Trade Aboriginal Ceremony Matching Game

 

 

Purposeful Spaces

Childcare centre furniture

 

Learning spaces that are set up purposefully can bring safety and comfort and a sense of calm to the environment. The physicality of the space (the size, furniture placement etc.) communicates what is to happen, providing clear boundaries and fostering behaviours of motivated and engaged learners. Create breakaway areas, book corners and home corners or simply direct foot traffic in safe and effective ways.

How can a purposeful space be created? It might be through using non-fixed furniture pieces that can be easily moved around the room to create and define predictable play spaces. Open-backed shelving also acts as a barrier while allowing for maximum supervision. Rugs and carpets define a learning space, while the number of chairs, cushions and pillows communicate how many children the area is suitable for at any one time.

The resources chosen to join the space will also encourage positive behaviours. Organised and uncluttered spaces with a considered selection of materials will invite children to develop their skills and interests while interacting in positive ways and achieving learning goals.

 

Featured Product:

Stockholm Spaces – Circular Low Table

 

 

Creative Spaces

Paining easel with paintings hanging in childcare learning environment

 

With all those big feelings and emotions children are experiencing, spaces in which children can express themselves with art become even more important. The creative and expressive arts (including painting and drawing, dance, drama, music and movement) all allow children to work through their feelings and emotions by creatively expressing themselves, which is especially important when the words can’t be found.

Providing a space that includes a wide variety of creative materials ensures children have endless opportunities to process what’s happening in their world and come to terms with their experiences. A space where children’s voices and perspectives are seen and heard.

Creative spaces aren’t just for children though! A selection of art materials in the staff room can provide a creative strategy for educators to relieve stress. Drawing or colouring-in for adults can help boost positive feelings or simply take your mind off things.

 

Featured Product:

Premium Wooden 4-Sided Easel

 

 

Storytelling Spaces

Young girl and boy reading large storybooks in earlychildhood centre classroom

 

Grab a comfy cushion – it’s storytime!

Books that gently and sensitively capture the lived experience of lockdown, such as While We Can’t Hug, Share Your Rainbow and Windows are invaluable in helping children make sense of an ever-changing ‘new normal’ during the current pandemic. The Fun & Humour Book Pack is guaranteed to make children laugh with continuous joy and entertainment, while the Emotional Development Book Pack celebrates some important milestones in young children’s emotional development with just the right touch of imagination.

Whether it’s everyday shared reading with the Big Books Mixed Carton or storybooks that delve into specific topics, books are a powerful way for children to explore and process their feelings and emotions, supporting and empowering them to identify and articulate the things they are experiencing.

 

 

Multigenerational Spaces

White cots and blue armchair & cushions

 

Adult-sized furniture pieces ensure educators have places to sit safely and comfortably throughout the day, as well as provide welcoming statements for families to participate. Whether it’s reading a story from the Intergenerational Shared Reading Pack or providing a space for carers to feed their little ones before setting off, adult-sized armchairs, sofas, chairs and cushions will ensure a homelike setting where all the members of the learning community feel comfortable and welcome.

Featured Product:

Aalto – Full-Size High Back Armchair

 

A well thought out learning environment has the power to support the wellbeing of children & their families – and educators too! It can encourage exploration, enquiry and discovery – and can include open spaces to move about, cosy nooks to hide away and everything in between. It can respond to individuals needs and interests, provide stimulation and excitement, security and comfort, demonstrate cultural diversity and perhaps most importantly- a deep sense of belonging for all.

 

Thanks for joining us over here at the Modern Teaching Blog today!

 

 

About the Author
Penny Groen is an Early Childhood Teacher who has been working in Early Childhood Education and Care settings around Sydney for 17 years. She has a passion for working in meaningful partnerships with families and communities, providing a responsive and engaging curriculum where everyone feels welcome to contribute. You can see Penny’s interest in the natural world with all the weird and wonderful experiments growing both inside and outside the classroom. Penny is also known for equipping children with the tools to explore their interests and celebrate the discoveries each day brings.

