Welcome back, Natural Pod™ LIVE, Episode twelve is available to watch!
About This Episode: In this episode, our host, Bridgitte Alomes, CEO of Natural Pod, was in conversation with Suzy Potts and Amanda Barrett of Creekside Creative Academy; looking at how they’ve designed functional spaces for individual learning; creating a cohesive environment where children can thrive.
The conversation began by looking at how both Suzy and Amanda’s experiences and values have informed their sense of community connection, and how that’s manifested into Creekside Creative Academy. Their ideation is based on honoring each individual children’s developmental stage. Rather than grouping the class all together and asking them to do the same things at the same time; such as completing the same craft project, or reaching the same level of reading and writing at the same time, Creekside Creative educators focus on individual learning.
“We give them the vocabulary and the knowledge that they need, to be able to be in a safe space where they can experiment with stepping outside of their comfort zone, knowing that we are a safety net behind them and they can ask questions so that they can grow in that safe community space.” – Suzy
Bridgitte shared that the very concept for Natural Pod began when she wanted to create authentic learning experiences for her first child, “I do believe that all children no matter where they are located in the world should have an environment that helps them thrive in their unique learning. What does that look like for you and how do we create it?” Bridgitte asked. That question led to a lot of discussion about how we can set children up for success and the adults’ role in that. Amanda shared from her own experiences as a mother and educator:
“Kids might be interested in a topic that I know nothing about, but ‘we can work together to find the answers to your questions.’ So if we can set children up to be confident learners and they know that they can find the answers for themselves, that adults don’t know everything, but that we’re more of a guide in their learning. I think that’s a really important part of our program.” – Amanda
It was really interesting hearing from Suzy how Amanda addresses reading and writing in this context, as those skills are hard sought by parents and are foundational pieces.
Intentionality is very important, everything in our room is very planned out. Amanda creates a very safe space for the kids. There’s not an item on the shelf that hasn’t been thought of with purpose. There isn’t an item of furniture in our rooms, that does not serve a purpose to our method and our pedagogy. Amanda is very clear about setting up opportunities for them to write, so there are clipboards in the room and a writing station that kind of changes. We don’t do themes, or big holidays unless the kids bring it up as an interest point. It was around Christmas, and Amanda just happened to put folded pieces of construction paper out with small pencils, and just a few words up on the wall and some stamps. So kids are seeing Christmas cards and those types of things filter in. And it was really the first time that we saw all of the kids sit and take a chance at writing and there was no correction on it and there was no wrong answer. They started to look at their peers and go oh, you wrote Dear so I can copy that word. They started to be like, well, I need to sign my card in my name. Well, we didn’t need to supply a worksheet for that, instead, they started to be able to write their name themselves. And it was just that snowball effect of I’m not being reprimanded for trying. There’s no wrong or right answer here.” – Suzy
The conversation shifted to knowledging that this is a great place to get to, but it does take some professional experience and belief to get to a place of trusting yourself enough to hold space for open-ended activities in this way: especially the foundational pieces such as reading and writing.
“I’ve had the privilege of setting up a lot of classroom environments, and I always really, really stress to educators; “whatever age you teach, get down to their level, I want you to stand at the classroom door and take a look around.” What do you see if it’s huge shelves and it’s things that are overwhelming from that little person’s point of view? You may have to add simple curtains! That’s always step one when I’m creating an environment; it’s to look at it from the kids’ perspective, because it has to be about them. It’s not about you. – Suzy
Both educators shared more about an environmental approach that may be quite unique to Creekside Creative; they don’t constantly change things out. Amanda shared more about this approach,
“There are certain items that the children have been playing with all year long. When we first got them, they were a big hit, then they kind of took a little break. Now we’re noticing that they’re all using them again. The way that they build with them, and then the play that they’re doing with them has changed and evolved so much. I think if you’re constantly changing items out, they don’t really get that chance to be critical thinkers and take their learning further.” – Amanda
This method of shifting the environment resonates with Bridgittes on philosophy, she added: “I love that because I think a lot of educators feel this pressure to keep it fresh and keep changing and keep adding more and more but really, it’s about placement and flexibility and giving space and time for that open ended creation, and that can happen over a period of time.”
Making children very comfortable and providing a home-like environment is important at Creekside Creative as well. One of the things they do is ask parents to bring a piece of their family in and they put those around the room. They also included a community table to provide a system and environment where conversation can happen, echoing the family dinner table.
