An enabling environment supports and nurtures a child's health, safety, happiness, and development. While children can thrive in a variety of settings, childminders are uniquely positioned to provide high-quality care that facilitates positive interactions.
In comparison to potentially crowded traditional nurseries, the “home from home” childminder environment means children often get more personalised attention. This allows for more stimulating, tailored activities and interactions that contribute to children's learning and healthy development.
Of course, many factors besides personalised care contribute to a positive early years setting and experience. When working as a registered childminder it's important to create the right conditions to help support young children's growth, learning, and overall well-being.
In this article, we’ll look at what an enabling environment is, why it’s important to early years development, and how you can create one as a childminder, both online and offline.
Table of contents
- What is an enabling environment?
- Why are enabling environments critical in early years development?
- Creating an enabling environment in a digital world
- Wrapping up
What is an enabling environment?
Enabling environments help children to grow and learn. They provide a safe space in which children can feel confident, playful, inspired, and protected. In essence, an enabling environment is where children can thrive.
There are three different enabling environment types: the emotional environment, the indoor environment, and the outdoor environment.
We’ll be explaining these in more detail shortly, but first, let’s look at why enabling environments are so important for children’s development.
Why are enabling environments critical in early years development?
When children feel emotionally and physically safe, they are able to explore, interact with and learn about the world around them. This comfortable exploration increases their potential to achieve milestones across the EYFS seven areas of learning and development.
This isn’t simply our opinion. Numerous international studies have linked the quality of care children receive to their social development and behaviour, both in the short and long term.
Children in high quality settings show stronger self-regulation, cooperativeness, and social competence, as well as better peer interactions.
One of the most important parts of building an enabling environment is understanding the child's needs and requirements. Knowing how a child learns best, and in what kind of setting, will help you to help them grow.
This means making your space welcoming and functional, but also adaptable to meet the needs of a variety of personalities.
Ange La from the Childminder Support Hub Facebook Group speaks on this:
“To enable a child across all seven areas of learning within the EYFS, the environment must be rich in real life learning. A child should be able to free flow through the environment.
“As the brain develops, new learning emerges in the form of ‘wow’ moments. The child has the chance to develop and grow that neuron again and again, and the neuron will eventually secure itself into the right part of the brain.
“Everyday life skills become learned, secured and embedded so the child will be able to complete routine tasks at ease. The skilled practitioner is looking for the next ‘wow’ moment to help the child. Using the environment and or resources can help secure the learning.”
Ange La is describing neural plasticity, the ability for the brain to change and grow in response to an experience, and the strengthening of those neural connections when experiences are repeated.
In a tiney home, for example, children have plenty of opportunities to choose their own activities and select the resources that most interest them. The exposure to new, engaging activities allows for those ‘wow’ moments and secured learning opportunities.
This tailored care helps to alleviate the anxiety that children naturally feel when entering a new setting. In effect, children (ideally) don’t spend their days concerned with the absence of their parents and are much more able to stay present and enjoy playing with the group and carers.
Creating an enabling environment in a digital world
Part of creating a safe space for a child is protecting them when they navigate the digital world, too. When creating an enabling environment for a child, it’s important to consider the role that the internet and technological devices have on their learning, development, and safety.
The UK Council for Internet Safety has published the Digital Resilience Framework, which helps groups and businesses (such as tiney childminders) navigate online risks and opportunities.
By playing your part in learning how to recognise and manage online risk, you can provide a stronger foundation for your children’s wellbeing. Part of creating an enabling environment is about generating positive and healthy relationships with the internet and digital devices, whilst still fostering a sense of independence and agency in the child.
An independent research paper revealed that by encouraging children to use the internet safely we can create digital resilience. This means that children have greater self-efficacy and a sense of personal responsibility when it comes to making choices online, helping to grow their confidence as a result.
How to create an enabling environment
“Adults admire their environment; they can remember it and think about it but a child absorbs it. The things they see are not just remembered; they form part of their soul. They incarnate in themselves all in the world about them that their eyes see and their ears hear” - Maria Montessori
There are three main building blocks to creating an enabling environment: emotional, indoor, and outdoor.
1. Emotional environments
An emotional environment is how feelings are managed in the childcare setting. This includes the feelings of the children and the staff alike.
Of course, the ultimate goal is to support and adopt a positive environment. But it’s equally as important to understand negative feelings will arise, and critically, how to manage them when they do.
Enabling an emotional environment that is designed for safety as well as growth is about the ‘feel good factor’:
- Do the children generally feel positive when they come into your space?
- How are emotions expressed in the room by caregivers?
