As childcare professionals, we are all aware of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and how each of these basic needs need to be met in order for an individual to reach the top of the hierarchy and achieve self-actualisation which enables an individual to become ‘everything one is capable of becoming’ (Maslow, 1987, p64). As early years practitioners and as a setting, this is our ultimate goal for all of our children; supporting them in reaching their fullest potential in order to become well-rounded, emotionally balanced and confident adults.
In order to do this successfully, we input as much efforts into our learning environments (both indoor and outdoor) as we do our overall practice and routines as we know that the environments we create and the learning opportunities we provide are key to our children’s learning and development.
Our recent OFSTED inspection stated that our children are ‘enthusiastic learners’ who have developed ‘excellent social skills’ and show ‘extremely high levels of confidence and independence’. We credit this to the stimulating learning environment and challenging experiences we offer our children every day.
As we mentioned in our previous blog post , home-based childcare isn’t about who has the most money and can offer the latest technology or equipment and resources, but more about what you offer the children and the environment in which it is presented in. This is something we feel extremely strongly about and as we have said before, we don’t have the biggest play space (either indoor or outdoor) however, we aim to make it as stimulating, inviting and attractive as we possibly can for the children in our care, in order for them to get the most out of their play and learning experiences.
If an environment is visually attractive to a child and they feel excited and passionate about what is on offer, the richer their learning experience will be. Stimulating and inviting environments such as these ignite a passion for learning within our children which over time, if offered these experiences regularly/continually, enables them to become passionate and enthusiastic learners from an exceptionally early age.
Home-based childcare is a gruelling yet rewarding profession, particularly when lone-working and so it is easy to lose motivation due to tiredness and other contributing factors of working full time on your own and so it is easy for learning environments to become stagnant and as a result for children to respond to this less challenging and inviting environment and often we witness children’s behaviour change significantly. So it is essential that we keep on top of our learning environments and keep them fresh and exciting.
A great way to change and maintain a stimulating environment is asking the children for their opinions, wishes and involving them in the process (we also use a choosing book that we made which contains photo’s of the play equipment, with indoors and outdoors). As per Maslow’s hierarchy, children need to feel safe in order to develop friendships and a sense of belonging and this is why we believe it is vitally important to ensure the children feel and understand that the play spaces are ‘theirs’ as much as they are ours and so they have a responsibility and right to be involved in decisions that are made regarding the learning environment and opportunities on offer and that they feel safe and develop a sense of belonging and community through the positive relationships that stimulating and enabling environments promotes and supports.
It is not just the physical environment that supports and facilitates not only children’s learning but their well-being too, and so it is essential to provide a range of interesting and stimulating experiences within the environment that inspire countless learning opportunities, we find that the most effective learning experiences come from loose parts; “In a play, loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials.” (www.readingplay.co.uk)
Loose Parts encourage and support open-ended play, this encourages thought provoking and meaningful child-led play which supports and develops each individual area of the child’s learning and development. Loose parts provide the children with challenging experiences that they can manipulate and learn through hands-on exploration, thinking critically and problem solving as they do so.
As Maslow reported, once we achieve each stage of the hierarchy, our self-respect develops and increases through each stage, which in Maslow’s opinion precedes self-esteem or dignity and so ensuring that through our environments and opportunities we offer children stimulating and challenging experiences as not only the physical environment but the opportunities we provide support children’s emotional and physiological needs which contribute to their overall well-being.
An enabling environment not only facilitates learning and development but also supports and promotes confidence, resilience and independence in our children which provides them with the necessary skills and experiences to become well-rounded and self-respecting young adults and so getting our environments right is crucial to children’s wellbeing and self-esteem.