Reflections from our Study Tour – The Role of the Educator in the Environment

picture 1Children are miracles. Believing that every child is a miracle can transform the way we design for children’s care. We make it our job to create, with reverence and gratitude, a space that is worthy of a miracle. ~ Anita Olds


Early Childhood Educators from across Ontario joined us at Compass ELC for a three day Institute and Study Tour focused around “Places for Living and Learning – The Role of the Educator in the Environment”. Over 150 early learning professionals took part in sessions that invited participants to consider not only the idea of designing engaging and rich learning environments, but also to consider deeply our role as educators in these spaces.

Designing spaces that are rich in materials and that invite complex play and learning has been on the minds of educators for many years, and is something we have been focusing on since we embarked on this journey in child-centred emergent curriculum nearly 12 years ago. Now more than ever there are dozens of books, photos and internet resources such as Pinterest, to give us ideas. Ideas are important. What we have been studying more closely is the “why” behind the choices we make, and the important roles we play in these spaces to deepen the learning experiences for children and educators.

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Our work at Compass ELC has been greatly influenced and inspired by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter of Harvest Resource Associates, who have been mentors to us. We have studied many of their books and have been fortunate to have Deb with us each year to deepen our practice. Prior to the Institute she joined us side by side in the classroom to study the role of the educator. She invited us to think about our roles as Architects, Researchers and Observers, Prop Managers, Coaches and Collaborators, Mediators and Story Tellers. You can read more about these roles in their book, “Reflecting Children’s Lives – A Handbook for Planning Child-Centred Curriculum”.

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Educator as Architect
Planning and adapting space for children’s active bodies and lively minds. We also consider elements of design, use of color, texture, light, etc., and bring a sense of wonder to the space.

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Educator as Observer and Researcher
Noticing details of children’s play.  Moving beyond observing and narrating play to consider what the play is about. Using these observations to plan, formulate new questions and grow curriculum projects.

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Educator as Prop Manager
Creating invitations for learning throughout the space with open ended “intelligent materials”, materials that have transformational properties. Restaging and reprovisioning materials based on observations.  Providing materials to extend children’s play.

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Educator as Coach and Mediator
Seeing children’s strengths, supporting risk competence, teaching skills to support independence and more complex play.  Helping children to problem solve and hear each other’s perspectives and ideas.


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Educator as Collaborator
Seeking multiple perspectives from other educators, children and staff.  Sharing decision making in support of democracy.



Educator as Story Teller and Broadcaster
Bringing visibility to children’s learning through documentation, as well as in the moment, when we describe and narrate children’s ideas and theories in their play.



As participants moved through our programs on the study tour they were able to see beautiful spaces that were designed with great intention.  During the Institute we heard stories from educators about their work with children and how this work influences and impacts each decision and response they make.

As we move forward in our province with our new pedagogy “How Does Learning Happen?”, we must think beyond designing spaces and consider our roles in supporting learning.  Complex play requires complexity in our environments.  We are required as educators to be thinkers and to understand our power on behalf of children and places for living and learning together.

A special thank you to all of the educators at our Rolling Hills, Grandview and Peterborough programs for opening their doors for this opportunity.

Special thanks also goes out to Anne Marie Coughlin, London Bridge Child Care Services, and Deb Curtis, Harvest Resources, for sharing their wealth of knowledge and countless experiences with us. We also thank Compass ELC educators Carleigh, Melissa, Amy and Andrea for sharing stories from their practices.

Click here to view additional photos from the Study Tour on our Facebook page

Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change. ~ Brene Brown

Thanks to everyone who dares greatly each day!

Submitted by Lorrie Baird RECE, Associate Executive Director, Compass Early Learning and Care

To read previously posted Compass ELC Blogs, please click HERE.