Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Setting the environment, where to start? - FAQ

I get a lot of email asking me tips and advice how to start setting up a prepared environment for the young child / toddler.  I wanted to address those questions by a blog post, since it seems to be a topic that really is of interest.

What is the best "room"/area/space to set up first?

I don't think there is a best room or area to start with.
Start with the room or area or space that you feel like organizing, the one you have tons of ideas for,
the one that you have noticed a need that your child is expressing and that you  want filled in order to give him more independence.

Basically, the young child:

  • sleeps
  • get dressed
  • eats
  • play or work or explore
  • learn the basic rules of hygiene (toileting, and care of self i.e brushing teeth, brushing hair...)
these are the areas where the child is working hard in getting independence, and are the target spot to work on.

You don't need to start big!  You don't need to start by setting a whole room at first.  A new cupboard in the kitchen with pots and pans to play with, a little nook in the living room just for him, just a hook for the child to put his coat on or even a rug to remind him to put his shoes there when he gets in are all a great start. These might spark new ideas, or entice the child towards something else that you will notice... 

Once I have decided to have a home prepared environment for my child, is it better to change everything at the same time, or not?

The toddler is in a sensitive period for order.  He does not like his environment to be disrupt.  So changing everything all at the same time might be overwhelming for the child.  Go slowly, and a little at a time, I feel is the best way.  Let ample time for the child to explore this new space and be comfortable with it before moving on to something else.

Older kids are able to deal with more changes and bigger one.  But I feel like discussing it with them is always preferable, and including them in the process is really interesting.  They might have ideas you never thought of, or have point of views you never even imagined!  Since the space is for them, let them have something to say and do about it. Their pride over this new space also pushes them to take care of it a whole lot more

Should I make the changes with my child, or I make it as a surprise for him?

I think this depends on your child, and his age.  Older children might enjoy more the surprises.  I know my 6 yo does.  But for the younger children, and most of all the ones that are preverbal, a surprise might really distress them. (and you can't explain to them as you would do for an older one)
If they have been in the same room all of their life, they probably feel secure in there.  But if everything has change, from the bed to the dresser, the child might not find his sense of security anymore, and might feel at loss.
I have always made the changes, for my younger children, with them around.  Many time, after I would change something's place, they would take the thing, and put it back where it was before.  And when that happen, I just say "it's ok, this is ______'s new spot" and it was ok then.

What are your best tips to make a space child friendly? / How do you do it

  • Ask yourself what is the purpose
Once you have chosen the space you want to work on, ask yourself what is the purpose of the changes you want to make.  You have to be really specific.
For exemple:
 I want my child to be able to reach the sink, and have his toothbrush at his level.  This way he can learn to  put the toothpaste on the toothbrush, and he is able to spit in the sink after.  I want him to also have access to washing cloths to be able to clean himself up if he needs to.

By writing clear expectations, you know what you'll want to include in your new space.
  • Make a list of all the ideas you have
Everything.  Everything that you have thought of, all the ideas you have seen in blogs, books or other inspirational sources.  Sometimes, when on paper, a really good idea suddenly doesn't seem so good, or what you say as dispersed ideas might all click together in a really fun way
  • Make a list of all the things you want in the space
Look at what your purpose is.  What do you need in there to be able to make the space work?  It is much easier then to ask yourself what could go there?

  • Look in your house to find the things you need to set your new space up
Repurposing is really a great thing here.  Don't go out and buy something new unless you are certain of really needing it.  Be creative and look through your house to find something that could work.  Baskets, old bowls, kitchen accessories, bathroom accessories, old furniture, anything can work.  YOu just need a little imagination and creativity.  
It is good for the wallet, and you won't feel bad if the great idea you had just didn't work with your child (and it happens!)

  • Try the space up without the younger child around 
younger children are in a sensitive period for order.  They feel unsettled when their environment are changed drastically.  So if you are not sure about the change you want to make, try it without the child being there to see if it works.

  • Put yourself at the level of the child, and try to be in his shoe
I think this is one of the most important point. 
Do take the time to sit down on the floor and look at child level.  Is the environment pleasing at that level?  Is everything too high, or does it feel like you have everything in reach?  If you wanted to do _________would you be able to without help (or minimal help).  Does the setting of the room or space match the purpose you wanted it to fill initially?

  • Give time to your child to get acquainted with the new space
Explain to your child what you did.  Show him how you want things to be done: this is a hook I have put here for you to hang your coat.  Look, I have just hang your coat here.  Do you want to try it?...  and expect that he will want to try it many times right away (if he is interested into it).  Most of the time, that goes rather quickly, but some children might take longer before really being comfortable with the change, and it can take a couple of days before they really start exploring it.

And if it doesn't work, don't worry, and try something else.

Do you change a room / space often

As much as it needs.  But for my toddler, I don't make huge changes all the time.  For instance, his bigger furniture has not moved much.  The bed has always stayed in the same spot, same for dresser and so on.  But I have made numerous little changes according to his developmental phase. (new activity, bigger toy shelf, new book display, new spot for his chair...)  But changing the whole layout of the room is something I hope not to have to do until a few years.

If you are in need of inspiration, you can go and have a look in the Home prepared environment links at your right hand side.

I hope this has answered the questions you had.  Let me know if you have further questions on the subject :)


  1. This is such great advice, thank you for taking the time to put it together. Sometimes we spend ages getting a space right and other times it comes together immediately. I am not one for surprises either, I feel the child needs to be a part of the process. I love the feeling when a new space really works for the child, especially when you have given it a lot of thought and often purchased/repurposed new materials. Some spaces are always a work in progress, my three year old son's room has never felt "finished".

  2. THanks Kylie
    I hope it will help people starting out. I remember feeling a little overwhelmed at first. Now I feel like I know what to do.

    So true. Some rooms or ideas just blossoms on itself. The changes comes almost naturally. These are usually the ones that works the best right? And yeah, some rooms never feel finish... until something clicks. I'm sure it will come eventually ;)