 

 

Blog Home>

Shop MTA>

Posted on

Everyone Belongs: Celebrating Harmony Day In The Classroom

Everyone belongs title on grass background with wooden dolls

Australia is an incredibly diverse country that people from many different backgrounds call home. Considering that nearly half of Australians are either born overseas, or have one or more parents that have been born overseas (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2016), it is no wonder that Australia is considered one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.

I consider myself extremely lucky to teach in such a vibrant, multicultural country and acknowledge the responsibility of celebrating this diversity in my classroom. Celebrating the rich diversity of all students is something that should be embedded into classroom practices each and every day. While fostering a sense of belonging in the classroom happens on a daily basis, there are some special dates throughout the school calendar, such as Harmony Day, that provide a further opportunity for us to celebrate the rich diversity of our amazing country.

What is Harmony Day?

Harmony Day, which is held on the 21st of March every year, is widely celebrated in the community and at schools around the country. This significant day coincides with the United Nations’ International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It is a time to celebrate Australia’s cultural diversity and promote inclusiveness, with its key message being ‘Everyone Belongs’.

On Harmony Day, many schools engage their community in a variety of activities. These activities aim to teach understanding of how all Australians equally belong to this country and enrich it, as well as promote cultural respect for all. There are various ways to celebrate this special day in the classroom, read on to find many ideas and activities to implement at your school. *

Ways to celebrate Harmony Day in the Classroom

Wear Orange

Invite students and staff to wear orange on March 21st to celebrate Harmony Day. This might sound simple, but did you know that orange is the chosen colour to represent Harmony Day and it signifies social communication and meaningful conversations? The Australian Government, Department of Home Affairs (2019) explains that this chosen colour relates to the freedom of ideas and encouragement of mutual respect. In the past, I have used this tradition as an opportunity to talk to my students about what this colour means, which has sparked many rich conversations.

 

Promote Diversity Through Books

Celebrations of the world book with wooden figures on grass background

One of the best ways to build children’s understandings of different topics is through books. Two of my favourite books to read with my students on Harmony Day are ‘Celebrations Around The World’ by Mike Ingram and ‘Whoever You Are’ by Mem Fox. Both of these books celebrate diversity, invite students to think deeply and can be used as a platform to provoke rich, meaningful conversations.

Celebrations Around The World’ is a big book that explores the diversity of our local communities, our nation and our world. This book looks at celebrations from around the world and is key for developing children’s understanding of other cultures and the world around them. I have also used this book to celebrate some of these culturally significant days in my classroom, such as Chinese New Year and Saint Patrick’s Day.

Celebrations of the world inside spread on grass background

‘Whoever You are’ is beautifully written and celebrates children’s uniqueness, while pointing out that common humanity unites everyone. “Their lives may be different from yours, and their words may be different from yours. But inside, their hearts are just like yours”. This thought-provoking quotation from the text invites students to explore the notion of diversity and inclusion further through discussion.

Featured Products:

Celebrations of the World Big Book
Whoever You Are Book

 

Multicultural Paper Chain Dolls

Paper chain dolls on classroom desk

This next Harmony Day activity was inspired by the aforementioned text ‘Whoever You Are’. We read this book before making these multicultural paper chain dolls. We had a fantastic discussion about how we may be different in ways, which is what makes us special, and how we are all similar, before commencing this activity.

Paperchain dolls whoever you are book with coloured pens on grass background

When making their paper chain dolls, students were encouraged to represent a wide variety of cultures through highlighting their appearance like skin colour, special clothing and interests etc. I love how these paper chain dolls look like they are holding hands, representing that it is important to live in peace with one another, regardless of how we may live our lives.

