Enabling environments and their impact on children’s learning

by Caroline Eaton

Creating an enabling environment for play and learning requires careful planning and reviewing. As we all know the impact the environment, we find ourselves in can affect us hugely.  In the same way the adults have the power to open or close down learning the environment can also do this.  Malaguzzi describes the environment as being the third educator.

The environment can be thought of to include the physical as well as the emotional environment.  This blog will primarily focus on the physical environment and the considerations are valid for both the indoor and outdoor.

Considerations for creating an enabling environment.

Reflecting children’s interests

We know that we are statutorily obligated to follow children’s interests in the EYFS.  If children are interested and motivated by the resources on offer then they will explore, refine their thinking and develop their skills.  This will also help children to feel valued and that they are important, which is vital for building self-esteem.  This could also include potential interests, after all, how do we know we are interested in something if we don’t know of its existence?

Celebrating the cultural capital of the child

Children come to our settings with varied life experiences and in order to feel safe and secure and therefore in a good place to learn, they need to see their lives reflected in the learning environment.  This could be a copy of a favourite book, duplicated resource from home such as a football or something in the domestic role play. Resources that enable children to show what they know and understand.  It is therefore going to be essential to get to know that child and family and then be clear about how and where the learning environment reflects that child.  The cultural capital may change during the child’s time with you.

Providing challenge

As we know having the right level of challenge ensures that learning happens. If children spend too much time in their zone of achieved development as Vygotsky identified, then they aren’t having enough challenge.  They do need to spend time here but they also need to spend time in the zone of proximal development either with a responsive adult or a peer.  We know that open-ended resources provide greater learning opportunities.  Careful thought can lead to an environment that meets a range of developmental needs such as having a variety of widths and lengths of balancing materials.  Both less experienced and more experienced balancers can then refine their balancing skills and feel successful.


How resources are presented can also influence how they are used.  Children need to be able to make choices and also know where to put the resources back after they have finished with them.  Open storage is more inviting to very young children as boxes can sometimes hinder them from seeing or knowing what is inside.  The positioning of the resources will also play a part.  It is no surprise that supermarket shelves are stacked with this consideration in mind.  The goods that are in the eye sight of customers are more popular than those higher up or lower and brands will pay more for these prized shelves.  It may pay to observe your children and to move the position of some resources and see if that piques the interest of the cohort.

The arrangement can also influence how the children learn. Careful placement of storage makes smaller more intimate spaces where children are known to talk more.  In addition, this storage can provide cruising surfaces for children who are becoming more mobile and enable them to move more freely and more independently about the space.


Having open ended resources can also be used flexibly, so that children can communicate their thoughts.  Resources need to be able to be used flexibly and to travel from one area of continuous provision to another so they can be combined so that children can see through their ideas to their own finishing point.

Static resources can sometimes loose their interest as they become like wallpaper and the children become blind to them or they stop holding any challenge.  Having resources that can be added can bring back interest and possibilities.

Having routines that are flexible will allow children to wallow in their learning.


Children need to be able to make choices about what they want to learn and where.  Having access to the outside for as much of the day as possible is key.  Children are more motivated when they can make choices and follow their interests.

Resources need to be displayed so that they draw children in.  This might take the form of having the train track sorted into long lengths, corners, short straight lengths, double ended pieces etc.  This will allow children to make choices more easily rather than having to plough through lots of unnecessary pieces. 

Careful thought needs to be put into the resource choices so that children can make genuine choices and can refine skills and deepen their understanding of concepts. 


Children need to be given time to become engrossed in their learning.  If children are regularly interrupted, they will find concentrating harder.

Children need repeated opportunities to explore and refine their expertise.  This repetition will help build neural pathways and this should help them to make connections between learning situations.


Having variety will open up opportunities for talk.  The variety can be limited and again needs to be thought through.  For example you may have a collection of balls for the children to refine their hand-eye co-ordination or learning about the properties of spheres, having a rugby ball, bouncy ball, light up ball will all help to refine the child’s knowledge and opportunities for talking.

If areas of continuous provision are resourced so that children can show you what they know and can do, the children’s confidence will grow and building on what children already know will become easier. 

To learn more about this subject and other topics, check out our programme of CPD webinars and workshops.

Caroline has had a career in Early Years Education which has spanned over 20 years. She has worked in a wide range of roles including class teaching, bi-lingual support, parent partnership and consultancy. Her pedagogical approach is child-centred and keeping children’s interests and motivations at the forefront of any developments.

enabling environments

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