This really straightforward question led me to reflecting on what it means to have a “homelike” environment. The majority of services and educators I encounter state that they provide a homelike environment for children and while the intention is definitely there, I wonder how many of them actually achieve it. And whose home is it even like?
With so many different personalities, cultures, socio economic backgrounds and family/parenting styles in our communities, how do we create a homelike environment? Is it about nice lamps and floor rugs or comfy chairs? While I think aesthetics play a role, I think the real key to a homelike environment is deinstitutionalising it! Placing less emphasis on the elements that make an early childhood care environment feel like a production line.
So how do we do that?
- Involve the children and families – By really getting to know them and valuing their individual culture (not just racially either) we can incorporate these into our environment in meaningful, non-tokenistic ways. Encouraging families to contribute items to the environment is a great way to do this.
- Rethink what you put on the wall – Many centres I visit have walls that are covered in signage - directions for educators and families. Eventually there becomes so many of these that they all blur into a big mess of paper. Of course there are some items that must be displayed (e.g. emergency evacuation) however before you put signage on the walls think – does this need to be displayed or just accessible? If it needs to be displayed, try to keep your displayed signage consistent – use the same paper, the same fonts, frame them.
- Step away from the catalogues – We get some great (very thick!) catalogues in Early Childhood that are filled to the brim with toys, equipment, furnishings and more and while these can be beneficial, I think it is important that we seek out eclectic items from a range of sources. When every piece of furniture is purchased from the same place and matches perfectly it can create a more institutional feel. Using a variety of materials, sizes, shapes and colours can help to create a warmth reminiscent of many homes (it’s also usually more cost effective too!)
- Display art and documentation thoughtfully - I love seeing children’s art and documentation of their learning displayed in services, yet i think it is important that this is done thoughtfully. Rather than sticking paper all over an entire wall, consider framing art work or using albums that children can sit together and look through. If documentation and art is displayed on the wall, maintain it – ensure that it isn’t ripped or dog-earred, this shows the children how much you respect their work.
- Give thought to routine spaces - Nappy change spaces, bathrooms, sleep spaces and meal spaces should feel comfortable, familiar and friendly. Use photographs, plants, storage baskets to reduce clutter (that just gravitates to these places!!) and other items to make these spaces inviting for children. These spaces are a necessity in Early Childhood settings, yet we can make them feel less like a production line. I have been into cot rooms that are essentially four white walls and four white cots with some laminated signs on the door for recording sleep times etc. For the majority of children, this isn’t the sort of environment they would be sleeping in at home. We do not want babies to be overstimulated, but a few simple items can make the space feel more familiar and comforting.
- Ditch the fluorescent lighting - Fluorescent lighting has the ability to make any room feel like an institution. Primarily used for its efficiency, it is possible to get light globes for lamps and other lights that are efficient and environmentally friendly and provide a warm light . Better still – utilise natural light where possible!
- Remember that a homelike environment is meaningless if the people in it aren’t warm and familiar in their interactions – What makes a house a home is usually the people inside it, the memories, laughter and experiences created there. We can have a beautiful, welcoming, “homelike” environment for children yet if we don’t engage with children in meaningful, loving ways… it is really just for show!
I’d love to hear how you make your Early Childhood environment homelike?
By Nicole Halton
P.S – Family Day Care Educators really do have the upper hand here! 😉