Category: The Learning Environments

The Rights of Children at Schools

In my work as educational consultant, I have visited many schools all over the world. I have observed, in both traditional and alternative schools, that children’s basic rights are often unknowingly ignored. I believe that all human beings, no matter how old they are, must be granted the right to take care of their bodily needs. The child’s body and whole organism are by nature determined to move and learn in specific ways. When we adults refuse to collaborate with the child’s natural development, we create immense, unnecessary suffering. Even seemingly harmless experiences such as occasionally being denied the right to go to the toilet when needed, can leave trauma and health problems that are carried into adulthood.

The widespread assumption that children should sit still and listen, has been repeatedly disproved by scientists, psychologists, and educators. Children are meant to move their bodies and play. This is how they learn best. Furthermore, children in all school models are still being discriminated against, shamed, and punished for having different learning styles. Sadly, children who learn more quickly or more slowly than their peers are often neglected in the classroom. Sometimes, the offered content simply is not interesting enough or age-appropriate. If children are unable to relate to the subject-matter or the way in which it is delivered, they naturally lose interest. Children are drawn toward classroom activities that are aligned with their stages of cognitive and emotional development.

The “school model” itself will not protect children from abuse. Every single teacher and parent needs to take responsibility for their own well-being and for the child’s well-being.

UNESCO’s Rights Of Children are very basic human rights (e.g., to protect children against child labor and violence, and secure their right for education). My list of children’s rights starts from the assumption that children are in an educational environment. I hope this list of rights will raise awareness for the subtle abuse and hidden suffering that occur in schools every day. If we allow children to feel more comfortable in learning environments, we adults will also feel better and happier! Instead of having to worry about being thirsty or feeling emotionally drained, children will consistently have their needs met. Children will gain the opportunity to experience true, authentic learning with joy. This leads to a lifelong love of learning and enriching student-mentor relationships.

by Carmen Gamper

All the children have the right to do the following:

  1. Go to the toilet when needed.
  2. Have drinking water available.
  3. Move the body when needed.
  4. Learn to take care of personal needs.
  5. Learn and process emotions through play.
  6. Learn through exploration, trial, and error.
  7. Make mistakes and not be judged or shamed.
  8. Learn at a personal pace.
  9. Fully understand a subject before being tested.
  10. Not to be tested involuntarily. Instead, share knowledge by free choice, only when ready to receive feedback on learning progress.
  11. Not to be punished. Instead, children should be respectfully encouraged to become more self-disciplined.
  12. Not to be compared with peers. Instead, acknowledged as an individual student with individual talents, opinions, and characteristics.
  13. Not to be judged for being different.

This declaration is available as a beautiful poster, which you can purchase here:

Listening to Silence

Fall, with its short days, invites us in a very natural way to more calm, tranquility and meditation. We can accept this invitation.

Instead of planning trips or turning on the TV, we can allow ourselves to light a candle on a dark evening and to do nothing , just nothing.

Resting and slowing down are very important components of natural growth processes. We can sit down and breathe deeply. To our children we can say: “I am resting, just like the plants in winter.” Or “I am listening to silence.”

Basically we can say that we have two different ways of perceiving the world that depend on whether we are relaxed or stressed. In a laid-back mood, it is much easier to be friendly, patient and considerate. However, when we are stressed and in a hurry, it is much harder to demonstrate patience, and it often happens that we are rude – especially with children. We easily lose patience and have little understanding for the nature of a child.

These two opposite ways of looking at the world can even be distinguished on the biological level. For example, when we are in a hurry, stress hormones are released into our bodies and change our way of thinking and acting. Relaxation is almost a prerequisite to understand the child’s world. A stressed adult has little patience with himself and even less with children.

To honor silence, we can concentrate on our breathing, or on the breath of our child and vice versa. The slower and deeper the breath, the more relaxed we are. Then we can think or say: “I breathe in joy. I breathe out sadness. I breathe in kindness. I breathe out stress. ”

Then we can focus on our body and consciously feel and release tension. These types of meditation are very effective for adults, but not for all children.

Children have a natural gift for meditation, if we understand meditation as “allowing ourselves to dwell in the present”. They can focus deeply on a drawing or a game, and all the forces in the body and mind are focused on their activity. Thus, their activity naturally becomes a meditation.

