Our Learning Spaces
The Enabling Environment
The environment supports children to be fully engaged in purposeful play of their own choice and interest. Both indoor and outdoor environments allow for learning in all areas of development, but the two areas do not mirror each other.
Indoors is the ideal place for children to be calm and quiet, pursuing activities which require small equipment and using resources that will not survive the outdoor elements.
The outdoor environment enhances and extends indoor learning but will often be louder and messier, including more movement, be on a larger scale or include the natural or built environment.
In the EYFS classes, the children choose where to go and what to do. They initiate their own learning and adults join them and support them in their pursuits. In order to support genuine choice we have a workshop style environment setup in classes. In all areas, the resources are available and accessible to the children at all times, but nothing is set out.
The areas are clear, stocked and tidy at the start of the day:- the tables and carpet areas are free of equipment but the resources are available next to these areas, often shadowed so that children know where to replace items used.
This allows the children to be in control of their learning. They are able to select the area in which to play, the resources to use in that area and what to do with them. It is crucial to have appropriate areas with varied, high quality, open-ended resources. It is also vital that the areas are well stocked, tidy, clearly labelled (with picture and word) or shadowed and arranged to allow optimum access. We constantly review and reflect on the environment to see which areas are proving productive and which need altering.
Shadowing resources helps children to be independent when tidying up. In addition, we also add other resources in boxes which can be changed to meet emerging interests. For example, these sea life mammals were added next to the water area after a visit to the Sea Life Centre.
The resources (as well as the areas) are assessed and reviewed constantly with changes made as necessary.
We combine the creative area next to the ‘writing’ area. Young children combine their different types of mark-making – they make a card and write a message; they draw a picture and write a story; they create a robot and add labelled controls. In many cases, they need creative equipment and writing implements – we therefore store them close to each other, as well as providing mark-making equipment in all areas.
Children experience maths in all areas of the indoor classroom and we ensure that there is equipment (including numicon) to facilitate this. Because the children select and access resources themselves, they know where they are from and they know where to put them back when they have finished using them or at the end of the session.
We review our provision in terms of levels of involvement. If an area or a resource is not engaging children in purposeful play, then we remove it or change it. Areas that deliver the highest levels of involvement are the role play areas, creative area, small blocks, sand, water, playdough and small world equipment (including cars and dinosaurs). With regard to role play, we ensure that there is always a “home corner” (either indoors or outside) as this is what is familiar to the children – this is where they can practise being the adults that they know (and in doing so, develop the vital life skill of empathy).
We ensure that our book areas are as inviting as possible. We have sofas, cushions, puppets and props to make the experience engaging. We also have books in numerous areas of the indoor classroom – craft books in the creative area, cookery books in the role play, construction and reference books in the small world area.
We believe that all children have the right to experience and enjoy the essential and special nature of being outdoors. Children thrive and their minds and bodies develop best when they have access to stimulating outdoor environments for learning through play and real experiences.
Our outdoor areas are designed to support all areas of the children’s development. For example, the sand area is large and is surrounded by shelving and baskets stocked with resources. The resources available are traditional sand toys, as well as natural shells, sticks, stones, etc. and cooking utensils, plates, cups, cutlery etc. to support a variety of play ideas. A water supply is essential, this allows for cooking, chemistry, cement mixing, moat filling or alchemy!
There are also lots of opportunities for risk and building upper body strength – rope bridge, rope swing, PE equipment for the children to set up, ‘A’ Frame, large wooden structures to climb, and woodwork with hammers and saws. The crucial induction period ensures that the children know how to use equipment and are encouraged to think about the risks themselves.
An approach to outdoor learning that considers experiences rather than equipment places children at the centre of the provision being made.
The process of learning taking place in individual children is the focus of our provision, not the products made or equipment available. All children are unique and have different interests and skills. As such, it may not be appropriate for all children to be asked to make a particular item or do a certain activity, as it may not be developmentally appropriate to that particular individual or may not fit in with their current schemata of the world.
Outdoor learning has equal value to indoor learning
As much value should be placed on the outdoor environment as inside. The same amount of resources, planning, time, and money should go into providing the outdoor space as the indoor one. We have invested in a caravan and it has become one of the highlights of our outdoor space.
So what then does this look like in practice? The indoor environment has been explained and the same principles apply outdoors. The aim is to organise the setting: including the time, the resources and the adults to ensure that the majority of the children display deep levels of engagement for the majority of the time. If that happens, then we can be confident that they are making good progress. When deeply engaged, their brains will be “lit up”, adults will notice when support is needed, interactions will ensure that obstacles are overcome or that new directions and possibilities are available and learning will be meaningful and fun!
As mentioned, an enabling environment is critical. When the children arrive, nothing is set out but everything is available and accessible. The doors to the outside are open in all weathers from the start of the day and from day one, the children are supported to explore the environment to see what is available, to select the resources they would like, to use them appropriately and to tidy the area when they have finished.
Tidy up time is very short – most areas have been tidied during the session. Because the children have got the resources out themselves, they know where to return them to. The induction period is always critical – even more so when the children have so much autonomy and choice. A staggered start and part time attendance in the first few weeks can ensure that the routines and expectations are established efficiently. Ground rules are essential when so much freedom is given – all the children need to feel safe. Clear and consistent expectations are key. For example, indoors the children will walk and use quieter voices – running and shouting can be done outside.