Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


George Theoharis


Agency, Learning Environment, Spatial, Young Children

Subject Categories



This study is a focused ethnography around the sociology of a classroom’s built environment and its young inhabitants. I spent three months immersed in a kindergarten classroom where I used child-centered research methods (ie. the kids created collaborative and individual classroom maps and conducted child-led video tours) alongside participant observation to gather data related to how young children perceive and experience the materiality and spatiality of their classroom.

As a result of grounded visual and multi-modal analysis, I centered the young children’s voices and perspectives and discovered how the kids picked up on certain physical and symbolic markers bounding zones of interaction in their built environment: territories for learning↔ work and privacy ↔ play. Patterns of mobility through these territories revealed how children in the classroom had uneven access to the profits afforded by the classroom’s space. My work reveals a strong intersection between smartness, agency, and access to resources through mobility (ie. physical action and vocal action) in the classroom tied to perceptions of kids’ conformity to norms and cultural alignment with the teacher’s expectations.

The findings from this study are relevant to both teacher preparation programs and veteran teachers because they take into consideration how young children make sense of the learning opportunities afforded by different materials and places in the classroom as well as the impact of the spatial organization on classroom interactions. The results of this study point to the need to pay close attention to the perceptions of young children in school, for they are observant and pick up on the subtleties of their environment in ways that reproduce social norms. Educators should pay attention to how the classroom’s built and material environment is implicated in kids’ perceptions of what matters in school and their access to learning opportunities there. In this study, I consider equity of opportunity through the lens of the relational built environment, distribution of resources, and access in the classroom. Teachers and the professionals who prepare teachers can consider how the environments they design and use socialize kids into certain ways of being and belonging in the classroom


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