• cognitive development: the process of knowing, thinking, reasoning, and remembering
  • emotional development: the ability to recognize, identify, produce, and respond to emotions in yourself or others
  • language/linguistic development: the process of developing language skills to understand when others speak and to speak and engage in conversation
  • physical development: the ability to perform physical activities that require motor skills like running, jumping, and climbing
  • self-regulation: regulating or controlling one’s emotions, thinking, and behavior
  • social competencies: the skills needed for successful social interaction; in young children these include making simple decisions, interacting with others in productive ways, and being able to resolve conflicts in appropriate ways.
  • social development: the ability to use appropriate social skills to communicate and interact with others

Plan and Organize the Space

Before watching this video, read the text below. When instructed, watch the video from the beginning to end.

Young children need different types of spaces to promote physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and language development. Every area should be designed to offer activities and materials that prompt children to explore, experiment, and interact in different ways. 

  • Open spaces encourage music, movement, and freedom of expression.
  • Learning centers (such as Science and Math, Literacy, and Pretend and Play), invite exploration, conversation, and observation in a small-group environment.

In this video, you’ll drop in on Maria’s center-based program and Laurie’s family child care program. Although their physical spaces are different, Maria and Laurie share common practices within those spaces. As you watch, look for effective strategies used by the educators in the video and jot down answers to these viewing questions in your Learning Log.

  • How are the environments set up to promote children’s development?
  • How do the activities and materials at learning centers help foster children’s growth?


How can the learning environment be set up to support children’s development?

  • Children need different types of spaces to promote social, emotional, physical, cognitive, and language growth. All areas in the learning environment work together to nurture a young child’s development.
    • Open spaces encourage music, movement, and freedom of expression. They also offer children “breathing room” away from others as well as opportunities for collaboration and interaction. For example, the music and movement area should be large enough for children to move around freely; is filled with props that stimulate different types of movement (such as hula-hoops and a parachute); and has music that prompts children to be creative and interpretive in their physical movements.
    • Circles allow you to gather children together in large or small groups where they then have opportunities to listen to others, express themselves, and be respectful of physical space.
    • Quiet spaces allow children to self-regulate and pull back from the environment if they need to refocus or regroup.
    • Cubbies support a developing sense of identity, independence, and responsibility. They give each child a place to call his or her own, keep things of personal value, and feel pride of ownership.
    • Learning centers, such as Art, Block, ABC, and Technology, are small-group environments that are designed to support observation and exploration. They provide cozy spaces where children interact with others.

How can purposeful activities and materials help children get the most out of each learning center?

  • Activities and materials can prompt children to explore, experiment, talk, and interact in different ways. For example,
    • At the Science and Math Center, activities and materials encourage children to explore and solve problems. For instance, weighing items on a scale prompts children to notice the causes and effects of adding or taking away items.
    • At the Sensory Table, children have opportunities to explore textures and surfaces such as slippery beans in water, scratchy dry sand, or heavy wet sand.
    • At the Pretend and Play Center, dress-up and make-believe activities allow children to develop a positive identity by imagining themselves in the real world taking on specific roles and responsibilities, such as playing a clerk in a grocery store or a doctor in a hospital. The materials also allow children to interact with one another and engage in conversations and negotiations of roles and activities.


Think about the learning environment at your own program as you answer these reflection questions in your Learning Log.

  • Which areas are working well to encourage children’s development?
  • Which areas could be improved?
  • What adjustments could you make in the setup or materials offered in those areas?
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