Designing environments for children take a lot of time. It isn’t just thinking of new ideas, it is also thinking about how to change the environment and keeping individual spaces fresh and interesting. So, once you have an idea for a new space or a new look for an existing space, lots of energy and resources go into the design and implementation. It becomes very discouraging when the children never visit the area or become engaged in the activity. So how do you create an environment that is both engaging, supports the child’s development and has a learning component? Most early care provider have the typical centers such as dramatic play, art center, block area and a reading center. While these centers are the mainstay of childcare, they can become very stale and unexciting. It is what you place in those centers and how you advertise what it’s in those centers that helps engage children into the play within those centers.
Rotating materials within these centers helps keep interest and engagement high. If the books never change or the art supplies are always the same, why visit it? Even if you have a child who loves to color, if you do not change the crayons for chalk, or white typing paper for construction paper, the children soon lose interest. If the reading area have the same books, they had a month ago, the child who loves to read may avoid that area because they have looked at that book many times and no longer are interested. If the blocks never change or nothing is added to the block area to enhance their play such as cars, animal or people, children can become bored. If dramatic play is always housekeeping and it doesn’t change with the theme of the moment, children may lose interest and tell you they have nothing to do. Keeping supplemental materials in plastic shoe boxes labeled with what is inside helps you change the environment quickly.
When creating a new or revamping an existing space take time to know what the children like. Children’s interests sometimes can change from week to week. So, how’s do you know what know what children like or would like to know more about. It is simple, ask them. This can be done informally as you sit at lunch or snack and talk to children about what they like. You can also use interest surveys and interview the children individually or as a whole group and chart their ideas. When you plan with the interests of the children in mind you are more successful engaging them in play. This will not only help you create spaces in the environment to support their interests, it will also help you create lesson plans that engage the children in learning. For instance, if several children are interested in animals, create a veterinarian’s office or a rain forest in dramatic play. Have a Veterinarian come and talk about how to take care of pets. In the reading area have books about a variety of animals. In the art center have art supplies to create pictures of their favorite pets. You can also create a display with the children’s art work or pictures of their household pets. Extending a child’s interest throughout the center creates ownership and engagement.
Use your group time to advertise new spaces or materials within existing spaces. Explain to the children what is in each center and where the new materials are located. This is also a great time to explain to children how to use something that is new to them. For example, if they have never used Floam in the sensory table, showing them how it works in circle allows them to be more successful. If you are excited when you explain the new aspects of the environment the children will be also.
Finally, when you add or change and environment use, your group time to let the children know what is new and where the new things are located!