We’re really lucky that we’ve got enough space to have rooms set aside for children’s work. We’ve been working on turning the crèche room into a really enabling environment for our under threes. It has taken quite some time, the whole church has just been reordered, and the old church offices (originally the rectory), now being transformed into our children’s centre, has been used as storage space. It’s been a job some weeks just getting the space safe for the children before a Sunday morning with all sorts of furniture stacked up in the corner. Finally though, the extra things have been cleared out and it’s feeling like we’re really getting somewhere.
We’ve thought really carefully about what we want in the space and why and the first thing that was really important to us was comfy, adult-sized chairs. We’ve been left with the old clergy chairs out of the chancel. They’re not the most comfy things in the world, but they are big and with enough cushions you can get settled with a child on your knee for quite some time. We don’t want to find ourselves having to choose between putting down a child who would prefer to be held or leaving ourselves with a sore back for the rest of the day. Eleanor Goldschmeid and Sonia Jackson write at some length about the knock on effect of making sure that those who care for children are well and happy in themselves. It’s also lovely to have a bit of space where we can sit and read to the children. Jenny Lindon writes about supporting children’s language development best by reading and talking with children on their own or in two or threes. She describes the ideal size group to work with as ‘a sofa-full’. Supporting children in becoming confident communicators is really important to what we do. Mina works a great deal with the older children encouraging them to ask questions and wonder together about questions which don’t have easy answers.
Supporting children in exploring for themselves and guiding their own learning is so important to us. Anyone familiar with Montessori early years provision will understand why we’ve chosen to have some open shelves in our room. Had we been buying them new we’d have gone for lower ones so the children can reach down whatever they wanted, but these tall ones were already in the building. We keep treasure baskets and rattles at the top to lift down as and when we have babies in crèche and the lower shelves are full of books and toys for the toddlers to help themselves to independently. We do choose some of the things that we have out every week, particularly when we can link play to a theme in the song or story that we have planned for our little five minutes of carpet time, but there is constant access to books, blocks and cars as well as a couple of other favourite things. This means that children can revisit familiar things and favourite stories. The books are in little baskets so the children can see them face-forward and we also have some big crates for blocks and over-sized books.
What we also have is a quarter of the room floored with lino rather than carpet. We really love our messy play, tactile play and mark making. We have sand out most weeks and we’ve also experimented with rice and lentils, trays of shaving foam, bubbles, all sorts of play dough, wax crayons and chalks. That’s just the beginning though, now that we have a practical space for it we can have fun with water, corn flour, and paint too. The Community Playthings website has, along with it’s beautiful (but not inexpensive) furniture and toys, lots of article that are useful, including one on flooring. It’s well worth a read if you’re in a position to be choosing flooring for an early years space. If you’re not in that position then let me recommend a cheap shower curtain to go under a table or large tray so you can experiment with some different play opportunities.
We have just one table at child height. We do make good use of it but at the same time we wouldn’t want any more. The children love to have space to move around and space to play on the floor. It’s really sad when early years settings have too many tables and chairs as it makes spaces look cramped and small as well as giving the false impression that children are only learning (or even behaving) when they are sat still. It happens more with settings for three to five-year-olds but we’re keen to begin how we mean to go on by engaging with as many different ways of learning as we can. We have space for some big motor movement, with a little slide, a tunnel, and a rocker and that’s every bit as important as our messy play space or our cosy corner.
Last but not least we have an empty bit of carpet which we can use for different things each week. It often has heuristic play things out or a simple role play cue linked with our song or story. The aim is to provide lots that is familiar and allows the children to revisit their learning and space for something new too.