Question: Does your child care play space have any impact the children’s behavior?
Whether your family child care business has been open for one week or 20 years, it might be time to assess the layout of the furniture & toys in your child care play space.
It’s time to think of your child care play space (the walls, the floor, the furniture, and the toys/materials) as a second teacher.
You can be the best teacher/caregiver in early childhood, but if your play space is not thoughtfully planned to meet the developmental needs of the kids in your program…you’re toast.
HOW TO ASSESS YOUR CHILD CARE PLAY SPACE:
- Walk through your space when the kids are not present and try to see each element through the eyes of the child. Keep in mind of what is at their eye level. Can you reach everything? Is it cluttered? Is it obvious where the toys belong when it’s clean-up time?
- Observe the kids in your space for one morning: Note areas that produce conflict, note areas that are constantly cluttered, see how the children move through the space — are there open spaces to run?
- Use the blank floor plan below to draw your current space and highlight any areas that need improvement…I like to call these “hot spots”.
Click HERE for to print a blank floor plan.
SOME COMMON “HOT SPOTS” IN A CHILD CARE SPACE ARE:
- Furniture pieces lining the perimeter of the room = kids who have space to run in
- Couches angled in a corner = kids who have a place to hide
- Too many toys in a space = kids who don’t have enough space to spread out
- No toy rotation = bored kids looking to use toys in ways that are unintended.
CAN YOU FIND THE HOT SPOTS?
HERE’S WHAT I FOUND…
HOT SPOT ASSESSMENT:
Let’s begin in the upper left hand corner and work our way clock-wise:
- The toy kitchen is typically a very popular, high traffic area. In the above map, the toy kitchen is near the pack-n-plays which could result in overwhelmed babies who are so close to the action.
- The work bench can also be another popular feature; putting it next to the toy kitchen may mean too many cooks (and construction workers) in the kitchen.
- See how that couch is angled in the corner? That little pocket behind the couch is begging for kids to use the couch as a hurdle and the corner as a hiding place.
- I’m not a fan of the TV being out in the middle of the play space—things like this can easily tip.
- A bookshelf is a great amenity to have in a play space, but should be reserved for a more quiet place to sit and read a story. In this setting, it’s next to television and not far from the toy kitchen area.
- The easel may be just fine where it’s at, but depending upon what types of materials you use on your easel it could be putting you at risk for getting paint on the things around it. If you only use chalk and crayons on your easel, this might be an okay location.
- See how the block shelf is right next to the light table? In my experience, kids like to use any flat surface to build…and they will do so on the glass top of a light table. This layout is putting your light table at risk if a child decides to build with heavy blocks on the glass-like surface.
- Circle Rug Area: Making sure there aren’t a lot of small manipulatives/toys near your circle time area is a proactive method that will help kids not be distracted by toys around them while you are conducting your group time.
- Writing Center: This area could easily be reserved for the quiet end of the room. Also having these materials so close to the infant area could cause some issues.
- Last but not least…see all those little “hot spot” flames in the center of your room? When toys & furniture line the perimeter, it’s like setting up an open field for kids to run, roll, play tag and do cartwheels.
CHILD CARE PLAY SPACE IMPROVEMENTS
- I know what you’re thinking…”this floor plan looks cluttered”. You’re right. There’s a fine line between cluttering up a space and the next point (#2).
- Create “centers” by using furniture and floor rugs to outline areas the kids can enter and exit. See the block center on the right? Kids can go “in” the block center and play and then come back “out”. Add accessories to to this area to build excitement such as toy people, cars & trucks and tools.
- Place toys that require greater supervision in the places you hang out most. In this floor plan I added an “activity table” (bottom right corner) where you can host various arts & crafts activities (and perhaps even meal time). The sensory table and easel are nearby for easy clean-up. If possible, consider the type of flooring you have in this area where kids can have a little more freedom with things like water, sand and paint.
- Move the light table away from the block center and heavy matchbox cars. Place on a rug to outline a space for things that are safe to use on the light table. The rug will act as a spacial cue for kids that buffers the fragile surface of the light table.
- Turning some of your furniture so that it stands perpendicular to the wall is a nice way to create the starts and stops in your play space (see item #1). The bookshelf is turned on this map so that it juts out from thew all and creates a nice little reading nook. The little yellow circles/ovals are seating (chairs or bean bags).
- Heavy duty classroom toy shelves are your friend. When you find them used…BUY THEM! They wear like iron and don’t tip. If you’re going to invest in furniture for your program, classroom furniture should be at the top of your wish list.
- A low toy shelf near the infant/toddler area makes toys easily accessible for the little guys and gals and also acts as a barrier to the busy toy kitchen area next door.
- Put your writing center where kids will see it and use it! If it’s a popular center, try to provide ample seating for maximum usage.
- Add a crate of “Reading Buddies” (stuffed animals) to your reading center. I used to collect the plush book characters from Kohls at $5 a piece (sometimes less if you can find them on clearance!)
Setting up your child care play space requires trial and error.
When you create a new floor plan, be sure to observe the kids for a full week to understand what changes need to be made.
WHERE TO SHOP:
- A great place to find inexpensive & kid friendly seating and floor rugs is IKEA!
- Make rummaging through garage sales and child care closings your favorite hobby.
- Invest in high quality furniture that doesn’t tip. Resale is good for these items so you’ll be able to get a lot of your money back out of these items when you sell them down the road.
- Teachers Pay Teachers is a great place to find labels. If the location of each item is obvious, than kids are going to have more success during clean up time! Plus…it’s a great way to boost literacy within the environment. These are my favorite labels: CENTER POSTERS and CLASSROOM LABELS
IF YOU HAVE A SMALL HOME AND/OR SHARE YOUR ENTIRE HOME WITH YOUR CHILD CARE SPACE:
- Analyzing your space is even MORE critical!
- Pick a closet and organize your things in bins. Rotating toys is a great technique!
- Less is more. Create real intention behind each piece. Why is it there and do the kids use it? For example, a train table takes up a lot of space but is an item that provides a place for kids to play together and can be the main attraction for so many other items like duplo blocks, marble runs, etc.
- Don’t get rid of things just because the kids don’t use it. Experiment first by thinking of ways to draw more interest to it. If the item is still a flop, it might be time to get rid of it.