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The Role of the Physical Environment in Early Childhood Education

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Over the years the importance of early childhood education has gained special attention due to its now learned advantages in the later stages of education. Scholars like Evans, Sanoff and Gur demonstrate the purpose of Early Childhood Education as a foundation for higher learning stages and that the role the physical environment plays in the development and learning of a child under the age of six is attributed to positive learning outcomes both at an early age and eventually later stages in life. 

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This kind of environment according to, if designed with consideration of the design patterns; movement and circulation, daylight and views and related to a child’s competence; control, privacy, complexity, exploration, personality and legibility, a learning environment that have positive learning outcomes can be achieved. If the preschool environment has been designed, it will encourage a child to be perceptive and responsive to a greater degree and in many more ways. The spatial environment can help children learn by playing a vital role in developing imagination, building self-image and socialisation.

 Children’s experiences in space can relate to spatial concepts such as direction, elevation, height, proportion, scale, light, color, texture, arrangement. The design of the physical environment should facilitate a child’s sense of competence (their capacity to explore their physical world with independence) creating opportunities for learning and play . Maxwell identifies control, privacy, complexity, exploration, restoration, personalisation and legibility as attributes associated with child care settings that are responsive to children’s needs and promote the development of competence. There are characteristics of the physical environment, (a primary medium for learning, that contribute to the attributes mentioned above to achieve stimulating environments. These characteristics of the physical environments alongside suggested developmental attributes are discussed further based on Maxwell’s study; Environmental control for a child is attributed to behavioural constraints which can limit the way the space is used. Appropriate scale and adjacencies are ways to reduce or behavioural constraints.

 Privacy also related to environmental control is not necessarily the absence of people, rather ability to control interactions. Boundaries, circulation paths and adjacencies to achieve privacy. Complexity or variety in the environment is necessary for a child and includes variety of colour, shape of the space, change in floor levels, amount of light, textures and materials. Exploration in an environment encourages competence through discovery especially at one’s pace. Good visual access, appropriate adjacencies for play areas encourages discovery and exploration. Restoration for a child while not compromising learning as a result of overly complex setting can be achieved using spaces that don’t require focused attention for example watching fish in a tank or resting nooks before re engaging in active play. A legibility environment helps a child understand space better, a transparent space that allows movement freely and independently. Clear circulation paths, recognisable boundaries, space markers make it easy for a child to find their way and move on their own. For this study, the above characteristics of the physical environment are investigated further in a study of two pre schools in Uganda From the perspective of a child’s developmental needs, children’s spaces are poorly designed and majority of these spaces like schools, hospitals, residences or play grounds are adult orientated and off limits for children, restricting opportunities for stimulating experiences .   

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