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Remove Any Institutionalized Feelings from Your Environment
September 30, 2021
Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are.
-Gretel Ehrlich, poet

"The idea of institutionalized childhoods does not create a pretty picture," wrote Jim Greenman in his book, Caring Spaces, Learning Places (revised by Mike Lindstrom). To help programs assess how institutionalized (or, hopefully not) children's experience may feel, Greenman developed what he calls an Unscientific Quiz:

“____ Room: Do children have ample room and different places to be during the day?

  ____ Time: Do children have some control over time – starting and ending activities and routines?

  ____ Privacy: Do children have any space to feel alone – places to pause?

  ____ Personal Property: Do children have a protected place for personal property?

  ____ Meaning and Responsibility: Do children have the opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the community?

  ____ Exuberance and Spontaneity: Are children allowed to jump for joy or dive into something? Pursue an interest? Change directions?

  ____ Security, Safety, and Order: Are children allowed to risk the normal bumps and bruises of childhood?

  ____ Significant Others in the Outside World: Are siblings, parents, and extended family a symbolic or real presence in the center and an occasional part of the child’s center life?

  ____ Staff: Are staff treated and respected as valuable, intelligent human beings?

  ____ Individuality: Are children recognized and appreciated as individuals with personalities, interests, and cultures in practice?

  ____ Dignity and Respect: Are children and adults considered people who are entitled to dignity and respect?"

In the Exchange Essentials article collection, “Designing Intentional Play Spaces and Learning Environments,” landscape architect Jill Primak offers some more food-for-thought:

“Since we know that spending time in nature-filled spaces promotes the health and well-being of adults and children alike, here are some questions to ponder:

  • Does your outdoor space take advantage of cozy places and provide areas that work well for families and educators?
  • What could you change indoors to make the space more welcoming for families as they arrive at your door each day?
  • How could you change spaces that are uncomfortable for adults into places that feel good?”

And in their beautiful book, Bringing the Outside InSandra Duncan and Jody Martin offer a wealth of affordable, practical ways to bring more nature into indoor spaces. Here’s one example: They encourage all programs, “even if located in a metropolitan area with little green space,” to “grow gardens within a room’s four walls. Container gardens do not need a large piece of land or even a lot of space – all you need is light, dirt, water, and a collection of containers for the plants. It is also not necessary to invest a lot of money in purchasing the containers. Take a look around – garage, basement, kitchen – for vases, bowls, vessels, mason jars, or even thick glass bottles. You might be surprised at the many cast-off objects that can be magically transformed into whimsical containers.”

Bringing the Outside In

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Bringing the Outside In offers nature-based experiences to encourage educators and young children to bring the natural world into the early childhood classroom. Each hands-on, open-ended, and sensory-oriented experience is designed to spark discovery and imagination; encourage conversations and collaborations; and allow young children to develop a sense of wonder and get to know the natural world.

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Comments (4)

Displaying All 4 Comments
Tiffany Peckham · October 04, 2021
Lincoln, NE, United States

K.T., I'm glad you enjoyed the quiz! Thank you for the work that you do.

Francis, couldn't agree more with you. Thank you!

Rebecca, 100 percent! thank you for sharing.

-Tiffany at Exchange.

K.T. Korngold · September 30, 2021
Montessori Chldren's Center
West Harrison, NY, United States

All of these practices are essential to a Montessori environment. We look to create a peaceful, home like, calm setting, so children and adults alike feel respected, nourished and nurtured. Thank you for sharing this quiz!

Francis Wardle · September 30, 2021
Center for the Study of Biracial Children
Denver, Colorado, United States

Jim Greenman's criteria should also apply to the curriculum and activities. Scripted curricula and those that are "outcome based" are, by definition, institutionalized instruction. We must move toward a much more emergent approach both to the curriculum and to instruction, where the individual child directs much of the learning.

Rebecca Ann Escott · September 30, 2021
Penn State Better Kid Care
State College, PA, United States

Just like providers are gathering and "Reimagining Our Work," I wish that policy makers and licensing enforcers could gather and talk about why the elements of the Jim Greenman quiz are important to the health of a child and the life that happens within a space. How can we use this tool to create some "both/and" decisions about what's good for humanity going forward?

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