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Environments that Reflect Our Vision of Children
December 28, 2021
All of us inhabit settings, and much can be learned through observing and analyzing our own reactions to built spaces, and the reactions of others… In carrying out the business of daily life, how do spatial arrangements assist or get in the way?
-Jim Greenman, Caring Spaces, Learning Places

“We can create environments that reflect and support our vision of children as capable, powerful designers of their own learning. We can make a point of opening up opportunities for children to have influence on the physical space in which they work and play.” So writes Sarah Felstiner in an article that’s part of Exchange Essentials: Designing Intentional Play Spaces and Learning Environments, Felstiner shares a range of ideas she’s used with children in her care:

Indoors and out, “perhaps the simplest and most powerful way to involve children in classroom design is to offer materials that let children reconstruct and change the environment daily. If those items are readily available to children, they can use them as needed to design their own playscapes, experimenting and figuring out what they want.” In addition:

  • Be open to change—and clear out clutter to pave the way.
  • Provide loose parts “large enough to act as architectural elements”—large swaths of fabric, recycled boxes and tubes, sturdy milk crates, logs, etc.
  • Observe how children use and modify their environment, then rearrange it to facilitate their interests—talk with children about these changes.
  • Involve children and families in transformations, such as painting a mural or furnishings.
  • Reflect the children’s role in design through shared documentation.




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In our large collection of Exchange Essentials article collections, find resources on subjects such as administration, child development, curriculum, environments, family, and leadership.

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Comments (3)

Displaying All 3 Comments
Nancy Rosenow · December 29, 2021
United States


Both of you make very important points. Thank you!

Francis Wardle · December 28, 2021
Center for the Study of Biracial Children
Denver, Colorado, United States


These suggestions are particularly relevant for the outside playground! Make sure there are lots of loose-parts, materials for building forts, things that can be transported by wagon to a play area, old tires, milk grates, different-size pieces of wood, etc. Almost all early childhood playgrounds I have observed are much too static, "ordered", and predictable. A well developed vegetable garden is also a place where children can impact their environment; a piece of concrete for art work and block constructions is also an asset..

Dr Alice Sterling Honig · December 28, 2021
syracuse, United States


Some children hate constant change.
They become fearful.
Be careful and sensitive.
If children live with chaos or frequent family moves, then they may well prefer calm predictable environments and behaviors.!!



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