Honors Program Thesis (UNI Access Only)

First Advisor

Linda Fitzgerald

Second Advisor

Beth Van Meeteren


Classroom environment; Kindergarten;


The environment of the classroom is of such importance to education it is sometimes referred to as “the third teacher.” It is a reflection of what is taught and valued, and it acts as a support to learners. So, if the environment is the third teacher, what is it teaching us? I was a kindergartener in 1998-1999, just before the turn of the century. Photographs of the classroom clearly reflect the values of kindergarten when I first began school. One photo of my classroom reveals a dramatic play center with a child-sized kitchen, a sensory table, and an easel with chart paper displaying the words “Today is Friday, September 11, 1998. It is sunny (symbol) outside. There are 15 boys and girls in our class.” In another photo, one can see walls with large class-constructed graphs entitled “Which bird do you like?” and “How do you feel about spiders?” Other walls are filled with photo documentation of children engaged in science inquiry, exploring how objects sink or float. Against the wall, child-sized shelving holds blocks, colored math chips, pattern blocks, unit cubes, equipment for marble runs, puzzles, and picture books. Bulletin boards display a diverse compilation of children’s paintings. Art materials available to children are visible on the tables. On the counter is an incubator filled with chicken eggs. Snapshots of my kindergarten classroom convey the importance of play and the value of a fully integrated curriculum addressing all disciplines: language and literacy, mathematics, social studies, science, art, music, physical education, and health. A decade and a half later, would snapshots of Iowa’s kindergartens reveal these same values?

Recent research showed that the kindergarten classroom is not addressing all disciplines and domains, and a decreased amount of time is spent on play-based learning (Miller & Almon, 2009). These findings are a direct contradiction to the National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC, 2009) recommendations for developmentally appropriate teaching. While other researchers have collected teacher reports of time spent covering each discipline (Blank, 2013; Griffith & Scharmann, 2008; Sowder & Harward, 2011), I chose to research what the visual environment suggests about how much attention each discipline receives.

The visual environment of the classroom, or the material displayed on and against the walls of the classroom, suggests the focus of instruction in that room. A classroom that posts photos of children engaged in scientific inquiry with blocks and ramps and hangs classdeveloped posters about the lifecycle of a chick likely devotes at least some time to science. A classroom with visible maps, globes, and photographs of the Earth more likely addresses social studies than a classroom with no such visual evidence.

Given that national standards for young children state that a strong kindergarten curriculum addresses all areas of development (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009; Phillips & Scrinzi, 2013; NAEYC, 2009), a current concern in the field is that classrooms are limiting instruction to only two disciplines addressed by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS): literacy and mathematics. The purpose of this study is to use visual anthropology to explore the extent to which kindergarten classrooms support a curriculum based on developmentally appropriate practices, specifically with respect to the attention given to addressing all disciplines and domains of learning. The significance of this study is in its alternative methodology of documenting the appropriateness of kindergarten curriculum.

Date of Award


University Honors Designation

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the designation University Honors

Date Original


Object Description

1 PDF file (35 pages)



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