A few weeks back a professional colleague asked what I thought an authentic learning environment looked like, this is my rather long winded answer 😊
Authentic learning “… is a pedagogical approach that allows for the construction of meaning grounded in real-life situations and the learners own personal experience” (Authentic Learning Environments). An environment allows for authentic learning when children have caring, authentic relationships with educators and space to experiment and explore.
An authentic learning environment begins with authentic relationships between children and educators. Authentic relationships with children are hugely important because “[n]o significant learning occurs without a significant relationship.” (Dr. James P. Comer, professor of Child Psychiatry) When a classroom culture cultivates positive relationships and a sense of belonging and inclusion children have the security to learn in authentic ways.
In authentic learning environments children are allowed to make discoveries through concrete, hands on experiences rather than attempting to force them to understand a concept by filling out a worksheet or participating in a teacher planned lesson. As Bev Boss, early learning expert said, “If it hasn’t been in the hand and body it can’t be in the brain!”
Giving children the space and time to play and to construct their own understanding of the world is crucial if we want their learning to be meaningful to them. Educators in authentic learning environments are co-learners and play partners, scaffolding the children’s learning with open ended questions and gentle guidance.
The best teachers are those who show you where to look, but don’t tell you what to see. – Alexandra K. Trenfor
Children are designed to learn, motivated to discover and understand the world around them. From the moment babies enter the world they are eager explorers visually mapping the faces of those closest to them, communicating with cries and smiles, and learning through interacting with their environment. As educators we must support that natural drive to discover by creating welcoming environments that inspire children to learn.
Reflecting children’s interests and individual needs creates a rich and meaningful classroom environment. Because teachers in authentic environments cultivate close relationships with children and their families they genuinely understand what topics will ignite their students’ curiosity and are able to weave them into the fabric of play.
Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. – William Butler Yeats.
When teachers are sensitive to each child’s individual needs, interests and temperaments and the environment is conducive to exploration and play, authentic learning is a natural process that occurs organically. Authentic learning is distinctly meaningful to each individual child and it is the things that have meaning to us that linger in our minds and our hearts for a lifetime.