The Environment Shapes Play

Play is impacted by your childs environment and how much they get out of it. A little boy stands on a gray shag run looking down and a wooden block tower he just built.

The benefit of an organized play space

While it may seem counterintuitive to spend time creating an organized and thoughtful play space for kids who seem determined to destroy everything in their path, there is reason to do so.

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Early educators often talk about the environment as “the third teacher.” This just means that our children’s environment has a big impact on their learning and development. The environment shapes how kids play.

You want to avoid these two mistakes when designing the play and learning environment:

  1. Overloading with toys that leave little to the imagination
  2. Organizing in a way that doesn’t encourage purposeful and independent play

A poorly planned environment can detract from your child’s learning.

How does the environment actually teach children?


Urie Bronfenbrenner, psychologist and founder of the Head Start Program in the U.S., explains that the child impacts the environment.

Since the child influences the environment they are influenced by the environment. 

A good learning environment will encourage children to engage in a variety of explorations. These explorations should be based on their individual preferences and needs.

Creating an amazing play space for your child doesn’t have to be expensive or overly time consuming. And you absolutely don’t need a dedicated playroom to create an environment that invites play. 

Children need a space that is beautiful, simple, and organized. This is the type of environment that encourages discovery and exploration. It is this curiosity that teaches them the most. 

We place enormous value on the role of the environment as a motivating and animating force in creating spaces for relations, options and emotional and cognitive situations that produce a sense of well-being and security”

Malaguzzi, reggio emilia

3 Ways to Create an Environment that Supports Development

Incorporate a variety of sensory experiences.

Make sure you provide toys and other activities that give your child many sensory opportunities. You want them to be able to touch, smell, and hear in a variety of ways.

You can provide musical instruments, or something as simple as pots and pans to bang. Wooden blocks and blocks or building materials with different textures are a great addition.

You can create a sensory bin filled with rice, sand, or water. Sensory bins are a simple way to introduce a variety of textures to your little ones.

Create a space that supports the specific preferences of the children in that particular environment.

Think about what makes your child tick. What types of activities do they gravitate towards? Try to provide toys and experiences that help support those specific interests and consider how you can expand on those interests.

Make sure the environment is rich in content.

This means having a variety of different types of reading materials available. Make trips to the library to bring home books about a wide range of topics.

Read out loud and listen to audiobooks. Encourage your children to ask questions and help them find answers.

It’s important to understand that a children’s environment should be a place that sparks collaboration, communication and creativity.

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