What is the environment?

People, places and things

People, places and things all make up the environment around you. It is the people that are around you, the objects that are around you, the buildings and furniture that are around you. We receive and process information about our surroundings and then react to it. Your ability to interpret the environment and react to it will depend on your ability to receive and process that information. 

People 

People have a very significant impact on what you do and where you go, even more so in this time of Covid-19. 
The number of people in a place make a huge difference. You may be the sort of person who enjoys crowded, noisy environments, or you may worry about being bumped into, touched or knocked over; being able to hear properly; manoeuvring with your wheelchair or walking aids; waiting in lines; having too many noises, colours and smells around you. 


Think about this: 
How do you react if you see a crowd of people looking at something? Do you think there must be something worth seeing and go and join them, or do you take a longer route and avoid the crowded area?

How to you react if you see a busy restaurant? Do you think it must be a fun place with good food, or decide to go somewhere less busy so you can get served more quickly or chat quietly?

How do you react if there is a long queue? Do you think there is something worth having at the end of it, or do you think there is no way you can wait in a queue for that long? 

We are part of the environment at well


We make many choices based on how many people we see around us. We may choose where to walk, where we sit, where we shop and where we visit based on how crowded somewhere is likely to be.

We are also influenced by the individuals we interact with. How a person talks to us, positions themselves and presents themselves will all affect how we react to them. 

It is important to recognise that you are also part of the environment! 

What you wear, how you talk, smell, and your body language can all have an impact on how the pupils interact with you. Sometimes those interactions are positive, sometimes they can trigger a negative reactions. A funny t-shirt can make some people laugh and other people will roll their eyes in derision. Thinking about what you wear can make a big difference depending on who you are working with. Have a look at the table below that lists some of the reactions you might expect:

A blue character is dancing. She has tall, pink hair, wide, flamboyant glasses and a brightly coloured purple dress patterned with pale zig zags, red and pink diamonds and yellow spots. The dress has puffy yellow sleeves and a yellow cape. She is also wearing large, dangly earrings and red bracelets and rings.
Would you want to chat to this person, or are they someone you would avoid?
ItemNegativePositive
Jewellerycould a jangly or sparkly piece of jewellery distract from learningcould it be used to draw attention from a negative situation?
Clothingcould it distract from learning, restrict your movement or get in the way?Wearing bright colours or fun motifs can ensure the children’s attention is on you.

A quirky item of clothing can give you a unique identity for the kids to relate to.
Perfume or aftershaveIs your perfume/ aftershave overpowering for sensitive noses? Does how you smell provide a comforting environment, or a positive message about personal hygiene?
Body languagePositioning your body to close to a child can be intimidating and being too far away can make you seem distant.

Does your facial expression match your verbal message? Conveying your own frustration or stress will cause the pupil to feel anxious and stop talking to you.

Do your gesticulations cause surprise or shock when you don’t want them to?
Hunkering/ bending down to a child’s level shows you are listening to them.

Being aware of personal boundaries, e.g. knowing if a child likes or dislikes close contact can really help.

Ensure your facial expressions match your message. This will help the student understand you.
Your VoiceSpeaking too fast can mean children with processing delays or sensory impairments can’t keep up with you.

Your tone and pitch can also impact on the message that is received.

If your tone does not match your message, misunderstandings can occur.
Speaking calmly and steadily enables all children to keep up.

Speaking in the correct tones can immediately let a child know they are safe and can relax, get excited or have to concentrate.

 Places

The spaces, lighting, colours, noises, and smells of places all make a difference to how you react to a place. For example, shadow in one part of the room may impact your ability to see, changing from one type of flooring to another surface may cause you to move or hold your body differently. We are taught that children love bright colours but for some it may be over stimulating. The acoustics can mean that a child can hear you clearly or that the sound is confused. A crowded area can be difficult for a child with a sight impairment, or who has mobility needs to navigate. A wide open space can make someone feel exposed and vulnerable.

Think about this:

If we put you in the countryside, how do you feel? 

Do you revel in the fresh air, enjoy the peace and seeing the landscape stretching out for miles around, get excited about the wildlife, feel free, inspired and energised? Or do you feel exposed, frightened of the bugs and other creatures that might bite or get caught in your hair, worried about what you might step in/ roll through, feel nauseous from the ‘country’ smells or scared of the strange animal sounds? 

Photograph of a countryside landscape, showing green hills spreading far off into the distance.

If we put you in the city, how do you feel? 

Do you enjoy the bustle of the city, get excited by the mixed smells of food, find the chatter inspiring, like to explore hidden corners and enjoy the lights? Or do you find it all too overwhelming, too many people, too many sounds, too many smells and too many twists, turns and hiding places?

A photograph of a cityscape showing a busy street with bright lights and many people crossing the road.

We need to understand the impact the physical environment has on people. It is a tricky one to unpick but knowing your pupils’ needs and preferences will help you provide the best physical space for them. It will also help you anticipate their reactions when you cannot control the space, and put the most appropriate actions in place to support them. 

Things

Image shows a clean, modern kitchen
Clean and organised, or cold and boring?

How do you decorate your room?

 Are your shelves filled with cuddly toys, books and keepsakes, your furniture decorated with colourful throws and your walls filled with colourful pictures and wall hangings?

Or do you prefer clutter-free spaces with clean lines, cool colours and a designated place for everything? Which space can you most relax in?

Photograph of a cluttered kitchen with pans hanging from the ceiling and ingredients and cutlery piled up around the sink.
Homey and cosy, or cluttered and confusing?

Like people, things are also part of the environment. As we mentioned before, we tend to embrace bright colours with lots of interesting things to look at when we are planning for children. But this sort of environment can be overwhelming for some people, triggering unwanted behaviours and even meltdowns in some circumstances. Are your many bright, colourful boxes containing resources actually offering too many choices for a child with cognitive impairments? When you are finding a quiet space for children who need some time out of the class room, where are you taking them? Is it a space that will help calm them or stimulate them further?

 Also consider clutter. Does the furniture in the room impede movement for people using walking aids, wheelchairs or who have sight impairments. Are there a lot of boxes, bean bags or rugs on the floor? Are the aisles narrow? Do children leave their bags on the floor? A lot of these considerations are basic health and safety measures but they can also have a significant impact on a child’s ability to navigate a space. If it is challenging to get up and move about, will you bother? 

Two blue characters are shown, wearing yellow jumpers and blue trousers. The character in the back is in a wheelchair and has their hand raised in greeting. The character in the front is wearing dark glasses and walking with a white cane to indicate blindness. Both are smiling.

‘Things’ also impact on the acoustics of a space, can dampen sound or cause echoing. Sightlines can be impeded or encourage distraction. All of these things need to be taken into account when decorating or filling your space.

Key learning points

~ People, places and things contribute to the environment around us. These elements make a massive difference to how we behave and our ability to process information and learn.  

~The more you understand your pupils’ needs, the better you can design the environment to allow them to access the learning environment.

~ The more you understand your pupils’ needs, the better you can anticipate their reactions when they find themselves in an environment they struggle to process and provide an appropriate response.    

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