June 25, 2017 Playspace

I opened my newest nursery in January of this year and it has been an incredible journey. Having had nurseries and pre-schools for over 19 years, I originally was in favour of everything plastic, brightly coloured tables and chairs, walls and flooring.

Primary colours were the main theme within my setting, everything was plastic. Plastic stored in plastic coloured boxes, contained on brightly coloured shelving to match the brightly coloured theme that was throughout.

On top of this – as if the colour explosion was not enough, I spent endless hours in my early career painting brightly coloured windows, thinking that these added to the atmosphere of the nursery. That these in some way enhanced the play space for children.  That in some way we needed MORE COLOUR. That by blocking out all natural light, we needed to have more colour cascading into the rooms and overflowing to the world beyond.

Thankfully for me, things have changed and over my career my thinking has rotated a full 360 degrees and I no longer wish this environment for the children in my care. Let me tell you a little bit of why I feel like this:

Question: Have you ever been to the ‘clothes sales’, keen to go to the seek out a deal? You enter the store and immediately the atmosphere changes.

  • Music plays methodically in the back ground, not hearing it, not interested in it. However, it is there filling your ears relentlessly.
  • Clothes hang from ever station, brightly coloured miss-matched items, all dragged out from every season and displayed to catch your eye and attention. No order to the arrangement, no purpose, just there to show you everything that has been on offer, over the past few months and sometime blooming years.
  • Clothes or other random items fill every shelf, surface, just in case it meets your style or it might interest you in some way.
  • A whole array of different, random pieces to meet the wide variety of tastes, sizes, styles and ensure the store meets the diverse needs of its wide-ranging customers.
  • Stuff is everywhere, messy unorganised chaos, as people toss items aside, with no regard for their value or replacing it back on the hanger it once came from or the shelf it once was displayed on.
  • People move quickly, their behaviour rude, curt and with no regard for the fellow shoppers that share this environment.
  • The music still drones on, like a constant ear worm – ever relentless, ever playing!
  • The artificial lighting is set to bright, glaring constantly to showcase the items within.
  • The shopper next to you, pushes you out the way to grab the item on the shelf, shoving her pointy elbows in your side as she makes a grasp for that last remaining sale item.

How are you feeling? Can you relate to such a shopping experience? Did you want to get OUT pretty sharpish?  Did you want to escape as quickly as you entered, not interested, not engaged, not focused on the wealth of items on offer?

Are you experiencing sensory overload? 

Let’s reflect.

As early years educators, we need to reflect on our own environments. To think outside the box and view your play space through the eyes of the children within.

  1. What does it feel like to be at your nursery, what can they see from their own low-level vantage point? Are the displays purposeful, do they celebrate children’s own work or do the document learning?  How does it FEEL to be a child within your play space?
  2. Does your play space provide opportunities for quiet time, rest or communication friendly spaces? Space for quieter children to retreat and watch from a secure vantage point? Is it a calm tranquil place or loud and chaotic?
  3. Does your environment offer opportunities for light and shadow, natural light within each room?
  4. Does your play space feel homely, inviting and not institutionalised?
  5. Do you have elements of nature within, plants, flowers, nature, water etc?
  6. Are resources thoughtfully presented – inviting children with subliminal messages to come explore, investigate and play? Inspiring curiosity in early years.
  7. Are resources easily assessable, allowing opportunities for self-selection, promoting independence and opportunities for free choice?
  8. Do you offer children the opportunity to access authentic resources, loose parts and recycled materials? Resources that allow children opportunity to learn how to think, not what to think.

These are just a few questions you need to ask yourself about your own play space.

Have you viewed it down on the floor, from your knees recently? Have you lay on the floor and viewed the environment with fresh eyes, seeing it through the eyes of the children within? 

Get it drastically wrong and you could have unhappy children who may become fretful and unengaged or over-stimulated with feelings of anxiety and stress. Children’s mood and behaviour may become affected. Tantrums may occur as they become frustrated and emotional. They are confined to the ever-closing atmosphere with no means of escape!

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If any of this blog resonates with you and inspires you to reflect on your play space, I have done what I set out to do, to inspire you. To make you think, to see your environment with fresh eyes. Whether you are keen to follow The Curiosity Approach and move away from plastic toys or happy where you are at.

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The Curiosity Approach aims to bring inspirational ideas to early years, inspiring the Children to be the thinkers and doers of the future.

NB – For those nurseries who love their plastic toys and their brightly coloured walls and tables, chairs etc. There are many beautiful nurseries out there who use colour effectively and with thoughtful placement and arrangement, provide environments that offer incredible play opportunities for children. We all aim to set our learning environments to meet our own ethos, values and image. Parents out there choose us for many reasons, many fall in love with the bright traditional learning spaces. We all offer a unique selling point and meet the needs of a diverse market. Just like the retail shop offering the sale items of clothing.  We can’t have just one style of clothes shop; the world is a diverse place. People all have different views and opinions and the market needs to meet these needs.

Be Curious, Have Fun, Make a Difference.

This article was written by Stephanie Bennett, One of the Co-founders of The Curiosity Approach, alongside Lyndsey Hellyn. We're more than just another consultancy company, together we want to impact on early years. To make a change to the educational system. To inspire practitioners to bring back curiosity, awe and wonder to childhood and to the lives of educators.

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