Featured Product:
Whoever You Are Book

 

Invite Families To Share Their Culture

Inviting families into the classroom is often encouraged in order to bridge connections between home and school. To foster this partnership further, invite families to come and share something about their cultural background with the class on Harmony Day. I have implemented this special ‘show and tell’ in my classroom before, where families shared different aspects of their lives with the class. One of the mothers of my students came from India and was kind enough to give Henna tattoos to all of the children. Another parent was born in China and taught us how to make Chinese dumplings to celebrate Chinese New Year. I have also had parents share their special outfits, pictures, dance, music and food. What better way to develop an understanding of different cultures, as well as gain a better understanding of students and their families?

 

Embed Multicultural Resources Into Classroom Learning Spaces

Embedding multicultural resources into classroom learning spaces is something I do all year round, as I’m sure many other educators do as well. Using and highlighting multicultural resources is another idea of how to celebrate diversity in the classroom during Harmony Day. I love using multicultural resources in my early years classroom as it fosters the concept of ‘Everyone Belongs’ and means that everybody feels represented. By naturally incorporating multicultural resources into play, children are able to develop their understanding and acceptance of different cultures in a natural and authentic way.

Home corner play space featuring kitchen and dining table

In home corner, my students enjoy engaging with our multicultural play food, which exposes them to food from all around the world. Food is such a big part of culture and I’ve heard many students talking about how they have eaten this or that at home, as well as ask others what particular items are, thus learning about unfamiliar foods.

Multicultural play food on table

My students also love playing with our multicultural baby dolls in home corner, all of which have different physical appearances. Representing many cultures through classroom resources encourages children to understand the rich diversity of our population.

Multicultural wooden dolls on grass background

Another resource that I use in my classroom to represent cultures is multicultural wooden dolls. These are some of our most loved play resources and they represent a wide range of cultures and showcase the rich diversity of people within our community.

Wooden town and dolls on grass background

My students love using these dolls with our wooden blocks, as well as with our town set, which is fantastic as it builds children’s understanding of our society being incredibly diverse with many people who have varying beliefs, cultures, interests and appearances.

Featured Products:

Multicultural Play Food Assortment – 100 pieces

The Happy Architect Town Set
Wooden Multicultural People – Set of 42

 

Hello! Konnichiwa! Ciao!

How many different ways can you say hello? I asked my students this last year and was impressed by how many ways they knew how to say hello in different languages. We also referred to a video on YouTube to learn some new greetings we weren’t familiar with already. We made a poster of the many different greetings and proudly hung it on our door to greet any visitors to the classroom.

 

Everybody Belongings Puzzle Artwork

What better way to show that ‘Everyone Belongs’ than with this puzzle piece artwork? This is a great collaborative artwork to complete with students for Harmony Day and is very effective when all of the pieces have been put together. Each student can complete a drawing of themselves and then cut out their puzzle piece. Once all joined together, this artwork clearly shows that even though we are all unique in our own ways, we can still join together and that everybody belongs.

Puzzle artwork with coloured pens on grass

 

Explore Homes Around The World

Homes around the world on grass featuring globe

Celebrating Harmony Day is an opportunity to learn about how cultures around the world live and many children find it fascinating to learn about this. My students enjoyed learning about the different types of homes people live in around the world and matching these to countries on the globe.

Chinese wooden play home on grass

As children engaged in this imaginative play, they were developing their understanding and acceptance of many cultures through an age appropriate and authentic activity.

Featured Product:
Multicultural Block Play Set – 33 pieces

 

What are your favourite ways to celebrate Harmony Day in the classroom? We would love to hear from you!

 

References:

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2016), Cultural Diversity in Australia

Australian Government, Department of Home Affairs (2019), Harmony Week.

 

ABOUT HEIDI:
Heidi Overbye from Learning Through Play is a Brisbane based, Early Years Teacher who currently teaches Prep, the first year of formal schooling in Queensland. Heidi is an advocate for play-based, hands-on learning experiences and creating stimulating and creative learning spaces. Heidi shares what happens in her classroom daily on her Instagram page, Learning Through Play. See @learning.through.play for a huge range of activities, play spaces and lesson ideas.

 

Shop MTA>