Friday, May 18, 2012

A Glance at the Classroom Individual Learning Station

What is an Individual Learning Station?

The Individual Learning Station is a space where a child can learn by herself.  This is a very important step in the learning process because we aim to raise children who will value themselves and their opinions. When a child learns to understand a concept by themselves, her ability to trust herself and her instincts grows. 

Individual learning generally happens after the teacher has presented a concept during circle time. The student then scatter and go to different learning stations (I will post 'how to supervise individual learning stations' in a later post). 

Creating an Individual Learning Station (for indoor spaces)

Inexpensive learning mats for the learning stations
A wonderful way of creating individual learning station in small spaces is to use small inexpensive mats or small carpets.  The mats can be made of inexpensive mat or can be store bought.  However, they should be soft and comfortable for the child to kneel, lay down or sit on.  The mats can be rolled up and stored in a box or basket in a corner of the classroom.

Where ever the mat is laid becomes the learning station. 

As part of learning about responsibility, independence and cooperation,  children should be taught the following things about these mats:
  1. An unrolled mat on the floor signifies individual space and no child is allowed to enter that space (or step on the mat) while another child (or group of children are using a specific mat)
  2. The children must unroll the mats by themselves when they want to/need to use them and must learn to roll the mats and put them away when they are finished (you will need to prepare a separate lesson on how to use and care for the learning mats) --This concept is similar to the Montessori mat.

How it Works

So, first the child gets a rolled mat from storage (box or basket) and chooses a spot on the floor.  The children will be taught about Mat Etiquette and learn to use the mats before they can use any of the learning stations.  This will be an important lesson because they will use the same mat etiquette throughout their learning in the Flood Garden model. Then, the child gathers the learning materials they need to use and places them on the mat.

Before I present how to prepare a learning station, I want to show you this video.  A portion of the Flood Garden learning model (especially the indoor model) is based on the philosophy of Maria Montessori.  The Montessori curriculum is very beautiful but also very expensive (as you will see in the video). However, there are many things that we can learn from this philosophy and from that create our own.

NOTE ABOUT THE VIDEO: The viewing of this video is intended to show the peaceful and natural culture of a Montessori style classroom.  The video contains scenes of western style Montessori classroom. It is not our goal to achieve the glamour of these classrooms because of the cost. However, we can learn and be inspired to make our own version with the many resources that we already have.  I am very excited to create our own beautiful learning spaces to fit the needs of our own students in the Flood Garden learning model.

Planning Individual learning activities can be a bit daunting at first because the teacher(s) must make each tool by hand.  However, it is a wonderful chance to first observe our students and then create materials that we know will work for them. The learning tools are easy to make and students can use them many, many times before they need to be replaced. 

One of the advantages of making the learning tools and materials ourselves is that if they break or get lost, we can simply make them again.  We do not have to wait for anyone to replace it for us or mourn the loss of a valuable learning tool for long.

The individual learning station is simply a place where the student will use a prepared set of learning materials and a simple set of instructions to learn about, practice and manipulate objects that will help him better understand specific academic concepts through play.  

Counting Wheel and Numbered Clothes Peg Box
Here are some really exciting examples:

The Counting Wheel (Math)

Math Wheel activity completed
The pictures to the left show a counting activity. It is a counting wheel. The student has been presented with the concepts of numbers and the counting dots, for example, during circle time. In this activity, the student rolls out a mat unto the floor, then retrieves the counting wheel activity and places it on the mat.

Then she works to match the each dotted wedge to the correct numbered cloth peg.  The student can repeat this activity and any combination that they would like to do with these tools until they are done.  

The teacher can see that the student understands what each number on the cloth peg means when the student matches each peg to the correct number of dots. 

If the teacher makes 2-3 counting wheel sets, then 2 or 3 children can use them; each on a separate learning mat.

This counting wheel is made simply of paper and then colored dots.  The dots can be cut out of colored paper, leaves from the Flood Garden or simply drawn unto the paper by the teacher.  A bag of clothes peg is very inexpensive.  The clothes pegs are numbered 1-10 using a black marker.

The Counting Tray

Counting Tray and Numbers 1-6
Counting Tray and Numbers 7-10

More complex math concepts using the counting tray
The Counting Tray has the following objects:
  • a small box of beads, stones or seeds (it is more beautiful if they have great colors but it is not important)
  • numbered cards from 1-10
  • a small inexpensive tray to carry the bead box and the numbered cards together.
You can determine by the pictures to the right what how the counting tray works.  After the child has  been introduced to the concept of numbers and maybe has even worked with the counting wheel, she can now play/learn in this learning station.  

She can match the printed numbers to the number of beads.  As the student masters the concept of counting and the number character, the teacher can then add a learning station that has more complex mathematical concepts using the counting tray.

The counting tray is super easy to make and you can see that the teacher can create many different activities using the counting beads and a simple piece of paper.

This activity can also be repeated in the Flood Garden, using the many beautiful resources found there.

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