The introduction of ‘enabling environments’ as a key principle in providing effective early childhood education and care (ECEC) has itself enabled a great leap forward in thinking and practice. As someone who is fascinated by the relationship between organisms (children especially) and their surroundings, I’ve long witnessed that the environment is in fact the first teacher, since it powerfully affects everyone in it: children and the adults working with them alike.
For some time I have been wondering whether – and when – we might now move on to thinking about empowering environments: a more active, participatory approach where educators consciously share control and decision-making. What would such an environment look like? And would the outdoors be particularly good at this, since it has always been more of the ‘child’s domain’ than the indoors is? Natalie Canning’s research on empowerment through social play outdoors offers a great starting point for such a discussion.
Environment and design is one of the key aspects that Early Childhood Outdoors seeks to support and develop, so it’s very exciting to share the news of a new multi-dimensional, multi-functional online tool that focuses on understanding how the environment is central to pedagogy. Called ‘Enspirement’, it cleverly harnesses the internet to provide a range of tools that aid creation of enjoyable, well-functioning and successful ECEC environments, both indoors and outdoors.
Enspirement has grown out of the remarkable work of the New Shoots team in Aotearoa New Zealand, and is rapidly growing a global meshwork of those aware of the influence and power of environment. One of the many standout features for me when I visited some of the New Shoots Children’s Centres was how the actively designed linkage between inside and outside created one joined up space of two very special and complementary halves: a complete caring, wellbeing and learning environment. I encourage you to take some time to explore the New Shoots website as well as the 30 day free trial of Enspirement – several cups of your favourite beverage are recommended!
Enspirement: The world-first platform transforming the early years’ experience through meaningful environmental design by Michelle Pratt and the Enspirement team.
“Spaces speak…Even though we cannot hear the classroom’s walls or floors talking, the equipment conversing, or the learning materials chattering, they are indeed speaking to us. They are telling us how to behave, react, engage and even think.” Duncan, Martin & Keith, 2016.
Think back to one of your fondest childhood memories. Who were you with? What were you doing? Where were you? You’ll probably find it’s not only the emotion, action, taste, or smell you recall – but also your environment.
Children grow faster and learn quicker during the first six years than at any other time in their life (1), which is why early childhood environments have a disproportionate effect on children’s learning. Whether it’s at home or in a group care environment, we talk about early childhood spaces being the ‘third teacher’ because of the way they impact how we feel, engage, discover, and think.
That’s why we wholeheartedly believe that conserving and maintaining our internal environments and landscapes outside really matters and makes a difference. It matters for educators; it matters for parents; but most of all it matters for children, because when you deeply connect with a space, you take care of it at a greater level.
Four reasons environmental design is key for a thriving childhood
- Strong connections between the parent/educator and the child give better learning outcomes. Research tells us children learn more when they feel happy and secure in their environment. Neuroscience Educator, Dr. Nathan Wallis, talks about the first 1,000 days being the most important time in a human’s life. Both the genetic make-up of the child and their environment contribute equally to their social and emotional development. Therefore, higher engagement of parents or educators within their early years environment means better outcomes for children (2).
- Positive physical environments support parents/educators. The priority for educators to provide the best possible care and education they are capable of for children is a demanding and constant role. If an early years environment is well designed and contextual to that child, it allows educators the ability to engage more meaningfully with the children they educate and care for.
- Strong connections to nature within your environmental design supports good health. Research shows that introducing nature into our built environments has a profound impact on human fitness and quality of life (3). Over the years we have witnessed the disconnect to nature through built environments that lack natural light, poor ventilation, noise control, and miss opportunities to use natural forms and shapes to reflect nature.
- Well-ordered and beautiful environments enhance children’s development. Aesthetically attractive spaces arouse our interest, curiosity, imagination, and spark a sense of wonder. But when we lack visual contact with the natural world, such as a windowless and featureless space, we frequently experience boredom, fatigue, and in extreme cases physical and psychological abnormality (4).
The Solution? Enspirement: Your platform for creating meaningful spaces for children
“Creating environments that maximise learning is deliberately deciding to create inspirational spaces. Putting it into practice is magic and watching children fully immerse themselves into a world of wonder and joy, because of what you’ve created, is enlightening.” – Michelle Pratt, Enspirement Co-Founder.
