How to Create the Perfect Play Environment in your Nursery

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As a childcare provider, you’re responsible for making sure every child in your group is well cared for and has the opportunity to flourish.

A 2022 parliamentary paper revealed that early childhood education and care can have a positive impact on children’s educational, cognitive, behavioural and social outcomes, in the short and long term.

Although play can be seen as simply a fun experience for little ones, it actually serves a vital function in a child’s development.

When you’re working in a childcare environment, it’s key that a good play environment is set up for the children you’re looking after.

The Early Years Foundation Stage Framework states that ‘children learn and develop well in enabling environments’ and outlines how settings should cater for the individual needs of each child.

Let’s dive in and discover how you can set up the perfect play environment for your childcare setting.

How do you create a play environment?

Your childcare setting should be a wonderful play environment – one that encourages children to explore different options when it comes to play and build relationships with their classmates.

There should be enough space for youngsters to be active, use imaginative play, or indulge in messy play, with separate areas kept free for naptime and meals too.

Keep the space free of clutter, leaving room for group activities, and place display boards and resources at child height.

How you create a play environment is up to you, but you’ll need to include certain elements so children don’t miss out on any opportunities to learn and grow.

What is important when creating a play environment?

It’s important to consider the children’s interests and make them feel confident enough to explore the play environment.

Children enjoy repetitive activities but you’ll need to leave time for them to discover new things to play with too. Keep mealtimes and home time fixed, but allow for some flexibility that helps them to embrace everything around them.

When children feel welcomed, they’ll be happier playing independently or with other children, so it’s important to facilitate their needs, whether that’s making sure they’re able to get involved in their favourite play activity or easing the separation from their parents.

A warm reception from childcare staff will support children in their learning and development, giving them a home away from home where they can flourish.

What is a good play environment?

A good play environment makes the most of the indoor and outdoor space available to the setting.

It should support child development and encourage social skills, as well as fine motor skills.

You can do this by allowing children to interact easily in different areas throughout the nursery, as well as encouraging activities like building dens to promote teamwork.

There should be multi-sensory materials available too as children learn a lot about their environment in this way. Offering multi-sensory options such as water and sand stations, as well as different textures on the walls will help them to become familiar with different sensory experiences, enhancing their processing skills.

A good play environment also brings creativity to the fore, using role play to build empathy and helping children to understand what they’re really interested in. It can also sharpen their problem solving skills by finding creative ways to understand more about the world around them.

Natural resources can be used to encourage children to embrace their outdoor environment too, a vital part of early education.

What is meant by an enabling environment?

Creating an enabling environment for the children in your care is outlined as one of the four guiding principles of the government’s Early Years Foundation Stage strategy.

Every child should be nurtured in an environment that gives them the opportunity to learn and develop through lots of different types of play.

In an enabling environment, a child feels confident enough to lead their own play and should feel secure enough to build positive relationships with the staff around them.

There should be time for them to enjoy physical activity, fresh air, and outdoor play, as well as the learning environment inside the nursery. Their progress shouldn’t be hindered by a lack of materials or resources, and their interest should be held, with enough stimulation to keep their attention.

If an enabling environment isn’t in place in a childcare setting, they may not reach their learning potential for their age.

“It’s vital that an enabling environment is made available for little ones in any childcare setting,” says Rachel Cox, Head of Childcare at TSW Training. “They have a much better chance of success in their development if they are able to access an indoor environment that supports their education, and an emotional environment that cultivates their wellbeing.”

What should a nursery environment look like?

A nursery environment should have the necessary tools and toys to promote play and encourage learning in a safe, warm setting. But there should also be cosy spots to curl up in and relax too.

Carve out different areas for different activities in your nursery, leaving enough space to facilitate children running around, and finding new things to entertain them.

Here are some tips for building a nursery environment children can thrive in:

  • Get rid of any clutter that’s taking up space in the nursery, leaving room for creativity instead
  • Create cosy corners where children can sit and chat, have a little nap, or just enjoy some downtime
  • Encourage group activities, as well as independence, to help children develop skills they’ll need in further education
  • Make the most out of outdoor spaces around you and take the children to new environments, like the beach, to enhance their learning experience even more
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Richard Hywood
Richard is TSW Training Apprenticeships’ Employer and Community Engagement Manager. His articles will help your business prepare for and manage apprentices.
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