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Elements of the Child Care Environment

The first five years of life are critical. During these formative years, young children must be loved and nurtured, both in their social and physical environments. If these needs are met, children will feel that they belong, and be encouraged to explore and learn.

Understanding the importance of the social environment is easy. The impact of the physical environment is often overlooked….quiet or active, stimulating or boring, individual or group, the mix of environments a child is exposed to has a tremendous impact on their development. Work spaces, play spaces, learning spaces, personal spaces –all must meet the developmental needs and requirements of the child. Today's children spend thousands of hours in early learning programs. But only in recent years have educators begun to understand the importance of the environment in early childhood education.

Many programs now turn to design professionals for help in defining the physical aspects of the early learning environment. While architects have long been used to create the bones of a structure, we now turn to designers and other experts to create layouts that fulfill physical and social needs and requirements. Color, furnishings, lighting, and materials create an atmosphere that fosters creativity and learning.





According to Early Learning Childhood Environments that Work, a childcare program requires:

  • Furniture
  • Environmental accessories
  • Tools
  • Equipment
  • Materials

And in your planning, some key areas to consider are:

  • The Art Center
  • Dramatic Play
  • Music/Movement
  • Sand Play
  • Science Center
  • Pet Area
  • Water Play
  • Carpentry Center
  • Library Area
  • Block Area
  • Communication Center

These are only the key areas - you may find that your particular needs are slightly different.

Back to the A to Z of Design


Child Care Design Guide, Anita Rui Olds, McGraw-Hill, New York, New York, 2001

Early Learning Environments that Work, Isbell & Exelby, Gryphon House Inc, Beltsville, MD, 2001