How to create a good environment for playing?

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Play. It’s the primary occupation of childhood and the single most significant contributor to healthy development in kids.

- Claire Heffron (a pediatric occupational therapist in a preschool)

As we know from Kindiedays's blog last week, children practice for example language development, motor development and cognitive development during play - skills they’ll need in order to grow into balanced adulthood.

Threfore it is not insignificant where children practice all these skills. When designing an environment for playing, pay attention to the following aspects:

1. Big / Small play environment

Think of a Football Field vs. Tent and imagine how children play in those two environments... Running + screaming and creeping + giggling.

The bigger the play space is, the more physical activity we see in children. Playing at a gym, football field or playground supports the development of gross motor skills.

Children prefer dramatic play in smaller, enclosed spaces. Therefore, playing in a small room, tent or hut encourages children to practice social skills, imaginative play and interaction. 

That is why the size of a play space has a significant impact on the way children play.


2. The social environment

When children feel comfortable, safe and well - they are able to focus more deeply in play. It also matters who and how many people is present in the play environment: teachers, friends, unknown people, parents, siblings...

Children have been found to engage in more physical activity play when an adult is not present. The number of people present in the play space also has an influence on children’s play.  Research points to the fact that children tend to withdraw in extremely crowded settings.  

- Claire Heffron

3. The sensory environment

All children have their own sensory preferences and needs. These preferences have an impact on play too. 

Great materials that can be used in sensory play are for example: sand, water, instruments, play dough, strechy bands, beads and lights for visual play.

Some questions by Claire Heffron to consider:

  • Are there visual distractions or clutter that might impede play interactions?
  • Are there visual items of interest that could spur creative play?
  • Are there excessive auditory distractions that could negatively impact play interactions?
  • Are there opportunities for auditory play?
  • Are there tactile items of interest that could encourage exploration and engagement?
  • Is the play space well-lit?
  • Are there any smells to be aware of?
  • What are the movement requirements of the play space?
  • How do these sensory elements fit with the unique preferences of the children involved?

What is a good learning environment?

4. Familiar / New play environment and materials

Children are naturally drawn to novelty, to new toys and play environments.

Studies show that the introduction of novel play items can add to the complexity of dramatic play and that carefully rotating play materials can influence the frequency of constructive play that takes place in a group of children.

And while novelty of play spaces and materials is definitely an important consideration, kids also need time to become familiar and comfortable with using toys and play items in order to elicit engaged and developmentally beneficial play.  For this reason, researchers warn not to change out play materials too frequently.

- Claire Heffron

5. Simple / Complex play environment and materials

Research has found that simple, less-detailed and open-ended play materials promote more imaginative and dramatic play.

On the other hans, the amount and variety of materials appears to be one of the most important factors in gross-motor play. Adding for example balls, beanbags, hula hoops and stepping tools to open spaces creates flexible and varied movement-based play and promotes more physical activity overall. Outdoor play is a perfect example of a varied and interesting play environment, children can find: trees, rocks, grass, plants, streams, sand, snow...

Happy playtime!

Read reference Claire Heffron's lovely blog The Inspired Treehouse

Click to Kindiedays Homepage