A rich and varied environment supports children’s learning and development. It gives them the confidence to explore and learn in a secure and safe, yet challenging, indoor and outdoor space.
Children’s learning experiences come from their interaction and engagement with their environment and the people around them. Children need warm and trusting relationships in predictable, safe, stimulating and nurturing environments. Your environment, your set up and use of space, your choice of equipment, materials and resources all contribute to children’s learning outcomes and engagement with your curriculum.
What do children need from their environment?
- The physical indoor and outdoor space for children should provide;
- A sense of belonging
- Emotional security
- Safe risk taking opportunities
- Stimulating resources and materials (inclusive of all children’s needs
- Experiences based on children’s interests and abilities; and
- Displays (that are meaningful to the children).
All of which are designed to promote children’s holistic development. A truly empowering environment for children should support their learning and development across each of the five learning outcomes in the EYLF (Belonging, Being and Becoming) and FSAC (My Time, Our Place). Both learning frameworks place significant emphasis on environments for children as this is one of the key practices outlined in the EYLF and FSAC.
National Quality Framework
All licensed services must provide a safe environment and the legislation establishes the minimum essential requirements to do so. For information about regulations in your State/Territory, see www.acecqa.gov.au/regulatory-authorities.
National Quality Standard
The National Quality Standard (ACECQA, 2011) Quality Area 3 sets the quality benchmark for the physical learning environment for children. Once you know and understand this benchmark, you can identify the unique strengths of your environment, and plan for any improvements.
NQS – Quality Area 3: Physical Environment
Standard 3.1 The design and location of the premises is appropriate for the operation of a service.
Element - 3.1.3 Facilities are designed or adapted to ensure access and participation by every child in the service and to allow flexible use, and interaction between indoor and outdoor space.
Standard 3.2 The environment is inclusive, promotes competence, independent exploration and learning through play.
Element - 3.2.1 Outdoor and indoor spaces are designed and organised to engage every child in quality experiences in both built and natural environments.
Element - 3.2.2 Resources, materials and equipment are sufficient in number and organised in ways that ensure appropriate and effective implementation of the program / curriculum and allow for multiple uses.
There are a number of key considerations for creating and maintaining a positive environment for children and some are listed below:
Providing an environment that supports children’s health and safety is paramount.
The thinking behind your environment – how is it reflective of your philosophy (values and beliefs). Consider the key messages you want to convey through your environment.
The lay out of your environment will affect how children play and learn. Small spaces allow for quiet, small group play and individual play. Large, open spaces encourage large muscle, loud play.
How you choose and display resources will define how the children play with and use them. Choose resources that are flexible and allow open - ended experiences for children.
Use what you have. Think about your current resources, materials and equipment and try to use them in new and different ways.
Be realistic. Your built environment (the size and shape of your rooms and outdoor play areas), location and climate will set some boundaries on what you can achieve. A good environment makes the best use of your available space and resources.
Engage your families. Think about resources or materials that may be available from your families. Their active participation in providing natural or recycled materials will increase their involvement in your service.
Demonstrate cultural diversity and respect for other cultures in your environment by using and displaying resources and materials from local communities and other countries.
Features of a good environment
“Learning environments are welcoming spaces when they reflect and enrich the lives and identities of children and families participating in the setting and respond to their interests and needs.” (EYLF p.15)
Good learning environments provide:
Well defined spaces for quality interactions with educators and children.
Exploration and investigation.
Small group play
Noisy and rough and tumble play.
Adequate and meaningful resources, materials and equipment that:
Reflect the interests, needs, lives and identity of the children.
Support open ended experiences to build and extend children’s learning.
Welcoming spaces for families.
Opportunity for risk taking and challenge.
Your indoor environment
Reflecting on your room (built environment)
Consider the size and shape of your room, store areas, bathrooms and laundry areas. How can you make the best use of your available space and create a free flowing yet safe area for children?
How can you arrange your furniture to create separate play spaces?
Is there adequate light in your room?
Can children see outside?
Can you make it darker at rest times using curtains, blinds, shades or room dividers?
Can you use natural light to improve your environment? For example coloured beads, prisms, glass crystals and coloured bottles of water can reflect light to create colours and rainbows in your room.
Provide a variety of spaces
Create small divided places for children to play to keep the atmosphere calm, provide opportunity for small groups, and encourage focused and engaged play. Think about defined spaces for:
- Quiet reading and relaxation
- Pretend play
- Noisy play
Shelves, room dividers, sheer curtains, mats, tents and other visual dividers can define play spaces and guide children where one area ends and another begins.
Organise your space and resources
Have a defined and predictable meals space, sleeping space and playing space
Position materials, resources and equipment so that children can reach them independently
Display material thoughtfully
Think about what you display and why – too much can be visually overloading
Ask children if or how they would like their work displayed
Display children’s work at their eye level (not the adults)
Photographs, portfolios and displays allow children to revisit their experiences and share them with families.
Your outdoor environment
“Outdoor learning spaces are a feature of Australian learning environments. They offer
a vast array of possibilities not available indoors. Play spaces in natural environments include plants, trees, edible gardens, sand, rocks, mud, water and other elements from nature. These spaces invite open-ended interactions, spontaneity, risk-taking, exploration, discovery and connection with nature.” (EYLF P.15)
As well as more traditional outdoor play equipment, think about including:
- Stepping stones
- Different textures (tiles, rocks, stones, shells)
- Poles and pipes
- Logs for balancing and climbing
- Climbing frames
Provide a variety of spaces
Just like your indoor environment, your outdoor spaces for children can have separate play spaces to allow children to play individually or in small groups, and engage in quiet or loud play scenarios. Some spaces you may like to provide include:
Cubby houses/ tents
A sensory garden
A space for sustainable water play
Places for children and adults to gather and for group discussion
Spaces for gross motor play and ball games
An outdoor eating space
Spaces for push and pull along toys
Quiet spaces (A cubby from recycled sheets or curtains, using pots to surround a secret garden, or bamboo poles to separate a little space)