Using the Physical Environment to  Help Teach Preschool Children

Susan Hegland Human Development & Family Studies Iowa State University Get Ready Iowa! June 14, 2012 Iowa City, Iowa
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• Identify key environmental features of Iowa  evidence‐ and research‐based preschool  curricula. • Describe theory‐based components of  environmental supports for learning in  preschool. • Summarize research findings demonstrating the  impact of preschool environment on children’s  learning.
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Teaching 16‐20 preschoolers at one  time is challenging…. 
Preschoolers have limited: • Experiences • Patience • Vocabulary • Motor skills • Self‐regulation • Understanding of others • Literacy skills So they need: • Lots of hands‐on experiences • Short wait times  • Labels for their actions • Non‐frustrating motor activities • Visual and verbal reminders • Coaching on social skills • Pictorial reminders

Early Development, Care, & Education


Evidence‐ and research‐based  curricula and programs that use the  physical environment to help teach:
• Creative Curriculum (Teaching Strategies, Inc.) • Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute  (Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale‐Revised) • Head Start classrooms • High Scope Curriculum (High Scope Foundation) • Tools of the Mind Curriculum (Bodrova & Leong, 2006 ) • ISU Child Development Laboratory School classrooms • UNI Laboratory School preschool classrooms
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Pyramid Model  For Supporting Social and Emotional Competence in Young Children

Positive Behavioral  Intervention & Support    (PBIS)


CSEFEL Center for the Social and  Emotional Foundations of Learning Early Development, Care, & Education

Effective Preschool Physical  Environment is* 
• Well‐organized into well‐defined learning centers  that attract and engage children • Several learning centers, each with a variety of  learning materials that are both available and  accessible to children • Promotes each child’s active learning  through interactions with 
– peers,  – teachers, & – physical materials 
* Creative Curriculum (Teaching Strategies)
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The preschool teacher arranges the  physical environment to*
• Guide children into learning activities appropriate for their  developmental level. • Provide 25% more play spaces than children to match  interests and developmental needs of children. • Structure the daily and weekly routine so that children  know what activities to expect and what is expected in  each activity. • Develop a classroom community that helps children learn  to respect and to interact appropriately with other children. 

*Creative Curriculum (Teaching Strategies)
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The preschool teacher uses the  environment to teach children* to
• Choose activities and materials that will build  their skills and understandings. • Use materials purposefully. • Plan and implement activities that involve their  sustained attention over multiple steps. • Work collaboratively with peers to create and  build. • Recognize their own skills through displaying  their work at their eye level
*Creative Curriculum (Teaching Strategies) Early Development, Care, & Education 8

The teacher adapts the physical  environment
• So that all children, including those with  disabilities, can participate in classroom  activities as fully as possible.* • To adjust to children’s changing interests &  abilities.

*Creative Curriculum (Teaching Strategies)  Early Development, Care, & Education 9

When the child enters the classroom, s/he sees an  environment that says  “This is a place...
1. Where you belong.” 2. That you can trust because it is safe and  predictable.” 3. Where there are places where you can be by  yourself.” 4. Where you can do many things on your own. 5. Where it is safe to explore and to try out your own   ideas.”
*Creative Curriculum (Teaching Strategies)
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The teacher
1. Sets up interest centers with learning  materials for small groups of children. 2. Separates active and quiet interest centers 3. Separates dry areas (e.g., library, blocks)  from wet areas (e.g., house play, art) with  access to water source. 4. Provides a balance between adult‐initiated  and child‐initiated activities. 
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The teacher sets up the environment by
• Storing materials that are used together in  the same place • Using small dishpans to hold materials with  small pieces • Labeling containers and shelves to facilitate  sorting and clean‐up • Displaying learning materials on low shelves accessible to children
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The teacher puts in the environment
• Real, familiar materials to stimulate  children’s memories and planning* • Interesting, challenging materials to promote  children’s problem solving and discovery*

*Creative Curriculum (Teaching Strategies)
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Research on Preschool Environment
• Preschool environment (physical and  social) predicted social & academic scores  through second grade (Peisner‐Feinberg,  et al.,  2001) • Physical environment moderated the  relationship between family income and  academic scores (Mashburn, 2008)

Early Development, Care, & Education

Research on the impact of the  physical environment on executive  functioning, academic, & social skills
The Tools of the Mind • Bodrova & Leong (2006) • Barnett et al. 2008;   Diamond et al. 2007 • Based on Vygotsky’s theory 

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Tools of the Mind  (Bodrova & Leong, 2006)
• A research‐based preschool curriculum • Teaching self‐regulation:
– social,  – emotional, and  – cognitive

• Is as important as teaching academic skills • Embedding self‐regulation learning  in all aspects of the school day.
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Key strategies in Tools of the Mind
• Mediators
– Visual – Verbal – Physical Mediator seen in Iowa preschool:

• Language • Shared Activities • Physical environment: Learning Centers:
– – – – – – Dramatic Play Science Art Table toys (math) Blocks Literacy
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Mediators in Iowa preschools:  Clean Up transition song
“Now’s the time to put away Put away Put away Now’s the time to put away Before we end this song.”

