Creating Inspiring Spaces for Young Children

By: Kate Quattlebaum

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One of our keynote speakers at our 2019 Directors Leadership Conference, Sandra Duncan, co-authored a book that invites teachers to enhance children's educational environment in a beautiful way by emphasizing aesthetic environmental qualities such as nature, color, furnishings, textures, displays, lighting, and focal points. Inspiring Spaces for Young Children (distributed by Kaplan) gives step-by-step instructions and lush photographs take educators through the process of transforming ordinary classrooms into creative, beautiful learning spaces.

Principle 1: Nature Inspires Beauty

Just as you are immersed in a natural world of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and textures, classrooms should reflect the wonders of nature that surround you. As children interact with nature, they deepen their understanding and appreciation of their places and roles as caretakers of the planet.

Principle 2: Color Generates Interest

Color can be a powerful design principle both in positive and negative ways. Proper use of color can create a mood, define a space, and reflect children's homes and communities. Used negatively, color can be overpowering, confusing, and over-stimulating. A neutral background for your classroom with a few well-chosen accent colors will create interest that is focused on the children and adults who inhabit the space.

Principle 3: Furnishings Define Space

Furnishings are used to identify classroom areas such as dramatic play, blocks, art, music, and science. When these furnishings are authentic and sized and placed properly, children's play will increase in quality and depth.

Principle 4: Texture Adds Depth

Texture in the environment offers visual interest and depth and provides children with unique tactile experiences. As children interact with sensory elements, they sharpen their observational skills and fine motor abilities through the languages of weaving, sculptures, and textiles.

Principle 5: Displays Enhance Environment

By eliminating clutter, arranging storage materials, and highlighting children's work, the classroom becomes a backdrop to honor all who occupy the space.

Principle 6: Elements Heighten Ambiance

Multiple sources of light create an ambiance of relaxation and contemplation. By using light in supportive ways, children are able to interact creatively with others and the environment.

Principle 7: Focal Points Attract Attention

When entering the classroom, a distinct focal point can highlight interactive learning centers, children's work, an architectural element, or a beautiful artifact. Focal points invite children to actively engage and participate in the environment.

Every early childhood environment is full of pros and cons; it is how our teachers work with the unique elements of their classroom space that can make a tremendous difference. Every classroom is a “work-in-progress”; as the needs of children change, and as our investigations and learning experiences unfold, teachers should consider what new materials and displays might be helpful in making children thrive in the classroom. As new children and families join the class, teacher should ask: how can we make our new friends feel more at home in this space?