Both Suzy and Amanda give deep thought to what best nurtures children and allows them to thrive. When they were asked ‘what three key things do you think educators can do or start today, that truly make a difference to creating a space where students can thrive? This is what they had to say:
- Change your perspective. Let go of what you, as the educator, want to happen, and frame it from the kids’ perspective. That’s first and foremost. Because until it’s the kids at the center, nothing will meaningfully change.
- Let go of the control of it. As educators we want things to go well and we want the kids to be successful, so trust that experiences you are going to make and plan will guide them to where they need to be. It’s a trust relationship between you and the children. Just let go and believe that you are enough for them, and what you support them with is enough, and they will grow from it exponentially beyond what you can try and plan for.
- Really reflect on the environment and the schedule that you have. If you have things in your environment that are not serving the children, then get them out of the room because they’re a distraction and they’re not serving a purpose. So always ask the why. Why are we having this large group? Why is that on my shelf there? Why? Why is this routine set in stone? What purpose does it serve, and if it doesn’t serve a purpose, don’t do it anymore and don’t have it anymore?
- I think less is more when you’re starting out and trying to change your environment. I think you can be really intentional about the items you bring in, but you don’t have to have 30 different options lessons, especially to start with.
- Be really intentional and thoughtful about understanding where the children are. Such as where each of them is developmentally, along with their interests and the knowledge that they bring. Working that into your planning is very important.
- Then I would say, setting up an environment where it’s possible and encouraged to foster relationships between adults and children. I really think that’s one of the most important things.
Thank you to Suzy and Amanda for their expertise, experiences and time while sharing their insights around creating cohesive learning environments so children can thrive.
About Suzy Potts, Director of Education
Suzy has her Bachelor of Education in Elementary and Special Education, and Masters of Education in Psychology, from the University of Alberta. Throughout her 13 years of teaching, she has been with a couple of school divisions as a Teacher, Special Education Facilitator, Early Learning Lead Teacher, and Coordinator of Early Learning. She has spoken across the province and internationally at the National Association for the Education of Young Children Conference and with Early Childhood Programming Companies about her passion and belief in high quality, rigorous early childhood education.
About Amanda Barrett Kindergarten Teacher, Home Education Coordinator and Acting Administrator
Amanda has her Bachelor’s of Education, with a minor in Early Childhood Education, from the University of Alberta. Throughout her 10 years of teaching, she has taught everything from preschool through grade 6, and has worked in several areas of the province. Most recently, she was the Preschool Director of a Reggio-inspired preschool program based in Pincher Creek, AB. Amanda brings the education, experience, and commitment to ensuring the students receive the best education possible.
About Creekside Creative Academy
Creekside Creative Academy, in Alberta Canada, strives to develop capable, confident learners in a safe environment. Developing these assets is accomplished through utilizing academically rigorous, developmentally appropriate programming.
Meeting the parents’ desire to provide their children with a strong start to their education journey, Creekside Creative Academy is focused on low teacher to student ratios, focused curriculum delivery, unique outdoor learning experiences, and inclusiveness for all. The education focus is to provide an environment where each child is encouraged to learn and be creative in their own way. It’s a unique educational experience that honors the whole-child and develops them into creative, confident thinkers.
Creekside Creative Academy is an Accredited Funded Independent School through Alberta Education that offers programming from Junior Kindergarten through Grade 4 in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada.
About Bridgitte Alomes, CEO of Natural Pod
Bridgitte Alomes is a thought leader dedicated to better environments for play, learning and collaboration using sustainable furniture. In her work with Natural Pod, she has helped create over 15,000 learning environments throughout the world. She’s engaged over 40,000 educators through her workshops and presentations and has been dedicated to creating play-based pedagogy and sharing the importance of the learning environment design. Bridgitte also serves as President on the board of the Green Schools National Network, creating broad-based initiatives and successful strategies aimed at fostering healthy, sustainable K-12 schools across the United States.
About Natural Pod™ LIVE:
Natural Pod™ LIVE has been created for, and by, our incredible community of educators, students, architects and anyone with a stake in creating better learning spaces and experiences. It’s an online streaming talk show where we interview education leaders who are sharing their personal stories behind the challenges and opportunities of creating exceptional learning environments. Join us as we explore the new approaches for what’s possible in the future of education with the people who are making it happen. This is your opportunity to learn directly from them about the challenges and successes and how they are approaching this work.