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Mediators in Iowa preschools:  Tooth Brushing Song
“Brush, brush, brush your teeth. Brush the backs and underneath. Brush the fronts and brush the backs. Brush away that nasty plaque!”

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Mediators in Iowa preschools:  Wheel toys’ license plates match to  signs in parking places
1 2

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Mediators in Iowa preschools:  Children follow the recipe by linking  numerals to icons:

2 3
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Tools of the Mind Mediators:   Play Planning
• Teachers use scaffolded writing to help  children  draw and “write” their play plans. • A child’s play plan includes his/her own  written description of the play using  estimated spelling. 

Early Development, Care, & Education


Tools of the Mind Mediator:   Buddy Reading
• Pairs of children look at a book together • Mediators (pictures on small cards held in the  child’s hand) remind each member of the pair  what his/her role is:
– Picture of lips:  “It’s my turn to tell the story.” – Picture of ears: “It’s my turn to listen to the story.”

Early Development, Care, & Education

Tools of the Mind Mediators: Math Checking
• Pairs of children engage in a counting activity  (e.g., counting bears on a grid) • Each child holds a small card with a picture of  his/her role:
– Picture of a numeral:  “It’s my turn to count.” – Picture of a checkmark:  “It’s my turn to check.” 

Early Development, Care, & Education

Tools of the Mind:   Mediators during Dramatic Play
• Hats and dress up clothes help children learn  to self‐regulate to stay in role • According to Vygotsky, engagement in  planned role play is a major mechanism for  developing self‐ regulation skills in  preschoolers (Bodrova & Leong, 2006)

Early Development, Care, & Education


Tools of the Mind:   Mediation through Role Playing
• In role play, child learns  to internalize rules and expectations.  • Role play imposes limits on the child’s behavior. • Child has to learn to control his/her behavior to  play “by the rules”. • Child needs to stay in the role the child has  chosen by remembering what role he/she chose.  • Child needs to inhibit other behaviors not  compatible with that role even when  the child would like to act differently.
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Diamond et al Science (2007) Barnett et al. (2008) Research Studies
Two groups: • Demonstration Group:  Tools of the Mind Curriculum  • Comparison Group:  District Curriculum • Conducted in New Abbott preschools (New Jersey) Creating 14 new classrooms • All 14 classrooms included in this study • Seven classrooms assigned to each group Teachers, assistants, and children • Randomly assigned to one of two groups
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Both groups involved
• New preschool programs, instituted at the same time,  with the same  – Books, classroom set‐up, toys, and materials.  – Amount of in‐classroom coaching support, – Number of professional development hours  – Teacher stipends for attending workshops.  – Curricular content  – Curriculum topics. • $7000 ‐ $17000 of equipment, materials, and supplies  per classroom (Friedman, Frede et al. 2009)
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Only difference in groups:
Tools of the Mind classrooms also included  specific activities and materials designed to  help children develop Executive Functioning: • Inhibitory Control • Working Memory • Cognitive Flexibility

Early Development, Care, & Education

Tools teachers used  Vygotskian mediators
• Throughout the day & interwoven in all activities:
– Group times – Transition songs – Play Planning before learning centers – Learning Centers:  • Role play with planning and dress‐up clothes • Visual cue cards (e.g., listening, telling)

Early Development, Care, & Education

Curriculum Fidelity Ratings
• Target classrooms showed higher fidelity to  Tools environmental requirements than did  comparison classroom • Fidelity increased over time and across both  years of the study

Early Development, Care, & Education


Outcomes Assessments:  Far Transfer Tasks
• Executive function tasks completely different  from anything any of the children had ever  done before.  • To see a difference by condition here, the  children would have to TRANSFER executive  functioning skills to utterly new situations.

Early Development, Care, & Education


Other outcome measures
Tools children  • performed better on executive functioning  tasks • Scores on executive functioning tasks  correlated with
– Scores on academic performance – Ratings by parents and teachers of social and self‐ control skills
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• Results from demonstration classrooms, such  as in the Barnett & Diamond studies,  frequently do not transfer to classrooms  where study designers have less control over  teachers and coaches 

Early Development, Care, & Education


Framework for Effective Practice:
Supporting School Readiness for All Children
Highly Individualized  Teaching & Learning Research‐ Based  Curricula &  Teaching  Practices

NCQTL (Head Start Bureau)

Ongoing  Child  Assessment

Engaging Interactions and Environment
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