What has become of our infrastructure, which is so crucial to productivity? — Thomas L. Friedman, Time to Reboot America (New York Times Op-Ed piece)
What is the relationship between infrastructure and productivity?
Reggio educators speak of the learning environment as the “third teacher”:
A Space That Teaches
The environment is seen here as educating the child; in fact it is considered as ‘the third educator’ along with the team of two teachers.
In order to act as an educator for the child, the environment has to be flexible: it must undergo frequent modification by the children and the teachers in order to remain up-to-date and responsive to their needs to be protagonists in constructing their knowledge. All the things that surround the people in the school and that they use — the objects, the materials, and the structures — are seen not as passive elements but on the contrary as elements that condition and are conditioned by the actions of children and adults who are active in it.
What is your homeschooling infrastructure?
Do your children have the space and the tools they need to do the work you want to encourage?
Is their environment responsive to their needs?
Look at your children’s space with a critical eye, from their perspective — their height, their ability level. What message does it send? The space speaks to your children; what does it say? Where does the focus lie?
I visited a classroom where the teachers spoke of their frustration about the fact that all the children wanted to play in the block area. They would try to crowd into this small space together, and there weren’t enough blocks for more than two or three children. They wanted to find ways to lure the children to the other parts of the classroom.
They were floored by my suggestion that they get more building materials and enlarge the block area. The classroom resources needed to be allocated fairly across the different areas of the classroom. And the children needed to learn to share, to wait their turn. The classroom should be evenly populated, and the children needed to participate in a larger variety of activities, not just play in the block area.
I asked them to reexamine these ideas and the way they were viewing the children’s behavior.
They were taking a very negative view of the children all trying to get into the block area together — the children were being stubborn, they didn’t want to wait their turn, they all wanted access to the same materials. Observing them, however, it very quickly became apparent that the children were really motivated by excitement (by work done by a few specific children) and wanting to work together — something the teachers had been trying to encourage! They didn’t even recognize it because it wasn’t happening in the way they had planned for, anticipated, and wanted.
Sometimes observation can be a way to get beyond your surface emotions and prejudices and uncover the reality of what is happening. You see that the children aren’t fighting but frustrated, aren’t stubborn but deeply engaged.
Making room for the children to work together, giving them more materials so they could do more and better work — it transformed a difficult classroom with two frustrated co-teachers into a large, energetic project with two very excited teachers. The energy from the building then spilled naturally into the other areas of the classroom, pulling in writing and measuring, drawing and painting, etc.
The environment — the infrastructure — of the children’s learning space wasn’t keeping up with and responding to their needs. Once the infrastructure changed, the work took off. But it couldn’t happen until the teachers took a deep breath and examined their own attitudes and prejudices as well as what was really happening right in front of them.
Look at your child’s learning space and look at the work your child wants to do, the work you want to encourage. Then think about what you might change. Little changes can make a big, big difference.