EYFS blog 5: Indoor and outdoor environments

Indoor Environments

The indoor environment of a setting should make children feel safe and secure and give them the opportunity to become confident learners.

There should be areas for different types of play or activity with appropriate and well maintained resources that suit all age groups and stages of learning.

Indoor play and learning environments need careful planning to ensure they take account of children’s changing interests and needs. However, the basic geography of the setting should be kept the same as children feel safe when things remain constant.

To create an indoor environment that is rich in experience, play, teaching, and people, you need to:

  • Ensure the indoor environment feels comfortable, safe and homely.
  • Make sure the setting and all the elements within it are clean and safe – sometimes it may be a good idea to have a bit of a clear out and get rid of any resources that are old, tired or broken.
  • Use displays of photographs, drawings and posters to encourage interest.
  • Try to make as many play and learning resources as possible accessible to the children themselves, think about the environment from a child’s height – can they reach things and easily see posters and displays?
  • Create specific areas for different types of play so that children can easily access and distinguish between activities on their own – think about including a messy area, a book area, a construction area, a craft area, a quiet area, a role playing area, a senses area, etc
  • Ensure resources for the children are accessible, age appropriate and clearly labelled – perhaps using pictures as well as words to mark boxes.
  • Encourage children to find the things they want within the setting.
  • Include and encourage children to help in the tidying and putting away of toys.
  • Regularly review how areas are used by observing the children at play– if they are not being used think about why not and consider what you could do to either make the area more accessible and inviting/stimulating, or alternatively re-develop the area.

Outdoor Environments

Outdoor environments have many positive effects on children’s development. They give opportunities to experience and enhance many different skills with a greater sense of freedom and independence than those experienced indoors.

Outdoor spaces and learning environments provide contact with the natural world allowing children to use all of their senses. Often, children who are more reserved in an indoor setting will ‘come out of their shell’ when given the opportunity to play and learn outdoors.

Outdoor learning environments allow children to experience problem-solving, risk-taking and big-scale play in a safe environment. They can use all of their senses and be creative in a different way using an outdoor space.

Physical activity is enhanced and so is calculated risk taking, which is important as children grow up.

To make full use of the outdoors and its ability to be a rich enabling environment you need to:

  • Try to make sure that children have the opportunity to be outside as much as possible throughout the year, even in the cold winter months.
  •  Talk to children about personal safety and the safety of others to help them understand how to behave in an outdoor setting.
  • Offer a multi-sensory environment by including areas for different types of outdoor play with different resources – think about sand play and wet play areas, wheeled toys, balls, areas for planting or with flowers and vegetables, areas with larger items such as boxes, crates or tyres, areas focused on animals and insects such as bird feeders or log piles. The resources don’t have to be expensive, just varied and creative.
  • Don’t shy away from using the outdoor space in different types of weather –  experiencing different weather is a fantastic learning and play opportunity for children. Ensure they have the correct clothing/footwear/hats to allow stamping in puddles, playing with snow or playing safely out in the sunshine.
  • An outdoor environment gives you the space you need to plan activities that cannot take place indoors – larger scale activities held outdoors will encourage collaboration and cooperation between the children.
  • Ensure the outdoor environment caters for all the children – think about those with mobility issues and how they will use the space.
  • Try to link indoor and outdoor environments with a transition space where children can be independent (as much as possible), with low level pegs and storage for the clothing and items they may need.
  • Think about having quiet areas where children can be away from the more noisy or energetic play that tends to take place outside – perhaps providing secret corners or dens.