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Transforming Your Environment

There are a lot of useful environment design tools that have been developed to help you redesign you space, but this process will be slightly different. Many will be focused around the areas of learning and the statutory framework, whereas this process will help you to reconsider your environment from a child’s point of view.  The elements used in this process form the basis for a child-centred space that facilitates open-ended play opportunities.

Step 1 - Reflecting on your current environment

I always encourage everyone to begin with a what children are doing when they are playing with open-ended resources: consideration of where they are starting from. If possible, it is a great idea to involve your whole team in the process. I find the best way to do this is to spend a little quiet time in the site where you work when there are no children in it, so a staff meeting would be a good opportunity, or even better – an inset ‘makeover day’ make a great team-building exercise.

Feel its atmosphere, and think about what opportunities it currently offers. Remember what you have seen children do there. Think about what this space might become, then take a good look at what it is right now.

Here are some considerations you may want to explore in terms of both your environment and your practice:

  • How many children will occupy the space?​

  • How do you already support and extend children’s play?

  • Are children excited, motivated and involved in their play?

  • Is the environment flexible so that a child’s lead can be followed?

  • Can children access their own resources and activities? Are they freely available or do they have to ask for them?

  • Are there natural and authentic resources on offer?

  • Can the children change the environment or move resouces around to use in other areas?

  • Is the environment a calm place to be with neutral colours and displays? Or is there a risk of over-stimulation from bright colours and busy visuals?

  • Are there too many resources in the areas? Meaning they offer too much choice and the area becomes too chaotic?

  • Does your environment support schemas?

  • Are the resources in the environment versatile? Can they be used in lots of different ways?

  • How do you balance providing a homely environment alongside a space to be boisterous and do large physical activities?

  • How is the space planned to allow children to play/eat/rest?

  • Does your environment offer children challenge?

  • Do the children have opportunities for long periods of uninterrupted play?

  • Can children leave an activity and return to It later?

  • Is the environment regularly reviewed?

You can use the downloadable checklist to evaluate these considerations against your current provision, and use your flipchart paper to add further notes. 

Taking time to discuss questions such as these is a good investment and ensures that as a team you are sharing your thinking and consistent in your approach as to what you are looking to achieve. Furthermore, opportunities like these to discuss philosophy and practice (pedagogy) will raise the quality of your work and help to build an effective and empowered team.

Step 2 - swot analysis

Assessing your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing your setting can be a good way to look at your environment and start plans and put the changes you want to make into perspective. A SWOT analysis can be carried out over the whole learning environment or broken down into areas.

STRENGTHS – list the positive aspects of the environment. E.g. having covered areas outdoors.

WEAKNESSES – List the aspects of the environment that need improvement, e.g. poor storage, lack of opportunities for self-selection.

OPPORTUNITIES - List all things that might help improve the environment that are already available in the setting. E.g. available space.

THREATS - List things that might prevent the improvement of the environment. E.g. lack of funding.

Now you have a real picture of your provision, you need to plan how you can develop your provision further.

Step 3 - development plan

Using the completed checklist and the SWOT analysis, you need to consider your plan.

Below is a downloadable development plan. You can use this for your whole space or complete them for each area of your provision. The more focused your answers, the easier it will be to develop into a manageable plan. For example, if you write in the forst column “improve outdoor space” then it will make it very difficult to formulate a plan. Narrowing it down to a key area, e.g. “We want to develop a den area outside” makes planning considerably easier. 

Step 4 - decluttering

Another good idea is to consider de-cluttering. Many settings simply have too much “stuff!” When we made the decision to change our environment, we started with a toy cull. I picked up each toy and basically asked “What is your purpose here?”.

 

If you are unsure about keeping a certain toy or resource, you can consider some of the question below to help you minimise your stash.

 

  • Do children access this resource independently?

  • Do children display low-levels of involvement when using this resource?

  • Do I have too many of these?

  • Do I have other resources which I can use for the same purpose?

  • Can this resource be made from other open-ended resources?

  • Is the resource age appropriate? Eg. Not challenging enough or too difficult?

  • Can the resource only be used one way?

  • Is it something the children have access to at home?

 

You can also use the “Shall we keep you?” downloadable to record children’s involvement levels with a specific resource.