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Studying an Early Childhood Environment for Children Birth to Two Years Old

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Studying an Early Childhood Environment for Children Birth to Two Years Old

Introduction
Today’s young children are spending a large number of hours in a child care setting. Given that massive amount of time, it is essential that we strive to make it the “best” place possible for children (Isbell, 2007).

Researches have shown that the quality of preschool education is partly related to the quality of the planned and designed physical environment (Harrison, 1990; Moore, 2002). Hence, the question of providing quality care turns into how to plan and provide quality environment to children (Harrison, 1990). According to Greenman (1988: 53), the important and indispensable role that environment plays in providing quality child care is described as follows:
A well-planned environment can offer two essential contributions to quality care. First, it can provide children with appropriate and challenging learning experiences within a consistent and secure setting. Second, it allows staff greater opportunity to become involved in meaningful, intimate interactions with children by reducing the time required for organising and reorganising the furniture, the room and the equipment.

In this article, I look into the question of how to create a comfortable educational environment which is optimal for infants and toddlers’ learning and development by analysing the setting of a Toddler Room in a child care centre where I worked. After thorough study, I am able to provide a plan to redesign the room, which I believe, would better suit young children’s special needs and their unique ways of learning, so as to benefit their future development in the long run.

Description of the Layout of the Toddler Room
The Toddler Room is designed for children under three years old. It is located at the very front of the centre. The physical layout of the room is depicted in Appendix 1. The Toddler Room shares one kitchenette, one storeroom and one change room with the Middle Room (children 3-4 years) next door.

Basically, the room is divided into two regions: dry and wet regions. The dry region, which is covered with carpet, serves as a cozy space for quiet play and sleep. The wet region is floored with tiles and is mainly used for children to have meals and do messy play. There are quite a few positive aspects of this room in regards to providing a safe and sound educational environment for children’s development and learning. For example, the room is organized and has plenty of storage space. All doors outside or inside the room have large pieces of glasses which provide a good visibility of the room. There are plenty of windows to allow maximum natural light. Almost all furniture is made of wood. And there is a large yard right outside the room for children to play and explore.

Upon entering the room, one could see a row of open lockers, in which store all children’s bags and other stuffs. The lockers are made of wood and each of them is labelled with children’s names and pictures for recognition. Usually two children would share one locker. The lockers are low to the floor and within reach of the children so that they can have access to their stuffs all the time. An open environment with all area accessible to children is likely to encourage ownership and respect for resources (Arthur, Beecher, Death, Dockett & Farmer, 2012). This area is also important in the sense that it gives children a clear sense of space, predictability and security. An entrance that is nice and delightful could sooth the separation anxiety of both parents and children, making them feel invited and welcomed to a place designed just for them (Community Playthings, 2008).

Beside the lockers there are two tables, which are equipped with portable child sized chairs. All made of wood. When children are not having tea or lunch, the staff members would clean up the tables and put on toys and stationaries, such as puzzles, Play Doh plasticine, paper, crayon or paste.

There’s a separate area for children to play right beside the door to the outside yard. Its front is blocked by a high shelf with some toys on it, such as phones and purses. And on the left side of it are several cots, which are placed on the carpet. So the only open end to this play corner is its right side. The potential of this area is yet to be discovered.

On the carpet, there are two pieces of adult furniture: the couch and bookshelf. They are placed in the middle so that the children can have a good reading on the couch. The walls in the carpet area are full of children’s works, pictures, family introductions, etc.

One side of the carpet are occupied by three cots, which happen to block the windows behind. Beside the cots, there’s a small corner in which a high shelf was set up to place a CD player. Later, some toys were added this corner, such as play kitchen sets and food sets, making it an area for children to do dramatic play.

On the other side of the room, the staffs put a patch of synthetic grass and a basket full of animal shaped toys. There is also a low shelf in which stores some blocks, which made it an area for manipulative play. However, children don’t seem particularly interested in this area.

Although the room is well-designed in some ways, it is still far from being an “identifiable” home like space which is ideal for young children (Dimond, 1979). In order to achieve optimal use of its limited physical space, it is obviously in need of some reorganization and improvement in some aspects of its setting, such as the carpet area. Harrison (1990) contends that the child care setting should have clearly defined areas for certain activities and certain types of play, e.g. active play area need to be clearly separated from quiet area. Young children learns from an environment which is “dependable, reliable, and has a clear sense of order” (Harrison, 1990: 8). An environment which caters to young children’s special needs and unique, sensory way of learning is more likely to make them feel comfortable (Harrison, 1990). As Greenman (1988: 74) has put it,
A soft, responsive, physical environment reaches out to children. It helps children to feel more secure, enabling them to venture out and explore the world. Most importantly, it allows children to make their presence felt, to leave an imprint on the world.

Analysis and Redesign of the Toddler Room
According to Isbell (2007), the first step in creating a suitable environment for infants, toddlers and preschool children is to understand how young children learn and develop. For example, Infants and toddlers learn through acting upon the objects and materials in their environment. Therefore, the design of the environment must provide them with plenty of opportunities for physical exploration.

Organisation
Harrison (1990: 15) contends that the following factors should be taken into account by all centres which aim to provide quality care to children under three: * The maximisation of play space, by placing all storage on high shelves and planning for everything at floor level to be available to the children. * The minimisation of furniture and the need to move furniture. * The division of the space into distinct areas for specific types of learning and play activities. * The inclusion of indoor climbing structures.
Based on the listed factors, I have redesigned and reorganized the carpet area and divided it into distinctive play zones so as to make it more stimulating and interesting for young children to explore.

