Why Structured Areas of Play - The Learning Areas in Create a Home of Learning

Why Structured Areas of Play - The Learning Areas in Create a Home of Learning

Part of the national standards for accredited early learning programs, by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), is to establish areas around a facility called “centers.” Centers target areas of learning and are dedicated to the learning domains of a developing child (art, blocks, cooking, discovering science, dramatic play, literacy, math and manipulatives, music and movement, sand play, and water play). Refer to Learning Domains and Brain Connections.

Centers are stationary and structured areas for play. These areas are constantly re-equipped and follow a plan throughout the year (often with themes). In a preschool setup, the materials and toys of centers are rotated in and out, regularly. One month, the theme may be structured around service occupations. The dress-up clothes are changed to doctors, police, firemen, or others. Play medical equipment will be put in the House/Dollhouse Center. A police officer or fire truck may do a day visit.

Instead of setting up all the centers (which would be difficult with limited space), I incorporated the fundamental components of these centers in a smaller setting. I set up areas in the home called “learning areas.”

Learning areas are dedicated areas of play with preset equipment and materials, for children to choose and use throughout their day, and can accommodate multi-aged interests and abilities.

Most areas were stationary, like the Kitchen Area and Dollhouse Area of learning, where children could free play, but I also set up the Sensory Table and Art Area in different parts of the house.

From each preschool learning center, through trial and error, specific equipment and toys were identified that had the best application in a smaller setting, as well as which resources worked best to target the areas of learning in a free-play home environment. In a home setting, many learning areas overlap and are used by different ages, and for multiple purposes. The structures used in the Climbing Area of learning, for example, are often used for reading or playing, rather than climbing. Refer to Climbing and Movement Area.

Children work very hard when they play. Children use all their resources and energy to participate in and make sense of the world around them. Children learn when challenged by settings and tools that foster their growing skills and promote these skills and abilities. Setting up learning areas enables a parent to effectively and strategically manage space to a child’s benefit.

The diagram of all the learning areas included can be deceiving. It doesn’t require a large room. These areas can be set up in different parts of the house or apartment, or even different corners of a room.

The concept of learning areas is more about understanding different types of play and creating areas dedicated to it, rather than having to establish a large area for equipment.

Depending on what age you begin, children between three and six will require more complex and rich play, than an infant up to two years old who will be more interested in shapes, colors, textures, sizes, and exploring toys. A six-month-old, for example, won’t play with a cash register the same way a two-year-old would. And, a cash register isn’t as useful or applicable as it will be for a five-year-old.
All items don’t need to be purchased immediately or be in your playroom on the first day (especially if you only have a six-month-old). The basic learning areas should be established, but start with a few items as you set up, and add throughout the years: look for yard sales, families with older children getting rid of things (people are always outgrowing toys and love to donate them), or special events and occasions.

Once you get into a rhythm of what toys to acquire, adding to your home of learning becomes easy and natural. As you walk through the toy store or stop at a yard sale, you will know which toys your children will learn from, and target things that will add to your setup. Children will outgrow some toys, but most will be used for years.

The paperback version of Create a Home of Learning is available at Amazon, your favorite bookseller or jodidee.com

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