Dr. Maria Montessori recognized this natural affinity to meditation in children. She respected and nurtured this phenomenon and named it “normalization”. An anecdote says that once Dr. Montessori placed a child together with his chair on a table while the child kept working quietly on a learning material. That child was in a deep state of focus called flow.

At home we can create space and time for this type of focused activity. Many crafting works are suitable to bring about calmness and concentration. It is not just about finding wonderful crafting projects for the season, but also about how we present these and lead the child to focused work.

We can ask ourselves: “Is the child ready for concentrated work? Or do we need time for movement first?” If willingness can be felt, we turn off the TV, computer and telephone. On the table we should only place relevant materials – no distractions.
Then we can start, and describe our activity with a few clear words. Step by step we can help the child to do it by him/herself, and once the work is in progress we can work on our own project or watch the child work.

To summarize, whether resting, doing quiet meditation, or tinkering – the most important aspects are the relaxation and well-being that are being evoked. Then, everything can become an important part of a natural learning process.

Wishing all my readers a peaceful and happy holiday season!

Carmen Gamper

P.S.: New Learning Culture will be again at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center, Family Day (Woodacre Ca. 94973) on Sunday January 30! Come by and explore our wonderful learning toys! RSVP here:

My child doesn’t like to read…

If a child doesn’t like to read, sometimes it can be useful to remember how this child started reading. Were they self-motivated, starting to read because of curiosity and interest? Could the child suddenly read, almost overnight? Or, did somebody sit down with the child, and teach them how to read step by step?

If children start reading fueled by their own interest, it is relatively easy to reawaken the joy of reading now. If, however, a child has learned to read in laborious work mode, perhaps even reading to the child now is arduous and exhausting. It is more difficult to raise self-initiative, and bring joy to reading, where there is a  history of difficulty. In these cases, it is sometimes better not to pressure the child, who might need time for healing.

In fact, the natural and joyful way to learn reading is not connected to pressure but develops from self- initiative, often at age of three, four and five years. If the child’s natural rhythm is respected, one can expect another “reading boost,”  at the age of ten and eleven years, when abstract thinking at a higher level is being developed.

Kindling, inspiring, and evoking a genuine need and love for reading is the most effective and sustainable way to get children to read. Many children learn to read because they want to understand TV programs.

A joint trip to the library can be very helpful; let your child pick out a book to check out at the desk. Take time to listen to the child reading. One could also record or film the child while reading, they might have fun watching themselves.

Also consider that writing sometimes proceeds reading and leads to reading. Perhaps write a shopping list together, or a birthday card to a friend or relative. You could label the objects of daily life, offer written instructions for crafting, or cooking recipes. And think about everyday situations with children, where you could write a little message, instead of saying or showing it.

Sometimes children like to write letters to mother, friends or vacation acquaintances. Together, parents and children could write a letter to a magazine, start a diary, or a photo album with descriptions. As a mother or father, how about writing stories, or a letter for the child … “Here is something, I’ve written especially for you.”

Here is another fun idea: Gather tiny objects all starting with ‘r’ (or any other letter), for instance rabbit, rug, rose, etc.:

As with almost everything, I vote for inspiring a child, but not pushing too much. The magic of self-motivation is what creates the joy of reading. If reading is connected with too much resistance and negative emotions, then even forcing a child will not help much to improve reading skills. Sometimes children find the joy of reading again in adulthood, after the school years, when they can choose how much and how long they would like to read.

Last but not least, it might be a good idea to simply ask the child why they don’t like to read. Maybe they have eye problems. Maybe they think they should be an instant expert, and need to hear that it is a process.  Maybe they need someone to sit with them and read with them, helping to sound out words, etc. Or they would just rather be doing something else right now. Try to find out what is going on in their mind. Try to make reading be a whole lot of fun. Anyone for Dr. Suess?

I am writing this with the hope that children receive a stronger voice in their learning processes, and that we as adults put more emphasis on the joy of learning.
Carmen Gamper

Learning Environments are Yes Environments

Intentions of a YES environment:

– enable children to learn and play independently

– inspire children towards meaningful activities

– stimulate the natural learning instinct to reach the child’s full potential

– nurture self-motivation, self-regulation, self-discipline

– in classrooms: to allow individual learning and to inspire group and team activities

The environment shapes the child’s activities considerably: for example, kids might be drawn to arts and crafts when a variety of raw materials are visible and accessible, or kids might enjoy silence when a space is inviting to rest and contemplate.