The cots were moved inside, leaving the windows unblocked. The high shelf with the CD player was moved to the right side of the cots. The couch was also moved to the front of the window, and the bookshelf was put right beside the couch to replace the initial play corner. Adding a few low mattresses or furry friends along with the couch made it an inviting cozy corner. This would be an ideal place for adults to do reading, singing, dancing and snuggling with the children.

The dramatic play area was moved to the front of the cots where children can find play kitchen sets and food sets, cottage house and dress-up clothes.

Beside the dramatic play area is an area for manipulative play. A low open shelf was added where toys, games and small wooden blocks can be found. All toys have to be separated, packed and labelled.

Finally, in the corner, an active play area was set up which helps to develop young children’s gross motor skills. This was achieved by adding a corner centre with steps, or a few sensory mats. Adding climbing structures inside the room can also prevent children from climbing tables or shelves (Harrison, 1990).

These simple changes help to change the landscape of the play zone dramatically. I have reasons to believe that it would make young children feel more stimulated and engaged as it now provides them with a broader range of play activities to choose. As Jim Greenman has stated:
The play environment should be developed as a wonderful, interesting place that continually captures a child’s attention and is laid out to ensure individual and group experiences.
(Greenman, 1988: 54)

Aesthetics
Aesthetics is an important factor when planning and designing an early childhood environment. It’s the first impression that families and children have towards our sevices (Arthur et al., 2012). Also, the environment where young children live tells them how to act and respond. The arrangements and materials used are likely to determine how children would react to the environment. For example, they are likely to act roughly on hard plastic materials, whereas carefully examine and gently handle a beautiful flower arrangement (Isbell, 2007).

Therefore, we are liable for making the environment clean, nice and organized. An aesthetically pleasing space can help children to discover and appreciate the beautiful world around them (Isbell, 2007).

Conclusion
Through redesigning of the physical layout of the Toddler Room, I have made several changes to help improve and perfect this educational environment. The changes in the physical environment will make it a more stimulating and engaging space for young children, which, in turn, will enhance their feelings of “being” and “belonging”. This quality environment can also better assist staffs in providing quality care.
Appendix 1 Physical Layout of the Toddler Room Prior to Redesign
Room entrance
Room entrance
Window
Window

Manipulative Play Area
Manipulative Play Area
Bookshelf
Bookshelf
Sink
Sink
Shelf
Shelf

Table
Table
Dramatic Play Area
CD Player
Dramatic Play Area
CD Player
Play Corner
Play Corner
Cot
Cot
Carpet
Carpet
Table
Table
Couch
Couch
Lockers

Lockers

| Kitchenette | Middle Room | | Storeroom | | | Change Room | |
Windows
Windows

Outside Area (Play Yard)
Outside Area (Play Yard)

Lockers | a row of open shelves in which to put children’s bags and other stuffs | Low table | 2 tables with portable child sized chairs for children to have meals or do messy play | Couch | a large adult sized furniture, which allows at least 2 adults or 3 children to sit on | Bookshelf | stores all kinds of children’s cartoon and animation books | Cot area | 3 cots, 1 high shelf, 1 CD player | Manipulative Play Area | synthetic grass, a basket of animal shaped toys, some blocks, which the children weren’t very much interested in | Dramatic Play Area | play kitchen sets and food sets, cottage house and dress-up clothes | Play Corner | a separate area for children to play right beside the door to the outside yard |

Appendix 2 Areas created in the redesigned Toddler Room space
Window
Window
Room entrance
Room entrance

Active Play Area
Active Play Area
Quiet Play
Quiet Play
Manipulative Play Area
Manipulative Play Area
Dramatic Play Area
Dramatic Play Area

Cot
Cot
Bookshelf
Bookshelf
Shelf
Shelf
Sink
Sink
Table
Table
Table
Table
Lockers

Lockers

| Kitchenette | Middle Room | | Storeroom | | | Change Room | |
Outside Area (Play Yard)
Outside Area (Play Yard)
Windows
Windows

Quiet Play Area | Couch, cushions, mattresses, bookshelf, a cozy corner for adults and children to do reading, singing, dancing and snuggling | Dramatic Play Area | play kitchen sets and food sets, cottage house and dress-up clothes | Manipulative Play Area | low open shelf with toys, games and small wooden blocks | Active Play Area | a corner centre with steps (or a few sensory mats) | Cot area | 3 cots, 1 high shelf, 1 CD player |
Reference
Arthur, L., Beecher, B., Death, E., Dockett, S. & Farmer, S. (2012). Programming & Planning in Early Childhood Settings (5th Ed.). Cengage Learning Australia Pty Ltd.
Community Playthings (2008). Infant and Toddler Spaces: Design for a Quality Classroom. Retrieved from http://www.communityplaythings.com/resources/articles/RoomPlanning/Spaces/InfantToddlerSpaces.pdf
Dimond, E. (1979). From Trust to Autonomy: Planning Day Care Space for Infants and Toddlers. In E. Jones (Ed.), Supporting the Growth of Infants, Toddlers and Parents. Pasadena, Ca.: Pacific Oaks College and Children’s School.
Greenman, J. (1988). Caring Spaces, Learning Places: Children’s Environments That Work. Redmond, WA: Exchange Press Inc.
Harrison, L. (1990). Planning Appropriate Learning Environments for Children under Three. Austrlian Early Childhood Resource Booklets, No. 1. ACT: Australian Early Childhood Association, Inc., Watson.
Isbell, R. (2007). An Environment that Positively Impacts Young Children. Earlychildhood News. Retrieved from http://www.earlychildhoodnews.com/earlychildhood/article_view.aspx?ArticleID=334
Moore, G. (2002). Designed Environments for Young Children: Empirical Findings and Implications for Planning and Design. In M. Gallop & J. McCormack (Eds.), Children and Young People’s Environments. Dunedin, New Zealand: University of Otago, Children’s Issues Centre.…...

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