Are you an educator or parent looking to create more meaningful spaces and experiences for children? Struggling to keep up with current trends, best practices and find inspiration?
What if you had a visual platform designed to help you create early years environments that enhance children’s development and learning?
Well, now you do – Enspirement.
What is Enspirement?
Enspirement aims to transform the early years experience through meaningful environmental design, defending childhood wonder, and inspiring The Potential Place.
- It’s the world’s first visual online platform focussed purely on early childhood.
- You can save, share, collaborate, build, and develop environmental design ideas while gaining and providing inspiration for educators and parents.
- It’s a community of educators and parents that share their creativity and knowledge to better the lives of children globally.
- Enspirement offers a positive way to engage with each other, share inspirational content, and spark creativity and innovation, resulting in more fulfilling environments for children.
- We connect you to a global community of peers, experts, and thought leaders, as well as providing an opportunity for you to grow your thinking, and to expand your circle of professional connections and friends.
Your professional development and growth are important to us. We also believe in creating environments that inspire children’s learning and growth. Enspirement ticks both boxes in a fun, visual, creative way.
“Help children learn to cherish beauty by responding to the aesthetic qualities in everyday experiences.” – Feeny and Moravcik (5)
Enspirement makes environmental design easy
“Children are miracles. Believing that every child is a miracle can transform the way we design for children’s care. When we invite a miracle into our lives, we prepare ourselves and the environment around us. We may set out flowers or special offerings. We may cleanse ourselves, the space, or our thoughts of everything but the love inside us. We make it our job to create with reverence and gratitude a space that is worthy of a miracle. Action follows thought. We can choose to change. We can choose to design spaces for miracles, not minimums.” Anita Rui Olds (1999) Childcare Centre Design
To make a positive impact on the lives of educators and children through environmental design, we must do it right. Environments that spark wonder, creativity, and discovery involve thinking and planning. With Enspirement, thinking and planning are easy. You get visual inspiration on a beautifully organised platform, bringing early years communities together to share knowledge, expand thinking, and improve the environmental design of early childhood settings.
The quality of children’s learning and development thrives when their environments – indoors and outdoors – are designed to complement, extend, and enhance learning opportunities. Access to outdoor space offers huge benefits, especially when there is free open daily access. When children are in the outdoors they move freely, using all their senses, to see, hear, smell, and touch – discovering natural elements. When outdoors, children build confidence – using their whole body and senses to manage risk and challenging experiences, problem solving, developing creativity. Language and communication skills are heightened as children interact while engaged in outdoor experiences.
Whole-body exploration that evokes the senses. New Shoots Children’s Centre, Hillcrest. Photographed by Amanda Aitken Photography.
You can use Enspirement to:
- View Enspires (a collection of images, descriptions, and potential product tags linked to the e-Commerce store that embeds pedagogy into an environment or activity) visually capturing and describing how children explore.
- Connect the value of recycled and sustainable resources included in a child’s play.
- Discover how to encourage children to connect to the natural world, care for plants, and foster a lifelong love of the environment.
- Be inspired and inspire others! Be a part of our global community of educators and parents, experts, and thought leaders, who share their creativity, knowledge, and ideas, to better the lives of children.
- Increase engagement – embed pedagogy into inspiring environments and activities to increase engagement from children, educators, and parents. That way you can design and create experiences for children that spark joy and deliver improved learning outcomes.
- Advance your learning and development through our professional development hub. It makes planning and creating meaningful spaces easy, thanks to useful, engaging insights from experts, thought leaders, and academics.
Creating heartfelt early learning experiences for children deepens their desire to learn and be curious about the world. Time to Enspire? Visit www.enspirement.co
- Principles and Developmental Objectives of EECE, Dr G. Baradha
- Social and Emotional Development in the First 1000 Days, Dr Nathan Wallis, Early Years T.V., 2020
- The Practice of Biophilic Design, Stephen R. Kellert, Elizabeth F. Calabrese, 2015
- Kellert 2012, Browning et al 2014
- Feeny and Moravcik, A Thing of Beauty: Aesthetic Development in Young Children, 1987