- Can you hold space for difficult emotions, and let the child see how to manage them?
When a child feels safe, they can express their emotions—either positive or negative. One child’s emotional needs can vary widely from another child’s emotional needs. Different daily experiences, home lives, and life events mean some children will be more reserved with their emotional expression and some won’t yet know how to handle emotions appropriately.
Allowing a child to know that they won’t be judged for sharing how they feel is a great way to promote an accepting emotional environment.
2. Indoor environments
Your children are likely to be indoors part of the day (especially during nap time), so your indoor environment should feel welcoming, attractive, and homely.
Enabling a good indoor space is about both functionality and how the space makes everybody feel. Ideally, you want to encourage independence and problem solving as much as possible.
- Are there adequate resources available for learning opportunities, and do they meet their needs?
- Are there age-appropriate toys?
- Is the environment equipped with a good balance of learning materials as well as creative pursuits to explore?
Take time to carefully plan your indoor environment, and think about how it can be made flexible in order to suit the needs and requirements of individual children.
You can even consider what kinds of textures and lighting might make a child feel safe—perhaps a soft blanket or an interesting lamp.
In order to build the child’s autonomy, think about placing their resources at a height in which they can reach and play with them, without you having to give the item to them.
Of course, you must also consider safeguarding. This means building learning environments that keep children physically and emotionally safe and having an action plan in place should something go wrong.
For an indoor environment, this may look like proper food hygiene during snack time.
For an emotional environment, this could mean helping children manage their feelings and behaviours.
And for an outdoor setting (coming up in the next section) this may entail ensuring your space only has equipment that is appropriate for children to explore and interact with (i.e. no sharp objects).
3. Outdoor environments
Whatever the weather, children love being outside. Creating an enabling environment is about giving children access to the most vital aspect of our wellbeing: nature.
Note: The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework stipulates that you must provide access to an outdoor play area at your childminding business. If you don’t have the space, that’s OK, but you must ensure you plan for outdoor activities on a daily basis to comply with regulations.
An outdoor environment is required for good reason: it’s vital for a child’s growth, confidence, and resiliency, as well as fostering a sense of adventure. Physically, it also helps children with all-around development, including coordination, sensory awareness, core strength, stability, balance, and building fine and gross motor skills.
Children often thrive outside—splashing in muddy puddles, looking at birds and trees, or enjoying the sounds of the rain on a roof.
- Do you have access to green space or outdoor areas of learning?
- Are there ‘wild’ areas where children can feel free to explore with all of their senses?
- Can you show them outdoor learning by taking them to places with an abundance of natural wildlife and animals in their own habitat?
Creating space for outdoor experiences doesn’t need to be expensive. In fact, just sitting under a tree quietly with children can create an enabling environment, as well as foster feelings of wellbeing.
Top Tip: Sensory play is a great way to build enabling environments (both inside and outside). It can help to build confidence, promote complex thinking, and lay the framework for physical and social growth. We provide tons of resources for ways to explore sensory play in our guide to 5 sensory play activities for childcare 🌟
Creative ways to develop an enabling environment
The right enabling environment will largely depend on your space. That said, here are a few specific ideas and examples that you can use (or glean insights from) to create an enabling environment.
- Design a welcome greeting that is memorable and fun for the child, and puts them at ease.
- Use displays of photographs, drawings, and posters to help fuel curiosity.
- Create a ‘messy play’ area, a ‘calm area’ and a ‘reading corner’ to signpost different areas. Boundaries could be made with flags or sticky glitter tape.
- Imaginative play, role play, and storytelling to set the scene and communicate important themes, like safety and inclusion.
- Make a game out of ‘tidying up’ at regular intervals—perhaps even singing a song to encourage playfulness.
- Build a multi-sensory environment to promote confidence and tons of fun—think wet sand, ball pit, wooden blocks, plush toys, sensory/calming bottles, and more.
- Provide access to multicultural items to promote diversity such as dolls in different skin tones, dressing up clothes that are familiar to their culture and background, and books with diverse characters.
- Utilise music and nature sounds to cater to different learning and emotional needs and encourage calm.
Creating a nurturing and supportive environment for a child can be immensely rewarding when all the elements come together.
While you can build a general enabling environment at the outset of your childminder career, make sure to refine it as you get to know and understand your children. This way, you can include items in the space that provide a sense of familiarity and wellbeing and cater to their needs and interests.
There’s nothing better than seeing your children happily embracing learning experiences and thriving in the environment you’ve created for them.
Ready to start your journey to becoming a childminder today? Learn more about joining tiney.