Ask Kate: reclaiming the word ‘classroom’

I’ve recently been asked why I refer to our woods as the “woodland classroom” and why I insist on calling our infant unit a classroom too. The question had overtones of “let children be children” but actually, my reasoning for using the phrase “classroom” to describe the environments my pupils spend their time in is both full of reverence for the importance of early childhood experiences and an attempt to communicate that.

This is not about schoolification, this is about reclaiming the word ‘classroom’ to communicate in a way that is readily understood by laymen that children are learning in my setting. Babies, toddlers and older children are learning (through play!) all the time, in all environments (even when you don’t want them to!) – and the word classroom in its purest form is a place where you learn, gain experiences and engage in experiences. Yes, my pupils also benefit from warm, responsive staff in classroom who carefully scaffold their learning – but we also have the ethos that no child can grow and learn until they feel safe and secure first.

In the same way that Forest School uses the semantics of the word ‘school’ to communicate the important ‘work’ (Maria Montessori definition) children undertake within that space – so I use words to raise the profile of the incredible development, growth and tenacity my children exhibit every day in my classrooms. Until early childhood is universally understood to be vital and foundational to all other learning (tied up with early years profession’s perception, worth and value – I suspect!), I use the words that communicate this.

Let me know your thoughts on this – do you have particular words in your setting that you use for their wider meaning rather than their perceived restrictions?