This last few weeks has seen our new children join us and hopefully begin to settle in and engage with our learning environments. It is about now that I start to get enquiries from practitioners about children just "trashing" the room, not engaging with resources that have been painstakingly planned and despondant practitioners wondering why things might not be working as well as they could be. Fear not! It is good practice to be constantly reviewing the effectiveness of your setting and to look to change what is not working. You are not alone!
However, one thing that is worth looking at is how and what you have on offer to your children. There is a more traditional view that a setting has to be bright, colourful and packed to the gills with an array of resources for children to explore. Boxes gush with small world and construction toys, and shelves heave under the weight of books and boxes of jigsaws.
I know many of you will be aware of a move towards less brightly coloured environments with a more homely feel, and many will have already experienced the benefits that these calmer, less over whelming settings can bring. But it's not all about the walls.The way we offer our resources and what we offer can have just as huge an impact on the effiectiveness of your environment in engaging children and maintaining their interest. But are we "stuffocating" our children ?
It is worth taking a step back and thinking about what we are trying to acheive with our resources. We are looking to provide selections that offer interest and engagement, but which also encourage children to make independent choices, not just about what they choose but also about how and where they play with their choices. With this in mind is a plastic tray rammed full of one particular resource the best way forward? I would say not!
By downsizing your offering to a small baskets worth of the resource, not only are you making the selection process easier for young children but also giving them the chance to be able to pick it up and take to their choice of venue for their play. Sometimes having too much equipment on offer can be just as overwhelming as filling your room with loads of bright colours, and dangling laminated alphabets from every possible high point. Children need space and time to make selections and to be able to see what is on offer. By changing over from units stacked full of "stuff" to an array of boxes, baskets etc. that only hold a few dinosaurs or a small selection of mobilo children are much more likely to engage with the resource. If these are then dotted around your setting as apposed to all the construction in one area you are showing children that there is no set place to play and that it is ok to move and combine resources.
This week I have witnessed first-hand the benefits of this approach and have seen children really engage with resources that they once may have just passed by or not even dared to lift out for fear of a toy avalanche occurring. I have seen children combine a few farm animals with a basket of wooden blocks and a bowl full of shells to create their own story telling opportunities. I have seen 2 year olds working together to build trains from a small selection of mobilo and I have seen towers built from magnetic blocks that once sat unused in resource filled draw units. Even by just downsizing the number of books on offer from a packed book box to a few select offerings in key parts of the room children have loved being able to self select and engage actively with stories and magazines.
Maybe its time to rethink the way we offer resources to children, traditional storage units and book boxes may not be the most powerful way forward for our learning. Ask yourselves, " Are these resources appealing, accessible and mobile?" and if not maybe look to tweak a few things to make your environment start to work better both for you and the children.
Remember, less is definitely more when it comes to building enabling environments in early years and just because children like dinosaurs they don't necessarily need the whole herd to be able to play creatively!