HQELE Online Tool Overview

This comprehensive panoramic virtual tour emphasizes principles of a quality classroom design and incorporates key strategies on how to replicate highlighted elements. This tool is intended to support self-evaluation and reflection to encourage increased consideration of the early childhood learning environment as an extension of teaching.

Early Childhood Special Education teachers, General Education teachers, administrators and others can use a desktop computer (Mac OS/Windows) or a mobile device (iPhone/iPad/Android) to take a self-guided panoramic virtual tour of the entire preschool classroom. There are five defined elements that make up this High Quality Early Learning Environment (HQELE) that visitors can choose to explore.

The Environment as Curriculum

Learning is integrated, multiple factors make up a high quality preschool classroom, i.e. a well-paid, well-trained workforce, positive adult-child/child-child interactions, class size/ratios, licensing, high standards of safety/child protection, etc. However, the focus of this project is mainly to consider a classroom’s indoor physical aspects such as aesthetics, set-up, interest areas, and materials while integrating other important elements that make it difficult to separate from a High Quality Learning Environment such as routines and documentation.

How to Use this Tool

There are several approaches that can be helpful to make your exploration of the panoramic virtual tour meaningful and productive as an individual or together as a staff. Take a look at the HQELE Suggestions for Exploration (101k PDF) document. In this document you will find a few suggestions for use, which include discussion/thought provoking questions. These ideas are designed to assist individuals/staff in reflection of the content on the related web pages, solidify key learning and make additions or enhancements to their classroom environment.

We want you to gain ideas, not make an exact copy. The idea is to think about what makes a classroom an inviting, engaging, and accessible learning environment for all learners. No classroom site is perfect, including this one! There are some basic principles to consider about the environment highlighted within this tool; this program’s philosophical inspiration comes from the Reggio-Emilia approach. However, it is important to recognize that the environmental principles apply whether you have a Montessori or Waldorf philosophy, whether you implement High Scope, Creative Curriculum, alternative educational curriculum, or use a school-based, project-based, or cooperative approach.

A thoughtful, intentional teacher will know what ideas to introduce into their classroom and what will benefit his/her students.

"You know, we're proud of what we do, certainly… and I don't know that it's so much as I'd want people to emulate what we do, but I would want to give people permission to think differently about the decisions they make and the ways in which they might craft an environment for children. I think at the core of that I would really compel them to start thinking about their own values and their own beliefs first, and how those may be connected to their teaching and their own learning…and then see how they draw the lines between that and what goes into their environment.”
- Mark Whitney, Director

Five Key Elements of the Learning Environment

These elements are core components of the design of MiraCosta Child Development Center’s early learning environments and common to all classrooms at the center. For students with disabilities, individual considerations are made within each of the following elements through adaptations and modifications:

  • Routines: A familiar sequence to the day that allows the child to predict events, anticipate transitions and develop a sense of trust.

  • Furnishings: Durable wooden shelves, tables, chairs and dividers to define space and invite engagement across the content of our curriculum.

  • Spaces: Interest Centers that include places for individual and group activities that incorporate variety and complexity, both indoors and outdoors.

  • Materials: Real-life instruments and tools, genuine artifacts and natural materials that can be used in a variety of ways (including wood, stone, glass, fabric and wire).

  • Documentation: A variety of means and methods to make learning visible to all involved; to display and interpret the processes and products of both child and adult learning.

In addition, MiraCosta Child Development Center believes certain “orientations” to the design of the learning environment should precede the identification of “elements” within the classrooms. Such orientations reflect their core values and the Reggio-Inspired philosophy that frames their intentions and efforts, these include:

  • Ambiance: The feel and/or tone of the learning environment; influenced by the use of natural lighting, the softness, color and warmth of fabrics and the inclusion of natural materials.

  • Relevance: The use of real-life tools and learning materials; the incorporation of cultural components that reflect the lives of the individuals comprising the community of learners.

  • Open-Endedness: Intended to invite curiosity, imagination, hypotheses, proposals, problem solving, multiple perspectives and a range of possible solutions.

  • Provocations: Designed to intentionally intrigue and deliberately test; to purposefully arouse different responses to problems by challenging current thinking and compelling one often to unlearn and rethink.

  • Multisensory: Learning environments must engage the learner in multiple ways, at multiple levels and across multiple senses.

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How to Use This Tool Explore the Panorama Produced by SEEDS