An ecological model: factors influencing environments for learning
When planning learning environments, teachers and educators need a complete view of children’s learning. This requires paying attention to children’s physical, personal and social development, as well as their emotional and intellectual learning and development. It also includes children's contexts, including family, culture and experience.
The Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework (VEYLDF), refers to the Ecological Model (adapted from Bronfenbrenner 1979).
The Ecological Model explains that ‘all children influence and are affected by the environments that surround them’ (p.5).
The Ecological Model acknowledges that children should be central in educational program planning. There are a range of contexts which have an impact on a child’s learning and development. These include the social, environmental, political and economic context.
The physical, emotional, and intellectual environments in a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program are important. These three environments have a direct relationship to each other. When combined, they support the advancement of children's learning and development.
The physical environment impacts how children learn and behave. This includes:
- the way a room is set up
- how welcoming a space 'feels'
- the ease of movement from one space to another
- the space being inclusive
- availability of resources that inspire children to engage in learning.
These factors can enhance learning or make learning less easy.
The emotional environment includes the things that educators say or do to make children feel safe, welcomed and valued. This includes:
- children feeling supported to try and test ideas out
- children being supported to work towards goals without negative consequences when things don’t go as planned.
When early childhood professionals take into account the emotional environment, they recognise that they play a critical role in establishing and maintaining an environment conducive to learning.
The intellectual environment is also important. This includes:
- providing children with the ability to be challenged, to test ideas, and to demonstrate their theories in practice
- practicing intentional teaching, and scaffolding children’s learning, both of which are important pedagogical practices
- creating an environment which provides challenges for children
- engaging in assessment practices in order to identify where children are currently at and plan experiences which extend children’s current levels of competence
- teachers and educators establish and maintain an emotional environment that is conducive to children's learning.
Creating thinking spaces for three-year-old children
Environments matter. Teachers and educators should draw on the VEYLDF Practice Principles when making decisions about their kindergarten environments. They should consider the flow of the program and think carefully about the experiences they’ve planned, and how they support the individual, the group, and the learning and development needs of all children.
Learning environments include well-selected resources and the use of time and space. Planning for a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten day supports children's agency, safety and security. Time considerations may include:
- managing transition times between experiences and routines
- how choices are offered
- ensuring children have enough time to practise and extend their learning
- creating balance between calm, restful experiences and more active experiences.
These considerations will support children’s individual learning and development needs. They will contribute to the overall flow of the kindergarten program.
Well planned learning environments ensure all children effectively participate. They cater for all children’s individual strengths, interests and requirements. This planning makes links between the educational program goals and the materials required to achieve this. This ensures all children’s learning is maximised.
The materials and resources on offer should invite curiosity, exploration and challenge. Teachers and educators should plan an environment that provides opportunities for children to play alone or in smaller and larger groups.
Children should be encouraged, through their environment, to explore and test ideas. They should feel supported with transitions across the day. Equal attention should be paid to both the indoor and outdoor environments.
Connections to the VEYLDF
The VEYLDF acknowledges the importance of the environment on children's learning and development. Teachers and educators plan children's learning around the built environment and the social environment.
Equity and diversity is one of the eight VEYLDF Practice Principles. It promotes the creation of responsive environments that provide inclusive and equitable opportunities for all children, to advance their learning and development outcomes.
Other VEYLDF Practice Principles that support responsive and inclusive environments for learning include:
Respectful relationships and responsive engagement
Teachers and educators should ensure children experience safe and stimulating learning environments.
Integrated teaching and learning approaches
Teachers and educators should create physical and social environments that expose children to learning experiences and physical activity, both indoors and outdoors in the natural world.
Questions for reflective discussion
To explore the role of environments within a Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program, consider the following questions:
- What kind of environments allow all children to thrive and grow as learners?
- Does the physical environment support the inclusion of all children in learning opportunities?
- Does the environment encourage safe risk-taking?
- What resources support young children's learning and development?
- Does the environment support collaborative learning?
- Does it support social skills development?
- Does it allow time for children to play alone?
- How can young children's learning be maximised in the outdoor environment, and how does this look in the educational program?
Having watched the video above, consider the following questions:
- Do your indoor and outdoor environments include high expectations within your Three-Year-Old Kindergarten program?
- How can teachers and educators use the outdoors as a great place of learning and possibility?
Connection to the box of educational resources
A box of educational resources has been provided to all services funded to deliver Three-Year-Old Kindergarten in 2022. It includes resources that specifically focus on creating environments for learning.
Resources available in the box
Children's imagination: Creativity under our noses
This book presents observations of children's imaginative and creative thinking. It explores what sparks children's imagination and how to nourish children's creative thinking.
See Page 68 titled 'Learning from children'. This focuses on being present alongside children, learning to be still and observing. It offers opportunities to value the art of listening and valuing children's thinking and play.
Imaginative play every day, music every day, read every day
These three wall friezes provide illustrations and ideas for engaging in play with young children.
This resource provides experiences for connecting young children with the natural world.
It emphasises hands-on, play-based learning opportunities.
Order the Just Discover series pack (opens in a new window) (includes Just Discover, Just Imagine, Just Investigate, Just Improvise).
This resource explains how to establish stimulating creative play experiences for children.
This resource provides science and technology experiences for young children. It emphasises hands-on, play-based learning opportunities.
This resource has practical ideas for providing innovative play experiences for children. Teachers and educators are supported to find new ways and reasons to improvise in creating learning environments.
Resources available online
- Tip sheet 3: Utilising physical and social environments to maximise learning (PDF, 606KB)(opens in a new window)
- Tip sheet 3: Utilising physical and social environments to maximise learning (DOCX, 7MB)(opens in a new window)
- Tip sheet 4: A place for everyone – responding effectively to every child (PDF, 669KB)(opens in a new window)
- Tip sheet 4: A place for everyone – responding effectively to every child (7.8MB)(opens in a new window)
- ACECQA National Quality Standards, Quality Area 3
- VEYLDF Practice Principle Guide Integrated Approaches to Teaching and Learning (PDF, 429KB)
- VEYLDF Evidence Paper Practice Principle 6: Integrated teaching and learning approaches (PDF,807KB)
- VEYLDF Practice Principle Integrated Approaches to Teaching and Learning video
- Think, Feel, Act Series, Early Years Learning Environments
- Think, Feel, Act: Lessons from research about young children (gov.on.ca)
- Conceptual Playworld
- The environment as the third teacher