One of the tasks of a teacher/parent is to help children find appropriate environments for their spontaneous activities.

Over time kids can learn how to take more and more responsibility for order and beauty in their environments.

• Long-term learning environments can be prepared at home or at school.

• Temporary learning environments can be set up for car rides, restaurant visits and the like. i.e., bring interesting CD’s, booklets or small toys on a long car ride, take paper and crayons to a restaurant…

• In nature you can define a space within which kids can move freely. i.e. bring a rope to define a space, or let your child go as far as you can see him/her…

Basic guidelines for YES environments in schools, homes, and anywhere:

– Safety: reduce potential danger by anticipating children’s activities, i.e. take out toxic substances, eliminate unstable furniture.

– Purpose: design spaces for specific activities, i.e. a space for louder activities like board games, a space for quiet activities like reading.

– Structure: define spaces through clear limits, i.e. space for building blocks is defined through a carpet, space for water play is limited to outdoor area.

– Order: arrange purposeful order based on practicality and common sense, put things where they are needed, i.e. paper and pencils are next to each other.

– Consistency: give toys and tools a place where they belong, i.e. the scissors can always be found on the same shelf.

– Easy Access: provide furniture and tools in appropriate sizes, i.e. child-sized chairs, smaller spoons.

– Visibility: tools and toys that are visible are more likely to be used, put things at a practical height for children, i.e. children’s clothes in the lower drawers, WATER ALWAYS IN REACH

– Beauty: transform spaces into wonderlands, temples and playgrounds for the soul, i.e. use clean, attractive toys and tools whenever you can

– Coziness: provide spaces where the body and the whole being feels comfortable. i.e. kids like hammocks, tents, couches…

– Inspiration: provide hands-on learning materials. i.e. Montessori learning materials, gardening and cooking tools in kid’s sizes, puzzles, arts and crafts supplies, nature raw materials, like pebbles, seashells…

– Opportunity for movement and various body postures: create spaces to work on the floor or on a table, i.e. you can provide comfortable chairs, carpets, higher and lower tables and shelve…

Additional Inspiration for OUTDOOR YES-environments:
– Spaces for Gross-Motor Development:
Usually outdoors: provide space and devices for running, climbing, balancing, hiding, i.e. swing, slide, tree…

– Spaces for Exploration in Nature: you can create a safe place in nature where kids can explore freely; examine space for potential danger, i.e. broken glass, thorns…

Have fun creating YES environments!

Tips for creating ‘YES-environments’ for children:

A YES-environment is a space where children are allowed to explore, play and touch everything that is in reach, fueled by their own curiosity. Most Yes- environments are at the same time learning environments because every activity has the potential to become a learning process. Hands-on learning materials can be placed visibly and in reach to foster practical and academic learning. In a YES-environment educators/parents can respond to a child’s request with ‘YES! Go for it! Touch, explore, and follow your curiosity!” Within the boundaries of the space, independent activities are fostered. Children can learn practical and academic skills while they are playing and interacting with the environment. A YES- environment is a great relieve for adults and children alike.

Some YES- environments are prepared especially for children’s use , i.e. a playground or a children’s room. Some are integrated into grown-up environments as ‘partial Yes-environments’ for children. When specific basic guidelines are observed, children can joyfully take part in the grown-up world.

Some tips for creating YES environments:


Kneel down and let your eyes wander around the room, touch and feel things around you… try to look around from the perspective of your child with the wisdom and knowledge of an adult. Imagine what your child and the other people using the environment are inspired to do here.
What activities are inspired by this environment ? What might a child do in this place?


Make the space safe for children to explore. Check the space for electric cables, precious vases on lower shelves, sharp objects, toxic detergents, etc. Check for objects who could potentially fall from shelves or tables.


Within healthy boundaries free movement is safe. Every place where children are invited to be active needs safe boundaries, emotionally and in the environment. Try to anticipate when you would need to say “NO” even in this specific YES-environment.

• Have water and healthy snacks accessible
• Set the environment up to inspire your child towards meaningful age-appropriate activities:
– What developmental stage is your child/teenager experiencing?
– What are your child’s favorite activities?
– What would you like your child to do/learn/know?

Be aware: Everything is a potential learning material or toy. Intentionally place tools and toys for learning.

Enjoy the process of creating child-friendly environments.

With joy,
Carmen Gamper