Early Years Alphabet: E is for Enabling Environments
In order for children to thrive they need to be exposed to enabling environments. A successfully enabling environment will cover all seven areas of learning and consider a variety of other aspects. It is not only the immediate surroundings and physical items that come into play, the emotional environment and individual needs of the children also need to be maintained.
Children can achieve more when they feel safe, in a warm and nurturing environment. Practitioners are available to help children and support their development, but they also need expose children to appropriate challenges. The opportunity to overcome hurdles and achieve new goals is how children learn new skills, gain independence and grow in confidence.
To create the most effective enabling environments, the follow factors should be considered:
It can be difficult to simultaneously meet the needs of many children. The best way to do this is to ensure children are grouped appropriately by age and ability. Where possible children should be in rooms with other children of the same age. Avoid having babies and pre-schoolers together as they are likely to have contrasting needs, making it difficult to create an enabling environment suitable for all of them.
However, in some instances some children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) may have similar needs to that of younger children and so would be more comfortable in a lower age group. It is essential that practitioners really get to know their children, identify their needs and cater to them where possible, even if it means doing things differently from time to time.
Every child has their own interests and these should be present within the setting. Having familiar items in new surroundings helps children feel comfortable. Having a variety of resources available ensures that most children will find something they enjoy interacting with, but sometimes more needs to be done.
Asking parents what their children enjoy at home, allows practitioners to establish what items they may need to acquire for their setting. For example, most children enjoy books, but if a child loves a specific book, it may be worth finding the same one to help that child settle.
Communicating with parents also provides practitioners with more meaningful information about each child. This makes identifying their needs easier, meaning they are more likely to be met by practitioners.
Children with English as an Additional Language (EAL) will also greatly benefit from parent-practitioner communications. Children who do not speak or understand English will not be able to communicate their needs. Their parents can provide practitioners with key words and phrases to use with the child, making it more likely that their individual needs will be met.
The overall theme of a nursery is down to the discretion of the owner or manager. However, in recent years there has been a transition from brightly coloured, vibrant settings to more neutral, calming environments. The reason for this is so children do not become distracted by garish displays and can focus on the resources that are available. Children feel more relaxed in these plainer surroundings.
Providers also need to consider first impressions for parents. When visiting a bright, colourful nursery with posters all over the walls, it can feel claustrophobic and busy, whereas a more neutral aesthetic is more calming for parents who are already feeling quite anxious. Parents and carers should feel just as welcomed and eager to explore as the children do.
Having rooms free of clutter not only looks better but allows the children to explore their environment freely and safely. There are fewer obstacles for them to come into contact with and they will be more confident to explore and learn. Having well-presented rooms also makes it easier for staff to keep to organised.
Indoor and Outdoor
External environments in settings can often be less enabling than internal ones. This can be due to lack of space, poor weather or simply the fact the outdoor environment may be used less than indoors. Children should spend as much time outside as possible, in all weather conditions. An enabling outdoor environment will ensure children can learn and develop anytime of year.
A good way to utilise external areas is to consider the seven areas of learning and if they are present both inside, and outside.
- Is there an area for children to role-play?
- Is literacy present?
- Is there a maths area?
- Are there resources for physical development?
- Are there art and craft supplies?
- Are small world items available?
- Are there tools for emotional and social development?
These types of questions need to be answered with a ‘yes’.
Resources from inside can be brought outside, with more delicate items being covered, moved into a storage area, or brought back inside to avoid damage in bad weather. Children should have the same learning opportunities whether they are inside or outside.
Many items in a nursery environment will be constant, as in they should always be present. These are items such as furniture (tables, chairs, cots), books, art and craft materials, small world resources, sand and water trays, dolls and role-play items. As these are frequently used in settings, they should be regularly assessed and maintained.
Having faulty and unsafe items in a nursery does not make for an enabling environment. Practitioners should carry out regular checks on resources and furniture to ensure children can interact with these items freely and confidently. Teaching children how to play with resources appropriately not only instils a sense of respect for belongings, but also means fewer replacements need to be made.
If rooms and resources remain the same for long periods of time, they can become stagnant, children grow tired of interacting with the same toys and development slows. To avoid this, some resources can be rotated between rooms to keep learning fresh and children motivated.
Small world resources for example should always be present, but perhaps cars can be in one room and trains in another, a month later they can be exchanged, then swapped over again the following month. The same can be done with animals (farm animals in one room, forest animals in another), art and craft supplies (pencils in one room, crayons in another), books and so on.
This method also benefits staff as they too can grow tired of using the same resources with their children. Keeping staff inspired and excited to play with children goes towards making an enabling environment.
New items can also be introduced for planned activities. Practitioners should try and think outside the box to see what interesting resources they can bring in for specific activities. For example, for a planned activity based around healthy eating, seeds could be brought in for planting vegetables, healthy food can be brought in for food tasting, or fruit might be used for painting. Planning is a great way to incorporate new resources that the children don’t usually interact with, enabling them to learn different things and develop new skills.
As previously mentioned, there is more than just the physical environment that enables children to develop effectively. The ambience of a setting is equally as important. Children need to be supported and encouraged by practitioners, so having a well-trained, passionate team is crucial. Unhappy practitioners cannot be ignored as their mood will directly impact the children, so any issues should be identified and resolved promptly.
Having a strong sense of teamwork will help practitioners feel valued and respected, resulting in a more motivated team. A positive atmosphere inspires communication between colleagues, sharing best practices and helpful information about the children, leading to the children’s needs being met.
Practitioners are the ones guiding children through learning. If they are not feeling inspired, neither will the children. Managers should lead by example, being positive role models for their team, who will in turn be positive role models for the children, enabling them to reach their fullest potentials.