The beginning of a new academic year is here, with some children going off to school and new children starting with me. It’s at this time I focus carefully on the environment in which the children are playing.
This is an ongoing thing, but even more important at certain times of the year.
The crucial thing about enabling environments is to think about that word ‘enabling’ and who you are doing this for.
To me this starts with the child and what their needs are.
With new children starting that ‘getting to know them’ process begins with discussions with the parents about what their child can do and enjoys doing.
This is the partnership that is key to ensuring the children in my setting get a rich and meaningful experience.
Development Matters in the Early Years Foundation Stage (2012) states that “Children learn and develop well in enabling environments, in which their experiences respond to their individual needs and there is a strong partnership between practitioners and parents and carers.”
Enabling environments for different ages
When I look at the environment I have to consider the age range of the children who will be using the space.
The youngest I currently care for is 11 months and the oldest 10 years. This of course can be quite challenging to ensure all their needs are met, but is achievable with a bit of creative thinking.
For example, the older school boys love to play with the small Lego, which of course is unsuitable for the younger children.
To ensure all can play appropriately, I provide a good selection of larger Duplo bricks on the floor and the Lego is available in a large deep-sided tray on the dining room table.
Quite often the older children will abandon the smaller bricks and will join in the construction being undertaken by the younger children on the floor! This is lovely to see and all benefit from the social interaction and sharing of knowledge.
Review toys and equipment
I have taken this opportunity to review my toys and equipment and spent last weekend having a major sort out.
This was great for rediscovering old favourites, introducing the children to new toys and for recycling things that were surplus to requirements.
The children joined in with an X-Factor style selection of toys going to the local charity shop. Two votes were needed to keep the toy in the setting from our four ‘judges’ ranging in age from 33 months to 8 years, with me as the fifth ‘judge’!
I’m terrible at getting rid of things, so I needed the help!
This also introduced the discussion with the children about charity shops, helping the local community and what would happen to the toys.
Today presented a challenge of a different kind and the environment had to help enable friendships, both old and new.
Jack and Suzy have played together for the past three and a half years and have become close friends. This September Jack started school but Suzy starts next year, also in his class and coincidently starting here after school is Tina.
Tina and Jack are building a relationship at school and today they were all here to play after lunch.
I wanted to ensure that both the old and the new friendships were valued and nobody felt excluded either through Jack and Suzy reclaiming their favourite game, which might not have a place for Tina, or Jack and Tina claiming their new shared experiences at school that didn’t include Suzy.
To achieve this I worked with the children to create a play space that was fresh, new and fun.
This happened outside with the erection of sheets to create a den. We then moved the slide so that it ended in the den and the children brought cushions and bean bags to slide into and make it comfortable.
They gradually added more things as their play developed, working together as a team, talking about what resources they wanted (all of which were readily available) and how they worked in their game.
I’m sure there will be difficult moments, but for today the foundation has been laid for the three of them to become good friends and it has been a pleasure to watch them play together with lots of laughter and chatting.
Creating an enabling environment
When I’m thinking about the environment and what is freely accessible to the children, I ensure that all the areas of learning within the EYFS are covered and that this is age appropriate.
I observe how the children play and what the popular areas are.
Sometimes my idea of how the children will play with things doesn’t match their idea and so adjustments might be made and the children might ask for other things.
I have made a booklet of pictures of the toys so even the youngest children can express an opinion and choose different toys.
I also have a shelving unit with boxes of different resources, so children are able to self-select. The content of these I rotate on a regular basis depending on the interests of the children.
I try to involve the children as much as possible and use the tools of the Mosaic Approach to ensure the children from 11 months to 10 years all have a ‘voice’ in the shaping of the environment in which they are learning and developing whilst having fun. I’ll be speaking more about how I use the Mosaic Approach in my setting next time, but for now I hope my blog has helped give you an understanding of enabling environments and ideas for your setting.
About the author
Jane is Chair of PACEY’s Board of Trustees. She has been a registered childminder since 1995, has a degree in Early Years and holds Early Years Professional Status.
The experience she has gained through the combination of study, volunteering and work, give Jane a deep understanding of the early years sector - both its challenges and its many rewards.