Provision: In a happy place

Tania Swift
Thursday, December 31, 2020

In this extract from her new book, Learning through Movement and Active Play in the Early Years, Tania Swift asks practitioners to consider the enabling environment in its emotional context and suggests ways to make it a positive space for all children.

 Children need to be comfortable trying new things inside and out.
Children need to be comfortable trying new things inside and out.

Enabling environments should be age specific, appealing to children's interests, making them feel happy, challenged, safe and secure and be a place where they can confidently play and learn. However, some of the best spaces will provide enriching and exciting spaces for children (and adults) of any age, either due to their nature or how they have been organised by professionals or a combination of both.

As children learn so much through exploring the environment and child-led activity, it is important that we create an environment that is interesting, exciting and poses challenges. With a well thought-out or chosen environment, children will be able to experiment, problem-solve, push themselves, use mathematical concepts, use their communication skills and be active with minimum input from adults. Some questions to ask yourself when thinking about the environment include the following:

  • Is it accessible for all?
  • Do children feel cared for, safe and secure?
  • Is the environment inviting to children?
  • Will children experience many things without prompting from adults?
  • Will children be stimulated by the environment?
  • Will the environment challenge children to experiment, problem-solve and push themselves?
  • Is the environment safe while being challenging?
  • Does the environment allow children to be flexible and is the environment itself flexible?
  • Is the environment interesting for children?

Margaret McMillan, pioneer of the British nursery school, said, ‘We are trying to create an environment where education will be almost inevitable. This is a simple explanation of an enabling environment. If it is interesting, exciting, enticing, encourages exploration, creativity and experimentation, it will enable learning.’ (Early Years Education and Care. 2014 Routledge p.106).

When considering creating an enabling environment, you will need to take into account the emotional environment, the indoor environment and the outdoor environment.

Emotional environment

The environment is not only the physical area that children are exposed to but also the people who are in it: other children, parents/carers and staff interact, whether children feel safe, secure and cared for and if there is an underlying feeling of positivity or negativity in the space. In effect, relationships are what constitute the emotional environment, which includes the relationship between the parent/carer and staff, the relationship between staff and children, how people behave and speak to each other, how they are treated and how inclusive it is.

When children feel safe, secure and happy in an environment that responds to their individual needs they are more likely to feel comfortable to try new things, push themselves and generally relax into enjoying their day. This will open them up to learning so many new things and allow them to be challenged physically, emotionally and cognitively.

One of the best ways for children to learn is for them to feel comfortable to make mistakes and persevere until they get it right. Children will only be willing to do this if they are in a setting that has an emotional environment that encourages and supports all to explore and try new things.

It is therefore important for settings to have an ethos that supports positivity about failure, that nothing is wrong unless it will lead to someone getting hurt, and trying something new is more important than sticking to your comfort zone. Much of this ethos will be discovered through adult role-modelling: we should allow ourselves to make mistakes, learn from them and try again, always be positive, allow children many opportunities for self-directed play and learning, respect each other and be inclusive.

Learning through Active Movement and Play in the Early Years is published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers

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