Does your early learning environment encourage child-led play and a sense of ownership ?
Setting up your play spaces and deciding what materials to include should always be about more than just making it aesthetically pleasing or ready for an Instagram/Pinterest snap or two.
As early childhood educators and/or homeschool facilitators, our aim is to provide opportunities for young children to make their own choices and direct their own play in a way that makes sense to them...and how you set up your indoor and outdoor spaces can certainly influence this.
Consider The Questions Below To
Reflect On Your Current Learning Environment.
We've collected some ideas and visual inspiration for you from our Empowered Educator Facebook Group community to highlight in this post.
I feel it's always more helpful to see real ideas from real educators just like you as we all have different budgets, spaces, imagination and creative skills.
Shelving and Storage Ideas
Take a look around your current environment and consider the following to spark some ideas:
Storing items in clear storage tubs make it easier for the children (and you!) to see what is available.
Abigail shared her storage solution with us. I really like the idea of taking a photo of what goes in each box - makes pack up time much easier and a great way to involve the children and develop respect for their environment!
Loose parts play storage - Easily Accessible
Open style shelving allows children to develop independence and self select their activities.
Our Empowered Educator members often share their open shelving ideas with us and you can see some examples below...
Claire shows us some of her shelving and self selection ideas - all easily accessible by the children and selected to suit the ages of the children and their developmental needs.
Sharlene uses a mix of shelves and drawers to invite the children to engage in loose parts play...(on a side note, I love seeing so many recycled items being used for loose parts play).
Helen also uses low shelving for her loose parts storage. The baskets on the top are great for smaller items.
You can see from the photo that the children will easily be able to access these as needed and also fill and empty them as they explore basic schemas.
Kristina shares another simple way to store her loose parts - I love how she’s using the cushions and floor coverings to soften the space and make it more inviting to stay awhile and explore.
Shelving for Toy Storage
Natasha shared a few of her shelving ideas with us too - note the spacing of the materials on offer. This makes choice selection less overwhelming for the children.
Ursula uses basket inserts in her shelving, keeping them low to the ground so they're easily accessible.
You can see that she has also included photo tags on the ones that are a little more difficult to see into.
This is actually a fun activity I have done with preschoolers - introduce a digital camera and ask them to take photos of basket or shelf items then as a group, you print and fix them to the storage items. Lots of learning opportunities with the use of media, technology and literacy there!
Rachael uses open shelving to store her home corner accessories. By spacing them out, the items can easily be found and incorporated into play.
It also means there is room for the children to ADD to the shelves and arrange elements for themselves. It can be tempting to pile as much as we can into shelves in the hope there will be something to interest everyone (and keep them engaged), but in reality this usually results in things being thrown everywhere and boredom setting in!
I absolutely love the minimilist and 'real' feel to this dramatic play space.
Outdoor Environments to encourage child-led play
There’s absolutely no reason why your outdoor area shouldn't be set up to encourage child-led play too.
Need some ideas? Check out the different storage and set up solutions shared from our Empowered Educator community below.
Jade’s outdoor art & craft area has all of the resources needed (including a space to hang up paintings afterwards) within easy reach. I really, really want that table
Claire encourages the children to self select their activities even when outside using low tables and easy to move around low shelving/basket options.
Kate has set up her outdoor sensory play in easy to reach bins and floor level tubs, offering a choice of different textures and defined spaces for individuals to explore.
Janine has hung her crates at the children’s height for self selection and easy pack up in the sand area. I've used these crates and they are fantastic for sand and water play items because they drain well - especially when hanging on a fence!
How inviting does Jo’s outdoor play area look?!
There’s a lot of items in this area (and yours definitely doesn’t need to be this fancy) but they are all low to the ground - I like how she has used hooks so that the children can easily pick and put back the larger tools. Large open bins are great for bulkier outdoor items too.
Veronica has used a mix of low shelves, clear containers and brackets to encourage outdoor child-led play.
I hope you’ve found a few ideas and a little 'real' inspiration from this post that you can modify or tweak to incorporate into your own early learning environment to encourage more child-led and engaged play.
We would love to see YOUR ideas too, so why not pop over and join our Facebook group to share your work (and get lots more great ideas from other educators).
A Little About Me
Jodie Clarke is an early childhood professional supporting educators who want and need to stay passionate about the work they do! She has 30 years hands-on experience in the early childhood and human services sectors across many different roles.
Jodie is mum to 3 in Australia and has already helped thousands of educators with their work through her popular blog posts, activity ideas, online training and e-books.