The Ways that Physical Environment Support Children’s Literacy Learning in Early Childhood
This paper will talk about the ways that physical environment can promote literacy in early childhood. In order to better understand, we need to know the definition for the physical environment. The school Environment is defined as the physical environment, its surroundings, and a specific setting (Vickerius & Sandberg, 2006). The physical environment of a school community provides more than shelter and work space. It conveys values and messages about who is welcome, what is important, and how children learn. School is a place where children, staff and families spend much of their time, where routine needs are met, relationships are developed, skills are learned, abilities are enhanced, and attitudes towards learning, society and our environment are formed (Ritchie, Crawford, & Clifford,2009). It is also important to understand that, the physical environment will vary depending on the age and number of children in the classroom, as well as the goals of programs and specific activities in the classroom (Vickerius & Sandberg, 2006). Since this paper will talk about the relationship between the physical environment and literacy in early childhood level, it is important to note that early literacy activities teach children a great deal about writing and reading, but often in ways that do not look much like traditional elementary school instruction. Capitalizing on the active and social nature of children’s learning, early instruction must provide rich demonstrations, interactions, and models of literacy in the course of activities that make sense to young children. Children must also learn about the relationship between oral and written language and the relationship between letters, sounds, and words. In classrooms built around a wide variety of print activities, then in talking, reading, writing, playing, and listening to one another, children will want to read and write and feel capable that they can do so (National Association for the Education of Young Children, 1998).
Dickinson & Sprague; Dickinson & Tabors, 2001; Hart & Risley, 1995 pointed out (as cited in Cunningham, 2008) several studies indicate that a quality literacy environment -one that provides many opportunities and materials to promote language and literacy development is linked to later reading success.
Personal Interest in the topic-the Ways that Physical Environment Support Children’s Literacy Learning in Early Childhood
From an international student perspective, I chose this topic because I always want to expand my knowledge and learn new things, especially when these new things come in a different frame. In other words, comparing between two styles of the education systems, and finding out aspects of congruence and difference. Through this, I gain new knowledge, correcting invalid concepts and opening the creative window to add new ideas and knowledge. In addition, hopefully, I want to use the acquired knowledge to make a positive change back in my home country.
Statement of the Question(s)
The relationship between physical literacy environment of preschool and primary learner is very solid. There are several key aspects of the physical literacy environment that are associated with children’s learning.
In order to increase the awareness among the teachers, describing the important criteria in physical environment to improve literacy among emergent learner is vital. Therefore, my investigation question in this paper will be, “In which ways does physical environment support children’s literacy learning in early childhood?” After a lot of reading, I found the researchers addressed this topic from two aspects
1- Physical environment that support literacy by general classroom features and arrangement, such as space, color, quality tools and materials, technology, word board and print labelling around the classroom.
2- Physical environment that support literacy by learning centers, including center materials and icons as signals for literacy activates. I will discuss the important points that I learned in the following sections.
Data Collection Method-the Ways that Physical Environment Support Children’s Literacy Learning in Early Childhood
Before doing my research, I defined and studied my research topic in order to achieve my goal. So, I focused on my area which is early childhood, specifically Pre-K and kindergarten Level. Since we live in a dynamic world the variables were expected and as such I zeroed in on the most recent research works, (that was a bit difficult for my question because I was looking for the root, which is part of U.S education system from long ago). My first step in the research was to visit the ERIC- education (Ebsco) as a search engine and Google scholar. The key words that I used were: physical environment in early childhood, school setting in early childhood, set up early childhood environment, centers and literacy in early childhood, dramatic play center and literacy, blocks play center and literacy.
To draw my finding in a clear way, I sorted them in two categories:
Physical environment that support literacy by General classroom features:
Space, temperature, color, light and kind of floor surface are elements that are considered as an indirect feature that play a vital role in learning process. (Stankovic, Milojkovic & Tanic, 2006), in their study report, the analysis of the technical characteristics of the structure and the space where the children stay, such as acoustics, optimal microclimatic comfort, good illumination, non- slippery floor surfaces, pleasant texture of the wall faces and the use of warm colors, have shown that they have a correlation with the positive results in children while the internal and external noise negatively affect the cognitive processes.
Space for example, can influence children attendance and use of literacy materials, and how effectively arranged this space is, can lead to successful learning. According to (Fountas &Pinnell, 1996) when the space and Furniture is arranged with the activities of the classroom in mind, children can work more successfully and independently. Literacy rich classroom should have the following:
- A lager group area for demonstration and meeting that will develop a sense of community.
