Giving Children an Optimal Environment for Learning

Head of Lower School Kim Barnes writes about how Greenhill’s Lower School provides students an optimal environment for their individual learning needs.

During the early years of formal education, it is important for children to begin to understand how they learn best. Children need to understand if they need areas of quiet, or if they can work through background noise; if they need fewer distractions, or if others can be moving around them as they work; if they need to stand while working, or if lying on the floor is a better support method, etc. Over the past several weeks as I have moved in and out of classrooms, the examples of support for each child and his or her individual learning style has been staggering.

A teacher is concerned with a child’s reading progress. Something is not quite right as this child has everything in place to be reading fluently. The teacher has heard about varying background colors and the way this may help a child see words on a page more clearly. She borrows a set of reading overlays and works with the child to figure out if one color is more helpful than another. There is one color that appeals to the child, and when combined with previously established skills, the student’s reading becomes stronger. An additional benefit to the child is exposure to adult problem-solving skills – identifying the problem and continuing to look for alternative solutions.

Another teacher might be concerned about a child’s core muscle development. Lower School faculty understands this need of development. Walk into one classroom and you will see large balls replacing some chairs; these balls allow children to have the movement required for concentration and focus. No one ever falls over or rolls around as a distraction since this is what that child’s physical body required. Other students have knobby seat cushions that provide stimuli and deep muscle tension required by some individuals and can frankly be the envy of a few others. Sometimes deep muscle pressure is needed through the upper body. Swaddling through tight vests or jackets provides some children with the ability to feel more grounded. Minor weights placed in jackets or vests or shirts provide the pull on the deep muscles of the upper torso. Teachers also allow (encourage) children to work on the floor knowing core muscles are developed through these movements. Our faculty ensures these options are available and in turn, children know about them.

What about focus and distractibility? Children independently set up barriers with portable individual carrels; interestingly it varied from class to class as to which students chose to use these. Earphones are available in many classes; no music is needed, just a better way for some children to block out their distracters.

Educators facilitate options for children and incorporate alternatives into the learning day. Sometimes the need is provided through physical paraphernalia and outlets. We know the brain and the physical body are intertwined in ways educators have long been aware and in ways we are just now recognizing through continuing research. Examples abound pre-k through 4th grade and it is difficult to limit these to just a few to share. Thinking about how an individual thinks and learns begins early in the Lower School.