At Bear Park we strongly believe that the environment, often referred as the “Third Teacher” plays an integral role in our children’s education. We continuously discuss, modify and reflect upon our understandings as we view the environment as a living space, a space for the ongoing education of the community. We aspire to ensure our environments reflect the various cultures & ethnicities that make our centre unique. These spaces reflect shared values and aspirations for all children, teachers, family/whanau and the wider community.
We view our environments as a space that holds an educating community, a space that derives its quality and significance from the people within it. It is a great interweaving of relationships made of objects, furnishings, architecture, soft structures (lights, sounds, atmospheres), but above all how these elements relate with and reflect the people in the space, both children and adults.
Great thought is taken in preparing the layout of the classroom, as is the value placed on relationships, and the interaction of children in small groups. We need to ensure the environment is set up to promote exchange in small groups, and therefore providing possibilities for children to listen to others; ask questions, and create an important culture of dialogue. We also understand the importance of the individual child, and the individual identities that make children unique. We believe planning personal and personalised spaces are equally important. We take great pride in the materials in which we use, and as teachers, we research the possibilities before placing these into the environment.
While aesthetics play a very important role in initially enticing children into an area/space, it is the materials and resources, which provoke thinking; encourage questioning; and fosters dialogue. Bear Park centre environments, value the use of open-ended materials, and limit equipment with predetermined outcomes. We aim instead to provide a wide range of resources, including a strong presence of natural and recycled materials. These types of materials offer enormous possibilities, and encourage the desire to pose questions, provoke investigation, and enhance creative expression.
The learning environment must be amiable, inviting, able to provide orientation, to stimulate, to protect, to encourage research, a space that is able to renew itself, to account for what actually takes place and transform itself according to the stimuli provided by children and adults. Another core aspect is the idea of the environment as a place that holds, testifies to, and documents the memory, the traces of the educational experience. The documentation is a historical and affective memory viewed as a process, as a seed for future development, for moving beyond the past and preparing to embrace the future. It highlights the processes of the experience and ideas, of children living, learning and working alongside others throughout the learning community.
“One way to rediscover our own creative impulses is to see possibilities in materials. Children possess a natural openness to the potential of materials. When adults become aware of this process, they find ways to watch and listen to the children. Children and adults become collaborators as they discover, collect, sort, arrange, experiment, create, construct, and think with materials. The goal is to allow children to become fluent with materials - as if materials were language.”
(Topal, C. W. & L. Gandini: 1999)