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Three Ways to Create Intentional Play Spaces

Creating responsive play spaces can be quick and easy to set up for both children and educators. Imagination and simplistic styling, make them easy to replicate and modify as necessary using children’s valuable input.

Written by: Jo Harris Educational Advisor  

When planning play spaces for children’s learning, there are a few things to consider to ensure they are successful.  A selection of quality resources is a good starting point, along with a purposeful intention for the child or children involved along with specified strategies that support play and learning.

Before creating any play space, it is important to have an intention in mind for how you would like children to engage with it and what the overall learning outcomes will be. Designing an attractive play space is important to entice children’s interest, but if the purpose is unclear, it may be overlooked altogether.

Depending on the type of activity you want to create will determine where it will be set up in the learning environment. For larger setups that will likely attract more children, a large tabletop will provide a stable surface area for play. Alternatively, a large floor mat or rug can provide a visual cue to show the boundaries of where the play space starts and ends.

Decide on the Learning Outcomes

Using information drawn from observations and conversations is an ideal starting point. Gathering data that provides evidence of what children are interested in, who they are interacting with, and the questions and insights they have in their learning can all be combined, simplifying the process of planning activities and learning spaces.

The Early Years Learning Framework was carefully designed so that educators could choose to connect learning experiences to outcomes that match the learning outcomes. This is important to the child/children they are planning for, capturing more of a holistic approach to learning and development.

A play space such as the Way to Play Roadway could be the basis for exploring aspects of Identity, Connection, and Communication Learning Outcomes. Children and educators might discuss how children and their families belong to communities in which they engage with other people to shape their identities and relationships with people and places.

Educators may plan and extend learning through children’s play, which encourages the development of being connected to their community, or teach specific ways in which they can become socially responsible, contributing to harmonious places and spaces.

Intentional teaching opportunities may be reflected through play in which children discuss road safety, using the street signs to learn to recognise signs and symbols as a starting point to teach them messages are universally communicated.

Know Your Resources

Often in early learning settings resources are shared between different rooms or age groups, which means it is important to know where they are located when you want them. Equally important is to become familiar with them as educators, so that you can explore their potential perhaps beyond their intended use.

Repurposing items to be included in differing play spaces that suit a range of learning outcomes invites children to extend their imagination and creativity. As children can be detached from what an object must be, they can shape play and learn in collaboration with others, extending the possibilities of learning even further. 

Including handmade curve-shaped blocks in activities that are separate from a designated block area could completely change the kind of play that emerges. Guiding the play with a specific focus on Wellbeing, children can develop their social skills during cooperative play. Interacting with one another they can explore relationships with others as they discuss and share their individual and collective decision-making skills as they sort items through a process of classification and sorting.

Give Children Ample Time to Explore

Developing creativity is inextricably linked with the processes of trial and error and experimentation. When children are interacting with creative resources it often begins with getting familiar with properties such as their texture or the materials they are made from.

As children progress with their exploration, they may want to create something with an outcome in mind. Transferring their ideas from their imagination involves drawing upon information and skills that require repetition and practice. When educators set up artistic learning spaces it is important to consider what learning is involved, and how it will be introduced to the children.

Supporting their curiosity and inviting questions helps children to develop learning dispositions such as commitment, problem-solving, persistence, and reflexivity. It can be helpful to use a book to introduce a concept or character to inspire children’s interest in learning new skills.

This Craft Construction example shows how educators could repurpose materials such as buttons, ribbons, feathers, and leaves that children may have used with Play-Doh. Introducing No Fire Clay, children can engage with a new resource that requires more refined dexterity along with an opportunity to play, explore and try new things, and talk about what is happening as they engage with them.

 Play spaces are important as they are what draw children to engage with resources and begin to investigate. They are a catalyst for imagination, conversation, and discovery. With careful planning and knowledge of the possibilities for learning in each play space that is created, educators can confidently ensure that children have access to inclusive environments that reflect their learning preferences and needs.

Observing how children engage, and listening to their comments and questions educators simplify the planning process by drawing on the information they have collected. Thoughtful evaluation and reflection are especially important for educators to continue to support children with their learning and development.

Creating responsive play spaces can be made up of a few resources that are quick and easy to set up for both children and educators. The biggest impact is often the stories and imagination that might be inspired by children through their simplistic styling, making them easy to replicate and modify as necessary using children’s valuable input.

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