- Areas for small group, partner, and independent work.
- Quiet area separated from noisy areas
Taylor, 2008; Veitch & Arkkelin, 1995; Voelkl, 1995 mentioned (as cited in Hensley-Pipkin, 2015) empirical evidence suggests a relationship between specific environmental elements (e.g., space, furniture, seating arrangement, light, color, peripherals, acoustics, temperature, and living plants) and human behavior, such as engagement, achievement levels, and overall development. In other words, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2013 (as cited in Hensley-Pipkin, 2015) calls for physical classroom environments which support the teaching and learning of 21st century skills outcomes. These settings should include collaborative learning configurations, individual learning spaces, projects, quality research tools and materials as well as technology.
Moving to the other kind of classroom features , which are directly related to the literacy, word wall is one of the aspect of general class features. (Al Shaiji, 2014) in her study explained the meaning and the benefit of word wall for the children who studied English as a second language. A Word Wall is a collection of high frequency sight words that are age appropriate, classified into groups or categories, and is located on the wall of a classroom for children to easily see and learn. The results suggest that despite students’ varied academic abilities, the Word Wall activities were one factor that helped built a high-frequency word vocabulary. With the development of a more extensive high-frequency word vocabulary through the use of Word Wall activities, students might portray an increased reading fluency, eventually enhancing their reading comprehension.
Moreover, filling the classroom with print is a significant aspect to improve literacy learning. According to (Reutzel and Wolfersberger,1996), professionally produced printed materials and children’s own language products form the foundation for enriching the print examples available to young learners in classrooms.
Physical environment that support literacy by learning centers
According to Matthews and Lippmann (2016), among the most commonly cited findings are that children who are educated at very young ages in high quality centers are able to perform at a higher academic level, engage more appropriately with peers and authority figures, have a lower risk of incarceration, and have a greater chance of finishing high school and attending college, than young children who do not receive quality early educational experiences. Literacy props such as paper, pen, note book, markers, etc., play a huge role in improving literacy skills if the teacher decided to incorporate it on her classroom centers, especially when the children used this props in meaningful ways. Saracho and Spodek claim that: (as cited in Guck study, 2012) literacy skills for children in preschool, kindergarten and multi-age programs have been found to be developed through play by embedding literacy materials within play settings. The results of these studies indicated an increase in children’s use of literacy materials and engagement in literacy acts. Reutzel and Wolfersberger, (1996) indicate in their study, research has demonstrated that when specific play areas (e.g., kitchen, post office, business office, or libraries) are stocked with an abundance of related literacy props, young children employ speaking, listening, reading and writing behaviors spontaneously and purposefully. In Figure 1, they provide a partial listing of literacy props suitable for suggested play centers.
Figure 1 Selected Literacy Props-the Ways that Physical Environment Support Children’s Literacy Learning in Early Childhood
Paper of assorted sizes
The ways that the teacher organizes the materials and tools inside each center is equally important as the materials themselves. Marx et al., 1999 indicate (as cited in Hensley-Pipkin, 2015) the influence of organization the centers in the classroom, in a learner-centered classroom, the seating arrangement allows students to interact with one another, engage in project work, and take risks through the open sharing of ideas.The Ways that Physical Environment Support Children’s Literacy Learning in Early Childhood
Books are considered as essential component in all centers, according to Reutzel and Wolfersberger, (1996), The number of books needed for young children in a classroom setting ranges from a minimum of 90 to approximately 500 books or about 4-20 books per child. These books should vary in terms of genre and difficulty to match each child needs. Six criteria should be considered when selecting books to enrich the literacy classroom for young children. First, teachers should select multiple copies of the same title to provide text sets for groups of children. Second, sets of related books should be selected. Books in a set might be related by topic, author, illustrator, series, or awards received. Third, a range of books varying in difficulty from three to four readability levels should be available. Fourth, a variety of genre such as picture storybooks, poetry, fairy and folk tales, fables, short stories, plays, and nonfiction should be gathered. Fifth, books with differing formats, e.g., paperbacks, hard cover, big books, wordless books, newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and participation books (e.g., pop-up, lift-the-flap) should be obtained. Finally, teachers should seek to place a variety of printed materials other than story or information books into the class room such as joke and riddle books, comic books, music books, phone books, directories, catalogues, books reflecting ethnic and cultural diversity, and books related to television programs or movies. Books can work perfectly in enhancing the literacy if there are other props.
