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 (Belonging, Being and Becoming – The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia, p.15)
Children’s strong sense of identity is evident when they are self-motivated to succeed. When children are supported by and feel a sense of belonging in their environment – an environment where their opinions, feelings and ideas are respected they are able to trust others, are empowered to be themselves and are better equipped to realise their learning and development potential.
How children connect with and contribute to their world, become confident and involved learners and how they evolve into effective communicators will be influenced by their environment and their social, emotional and physical experiences within that environment.
Setting up indoor spaces
Clearly defined space An intentionally designed physical environment supports children to play, grow and learn. Strategically placed furniture, including open or low-lying cupboards and book shelves, can define interest areas to enable children to choose play opportunities, provide easy transitions, a consistent clean-up and put away routine and allow educators to interact freely and spontaneously with children to establish respectful and trusting relationships.
Home-like furnishings Using natural, wooden furniture, bookshelves and storage units accompanied by soft cushions, floor rugs and throws creates a home-like environment. An early childhood centre that captures the essence of home will support children to feel more at ease, particularly important if they are feeling anxious, upset or fearful.
Softer textures like wool, fabric, felt and fibres can provide a calming sensory experience for children. Soft furnishings provide opportunities for relaxation and comfort, and enhance the feeling of cosiness.
Access to natural light, as part of the overall physical environment is outlined in the National Quality Standard as an important factor in maximising the quality of children’s learning and experiences. If possible, design spaces around window placements, to allow natural light to be the primary light source. Consider the use of soft or sheer fabrics or mood lighting, using with LED light cubes or lamps, to enhance the natural light.
Calming colour schemes
Limit the use of bright colours, particularly in quiet areas, as this will reduce the likelihood of overstimulation and negative emotions. Neutral colours as an overall colour palette create a soothing space. If you do want to incorporate some colour, calming blues and greens or pastels are ideal, alternatively if you want to stimulate creativity accents of orange and yellow are recommended.
Six essential indoor interest areas
1 Soothing space
A soothing space is a place where children can think, reflect and relax, or engage in individual experiences. It is a quiet place where children can feel safe and secure, comfortable and in control. The area could become a place of retreat for children experiencing emotional stress or children who need time to recharge. The space should be filled with books, puzzles, soft furnishings, throws, cushions and plush toys.
Inspire children to discover their world. Nurture children’s abilities to use their senses to explore and make predictions about their environment and connect with their world. Provide activities that advance a child’s sensory development by encouraging them to respond verbally and non-verbally to what they see, hear, touch, feel and taste. Incorporating sensory play, science and nature, the discovery area provides children with the opportunity to investigate, critique and solve problems. Resources include light tables or mood lamps, mirrors, textured balls, fabrics and blocks, magnifiers, lens, recycling and sustainability resources, discovery trays, specimens, human or animal body games and puzzles, information and technology resources.
3 Creative or messy play areas
Children’s lives are enriched by the ability to design and create. Developing the capacity to think creatively and communicate ideas imaginatively not only stimulates a strong sense of wellbeing, it enhances academic performance, engages students in effective problem-solving and nurtures individuality and originality. Children are intrinsically rewarded and gratified when they are given the freedom of self-expression in a safe and supportive environment. This area should ideally be located near a sink or bathroom and have easy to clean floor coverings and furniture. Fill with art and craft resources including paint, glue, paper, chalk, crayons, clay, pencils, glitter, sand and water, fabrics, natural resources, brushes, newspapers, magazines, smocks and aprons, table coverings.
One of the busiest areas in the classroom or early learning centre, the construction corner is the building ground of tomorrow’s designers, engineers, architects, builders, plumbers, scientists and surgeons. Construction fosters an understanding of shapes, size, and symmetry (how shapes fit together). Construction encourages creativity, develops fine motor skills and enhances self-esteem, through a sense of accomplishment. This area can include block play, building sets, soft bricks, planks, magnets, marbles, foam shapes, wheels.
5 Dramatic play
The home corner is an active area where children engage in role play. Imaginative play is important for children’s learning, development and ability to make sense of their world. Children can take on and try out roles from familiar family scenes, local community experiences or fantasies. Arrange the room so that this area is located near the construction area in order for play to be extended between the two areas sharing materials and ideas. Dramatic play items include miniature animals and figurines, dolls and accessories, dress-ups, puppets, food, kitchen and shop play.
6 Music and Movement
Music and movement is essential to life. Singing and dancing creates a shared bonding experience, boosts communication skills and strengthens positive social interactions with peers. Music has many positive effects on children’s learning and development including cultivating self-esteem and confidence, extending cognitive and motor skills. The opportunity to sing and play instruments allows children to develop an understanding about concepts such as high and low, fast and slow, loud and quiet. Music kits, percussion instruments, string instruments, singing and rhyming games, cds, books, ribbons, dancing scarves and tumble mats should be included in this area.