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7 Ways to Make your Early Years Environment Work for Every Child

Great early years spaces are creative, engaging and adaptable enough to meet the needs of all learners, explains Kathy Brodie…

  • 7 Ways to Make your Early Years Environment Work for Every Child

1. Make space

The inclusion, and exclusion, of pieces of equipment can affect the way children play. Lots of chairs and tables, for example, may make it harder to move around freely and inhibit some gross motor skills.

Removing chairs from around tables encourages more movement, such as stretching and reaching, as well as allowing the free-flow of social groups.

If it is difficult to completely remove tables, consider turning them upside down and using them as enclosed spaces with ready-made flagpoles!

2. A place to rest

Having small, quiet ‘withdraw areas’ in the classroom enables children to take some quiet time to reflect on their day, or even have a nap.

A suitable amount of rest is vital for children to recuperate physically and build up memories for deep-level learning, while a lack of sleep can affect their eating habits.

Such areas might simply be a corner sheltered from the room by hanging fabric, or could be a more substantial den with cushions and books.

3. Give them a challenge

Managing risk in the physical environment is a fundamental part of a practitioner’s role.

However, if the approach is overzealous, all physical and intellectual challenges may accidentally be removed.

This can have unintended consequences: if all climbing equipment is removed, children will tend to meet their need to climb by using inappropriate equipment such as chairs.

Children learn about weight, relative size, orientation and problem-solving by carrying planks, crates and wooden blocks by themselves.

4. Playing together

Including equipment that children can gather round, share and collaborate with will enhance social development as well as other areas of learning and development.

For example, a large gathering drum that children can play together will support social interactions and children’s understanding and appreciation of music.

A large sand or water tray will encourage children’s use of language by offering them room to discuss their play. Setting up an obstacle course encourages collaboration, discussion and problem-solving.

5. Easy access

Access to resources should be discussed (eg children accessing scissors freely or helping themselves to paint).

How available resources are can affect children’s learning and development, as those who are less confident with practical creativity will find it more encouraging to have the resources to hand, rather than having to ask practitioners.

Similarly, thought should be given to what children do with resources when they have finished an activity. Will children be expected to return resources to the shelf after they have finished playing, ready for the next child, or is there a ‘tidy up’ time for the whole room?

6. Spotting words

Examples of the printed word are everywhere in children’s everyday environment, from packaging and signage to the brand names on toys and equipment, and, of course, your setting’s own logo.

Literacy can be sustained by observing these words – encourage your children to look out for them both within the classroom and at home.

7. Use the outdoors

The outdoor environment not only offers many sensory experiences, from the weather to an array of smells and sounds, but also provides different landscapes for children to navigate.

Slopes and hills help balance, movement and coordination. Running, jumping and hopping can be more exuberant outdoors. There are also many opportunities for cognitive development, such as noticing different shapes, patterns and colours in nature.

Messy play can be taken to a whole new level, from simply stirring a puddle with a stick to setting up a whole mud kitchen.


Don’t stand still

Reflecting, reviewing and assessing the environment is important if you want to maintain and improve the quality of your provision…
  • Take time as a staff group to reflect on activities and areas that have worked particularly well. This can be done during a staff meeting.
  • Keep a ‘reflections’ diary in the room, where quick notes about the day can be recorded. This will be a useful reminder during any group discussion.
  • For a more formal approach, use standardised scales, such as the ECERS scales (for the physical environment) or the SSTEW scales (for emotional wellbeing and sustained shared thinking). These go into great depth, but can take longer to complete.

Kathy Brodie is an Early Years Professional and trainer based in East Cheshire, who has worked in both nurseries and schools, and today specialises in the Early Years Foundation Stage and special educational needs. For more information, visit kathybrodie.com.

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