Being closed over the Christmas holidays has given me time to reflect on the environment I provide for my little Jellybabyz. So I decided to utilise some of my ‘free time’ to conduct some research and evaluate the provision as a whole.

Whilst the quality of the physical space which babies and toddlers are in is without doubt important there are other aspects to take into consideration when thinking about how to create an enabling environment. These include how time is managed in order to capitalise on all the opportunities that the environment provides, and on the quality of the interactions and relationships between the children, practitioners, and parents/carers in the setting. But evaluating and making improvements to all these areas has to be a long term goal and for now I’m tackling the space side of things with a trip to Ikea!

Space

From a very early age, babies make sense of the world around them by using all their senses to explore their surroundings. Connections are made between the nerve cells in the brain through these interactions, which are consolidated as the baby’s brain develops and matures. The physical environment therefore plays a very important role in supporting babies’ and toddlers’ healthy growth and development.

I am more than aware that the space available in different settings varies; we are lucky and have a dedicated playroom and substantial space in the rest of the setting that can be utilised. I am however guilty of saying ‘we don’t have enough space to do that.’ So I have endeavoured to assess the current use of the space available and make better use of it. Lately the playroom has become a somewhat untidy, cluttered environment, full of things kept ‘just in case they come in useful’ and this has begun to impact on children’s ability to move around and sometimes restricts their freedom to play and explore. On reflection this may have been the root cause of some of the problems with behaviour a number of children have developed over recent months simply because they have become frustrated or bored.

A high quality environment for babies and toddlers should:

Be clean, tidy and uncluttered – I am updating our storage to allow more of the resources to be stored but easily accessible for our little ones. By using picture labels to aid identification of where toys belong and incorporating a ‘tidy up song’ into our routine, I hope that children will begin to take responsibility for putting things away. Once the resources have been sorted our shiny new storage will hopefully help to maintain a clean, tidy and clutter free space where my little Jellybabyz can grow, explore, develop and learn.

Be used flexibly by practitioners throughout the day in response to children’s moods and interests – I encourage free-flow play and support child-lead play which already results in the environment being ‘altered’ as we build dens under the table or move paint and other sensory resources onto the floor to maximise access and extend activities. This definitely will not change as it is a vital part of my ethos and means that my little Jellybabyz develop confidence and self-awareness as they play and extend each other’s learning and understanding
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Include cosy, quiet spaces where children can rest or sleep – currently the living room is used as our ‘quite area’ where our Jellybabyz rest, sleep or watch a little TV to relax but, as the playroom is rearranged and new storage is brought in, I hope to create a permanent cosy corner next to the book shelves so that children can read, relax or sit with friends to develop communication and social skills. The plan is to utilise the cushions we already have create an inviting and calming that the little ones will enjoy using.

Be painted in calm, neutral colours to provide a backdrop to the children’s activities – the playroom is our conservatory and is already light and airy. My fantastic husband has only recently painted the small amount of wall space a calming lemon colour, which replaced a vivid orange, and I have noticed the effect this has had on the children’s attitude and behaviour (until of course the room became overly cluttered with resources....hence point one when I had a drastic declutter and reorganisation of resources!) My wonderful husband (and assistant as he keeps reminding me!) has now decided that a natural light sage green colour may be better suited as a backdrop to all our colourful displays of the children’s work and information for parents – so as part of our revamp we’re going to give it a try!

Contain only the furniture that is absolutely essential, leaving plenty of free floor space for children’s play – this appears obvious but looking after such a broad age range of children (all with individual needs and interests) it can be difficult to determine what is essential! I refuse to get rid of our sofa and chair as the children often use them during play (the sofa has recently been transformed into hospital bed, Santa’s sleigh and a rocket to the moon!) and it means I have somewhere comfy to sit and observe my wonderful Jellybabyz as I add observations to their Learning Journeys. Of course some of our storage is a little battered and not really fir for purpose any more but today’s visit to Ikea will resolve that issue and means that there should be more floor space available.

Be resourced with interesting open ended toys and resources to look at, touch and explore – again a tricky one with such a varied age group but it’s still a work in progress. I have purchased new resources to replace some tired toys but firm favourites obviously have to stay. Our dressing up chest is in drastic need of a cull so I’m starting the process but will enlist my Jellybabyz when they come back in the new year to finalise our ‘must keep’ choices. One of my main goals is to acquire more natural resources that offer so much more scope for exploration and play than some of our current plastic one trick wonders that I’ve notice are played with for a few minutes and then discarded...anything with wheels is a must for Mr J and if it can be dressed or wrapped up then Miss A is a happy bunny! Due to current storage our building blocks and jigsaws aren’t played with very often but most of our Jellybabyz are more than content when there is something messy to investigate or when they can develop their imagination through role play...these are things we ‘plan’ everyday and need very few resources for. I’m always on the lookout for new and interesting resources to add to our collection but now the focus will be on ‘what else can I use it for?’ or ‘what else can the children do with that?’

Have resources stored at a height where children can see and access them – Ikea here I come! The whole point of this exercise is to make access easier so my Jellybabyz can become independent learners and take charge of their own play!

Make good use of mirrors low down on the walls and in corners to create interesting environments to explore – actually not something I’ve considered (other than a couple of hand help child-safe mirrors on loan from the toy library). Another of today’s challenges will be to purchase some mirror stickers to ‘decorate’ the walls. Although with very limited wall space this poses more of a challenge than first anticipated. Looks like I’m going to be crawling around on all fours to get a toddler perspective as I search for the best place to stick them!

It's been a very through provoking process and has raised so many questions...I  don't know about everyone else but I'm excited to see the impact these changes will have on my little Jellybabyz and the setting as a whole.

Thanks for reading, Sarah.