On the other hand, library centers could have more books to support literacy learning. The physical features of a library center that will engage children include ample space, book related displays and props, and labels throughout the center. Props can include puppets, flannel board with cut out figures, stuffed animals and posters. (Dixie Lee, 2005). Dramatic play center is a land fertile for developing literacy by dynamic play with literacy props, especially when the teacher changes this center to a different temporary center depending on her theme. (Ihmeideh ,2014) in her research examined the impact of dramatic play center (DPC) on promoting the development of children’s early writing skills in the Jordanian context. Research studies have indicated that when children are given an opportunity to engage in dramatic play experiences, literacy skills evolve naturally.
The results reported that children’s early behavior increased significantly after the introduction of DPC activities. This could be due to the fact that children have done real writing activities in which they were asked to write freely without being blamed for their own writing mistakes. Teachers in the experimental groups did not teach manuscript letter formation, neither did they ask children to write correctly; instead, children were observed writing for purposes, using their emerging writing skills. Thus, the findings indicate that a writing center is a substantial component in an early childhood classroom. According to (Bennett-Armisted, Duke and Moses, 2005) an effective Writing Center gives children ample exposure to the purposes for writing. It also encourages children to play with language and focus on language parts which reading does not necessarily do. Additonally, they suggested in their book some of the important materials for setting up the writing center such as, create mailboxes for each child labeled with pictures and names of the children, provide child size furnishings such as desks tables and chairs, make sure materials are organized, visible and accessible for children as well as creating space for displaying children’s story, poems, news, notes, and announcements on a bulletin board or directly on the wall. (Bennett-Armistead, et al., 2005)
Discussion of the Findings-the Ways that Physical Environment Support Children’s Literacy Learning in Early Childhood
Based on the mentioned information the physical environment must be welcoming and supportive to the characteristics of children’s growth and teach the child independence and self-learning. In order to improve literacy skills, the physical environment must work with a conscious teacher to build and enhance educational attitudes and exploit them in the best ways possible. Moreover, the teacher must be aware of what captured her students’ attention and make them more engaging in the task regarding the environment. From the research, at times indirect factors such uncomfortable furniture, the color of the wall, etc. could be the reason behind children’s behavior. The more attractive the physical environment the more children will experience, learn and enjoy. Arranging and designing the classroom is significantly important especially in early childhood classroom more than others relative to the many contents and tools, they need it to play and build their knowledge. It is also important to make your physical environment as a teacher renewable and change in the materials, but the teacher must study this change carefully depending on her students and give all the children a chance to be familiar with these materials before doing this step. Furthermore, the child can learn indirectly and through the model as demonstrated by the research under the guidance of the teacher.
Physical environment must correspond with the changes in the world, in other words, incorporating technology is one of the most important component in 21st-century classroom.
Limitations-the Ways that Physical Environment Support Children’s Literacy Learning in Early Childhood
I found this topic to be very informative with multiple studies and articles which addressed it from numerous perspectives. Certainly, having more time will result to more knowledge. Another obstacle I faced as an international student, who is studying English as a second language, is the language difficulty, especially when I have a complex written text.
Implications for Practice
As a teacher and after reading all the information, I have managed to have a clear idea of what the kindergarten classroom should be. Of course, I will keep it in my mind when I set up my classroom. The articles gave me general rules that any teacher can apply, taking into account the differences in children’s needs, culture and language. I learned that building literacy skills depends on how we interact and use the right materials in the right and meaningful attitudes instead of just filling the classroom with tools. Also, I learned that sometimes a simple change in the environment could produce a huge impact on our students. In other words quality is more important than quantity. I would recommend that all the teachers keep looking for new ways and methods which positively contribute to children’s learning in the classroom. Use of new ideas with the materials and tools will help in getting the outcome that the teacher is working for, particularly in improving literacy and all learning skills in general. I will not forget how critical it is to make available the modal or examples of the language, both operative or written, to the students to support their knowledge and foster their learning.
Conclusion-the Ways that Physical Environment Support Children’s Literacy Learning in Early Childhood
Conclusively, the physical environment that has been raised by these authors shows that it is important that certain things are present in a classroom and using this things in appropriate and meaningful ways will be beneficial. They help in ensuring that the classroom is favorable for studying and also develops the child’s love for learning. In addition, the child items that are brought to class are supposed to prepare the child for the future.
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