How to Create an Enabling Environment in Your Early Years Setting


girl drawing in workbook

Children have a right to feel happy and comfortable when they are at nursery, which is why creating an enabling environment is so important.

They need to feel as though they are in a safe place where they can learn, grow, and explore the world around them.

An early years setting is critical to their development as this sets the base for their future. As such, the way they feel at nursery and the relationships they form here, will set the direction for the rest of their lives.

Download The Leuven Scale Observation Sheet

Just fill in the form below to get started

Both parents and nursery school practitioners have a duty to create an enabling environment that encourages children to thrive.

From fostering independent thinking to problem-solving skills, nurseries should provide the best developmental opportunities for children in their early years. This ensures they have all of the skills needed to progress in both their personal and educational lives.

In this post we’re going to explore what an enabling environment is, why it is important, and how nursery practitioners can create their own. This ensures your child is receiving the best possible care, which gives you as parent, total reassurance that your child is in safe hands.
two children playing on swing

Get Your Free Trial

You'll have 30 days to see how our super simple system can help your team and engage your parents.

Find Out More

Request a Demo

Experience a live demo, get answers to your specific questions, and find out why Learning Journals is the right choice for your nursery.

Find Out More

What Is an Enabling Environment?

An enabling environment provides a safe, rich, and varied space for children to learn and grow.

There should be lots of opportunities for children to extend their learning and to discover things for themselves. It’s important that an enabling environment is child-centered, and that adults are merely there to supervise.

Whether that’s nursery practitioners or parents, children are in control of their own learning and it’s important you encourage independence. This allows children to think for themselves and means they are not reliant on others.

As a result, this leads to a deeper level of understanding as they are able to work things out for themselves with very little adult intervention.

An enabling environment can be split into 3 areas:

The Emotional Environment

This relates to how a setting feels and the atmosphere within it. It’s important to look beyond the setting as a purely physical space as it also contains the emotions of the children who spend time there, the staff that work there, and the parents who leave their children there.

The emotional environment is an invisible measure of ‘feelings’ and a setting can either have a positive feel or negative feel. It’s important to maintain a positive atmosphere where possible, so that children can express their feelings and externalise them safely, rather than covering them up.

The Indoor Environment

The indoor environment relates to the inside of an early years setting and the resources available. For children to feel relaxed, these spaces should be comfortable, interesting, attractive, and appropriate for all of those who use it.

This has a great impact on the way children learn and develop, meaning the indoor environment should feel ‘homely’. After all, this is a place where children eat and sleep so they need to feel secure.

The Outdoor Environment

This relates to the resources available in the outdoor environment, how they can be accessed, and how the activities are led. Ideally, children should have access to the outdoors on a regular basis as this allows them to move around without the limitations of the indoor environment.

They can breathe in the outdoors, ignite their senses, and freely explore the world around them. Resources don’t need to be expensive and can include objects such as old tyres, logs, branches, and boxes that will stimulate a child’s imagination.

Why Is an Enabling Environment Important?

An enabling environment should provide a ‘home-from-home’ atmosphere.

Essentially, children should feel very safe and comfortable here, despite the fact they might be in an unfamiliar setting.

The more relaxed they feel, the more likely they are to let themselves go and play. Instead of being anxious and staying close to their parents, children will feel encouraged to explore the nursery environment and engage in different activities.

When children feel emotionally safe, they are able to learn more about their surroundings through the things they can see, touch, and hear.

For any parent this is very reassuring, as it means you don’t feel guilty or worried when leaving your child at nursery. You know they’re happy and secure which allows you to leave them in the care of a nursery practitioner.

Furthermore, an enabling environment promotes equality and helps children develop a better understanding of different needs, cultures, religions, and backgrounds. It creates a more inclusive learning environment where every child is valued, regardless of their individual characteristics.

Therefore, this helps children communicate with others without making a judgement, despite any differences between them. This is a key lesson for future life, and is important both inside and outside of the classroom.

The concept of inclusivity is supported by the EYFS framework which states that:

“Every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self assured” (EYFS, 2014, Statutory Framework for the early years foundation stage, DfE, page 6).

child sitting in front of toys

An Enabling Environment and Every Child Matters

The principles of an enabling environment link to the 5 every child matters outcomes.

Let’s take a closer look below.

Stay safe

An enabling environment should provide children with a safe space where they can play and learn. It is the responsibility of nursery practitioners to continually assess any possible risks in the learning environment. They will help children learn about different dangers and how they can protect themselves.

Be healthy

An enabling environment will provide children with the necessary support and guidance to help them develop good personal hygiene practices. This includes hand washing, and providing a clean space where children can play, free from infection.

Enjoy and achieve

An enabling environment will provide a wealth of opportunities and learning resources that encourage children to learn. This includes resources and activities that stimulate a child’s mind, encourage participation, challenge their way of thinking, and offer the opportunity to succeed.

Make a positive contribution

An enabling environment encourages participation from children and their parents and listens to what they have to say on different topics. It gives parents and children a voice by listening to how they feel and consulting them on any changes and developments in the early years setting.

Achieve economic well being

An enabling environment should prepare children for later life by teaching them essential skills from a young age. The environment should present children with different challenges which encourages them to think independently. These skills will help children in various areas of their life including employment, meaning they will achieve economic well being.

An Enabling Environment and Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was an Italian physician and educator who developed the Montessori method of education.

Among many other key theorists, she placed a great deal of emphasis on the importance of the early learning environment. As we’ve discussed, a child’s environment during their early years of learning is crucial as it sets the foundation for their future life.

This concept was supported by Maria Montessori who developed the idea of a “prepared environment”. This relates to an environment that is designed to facilitate maximum independent learning and exploration by the child.

In the prepared environment, there are lots of opportunities for children to learn, and there’s a great deal of movement involved. Children are free to look, touch, feel, and experience everything that is around them which ignites all of their senses and makes them more curious to find out more.

In this type of setting, a Montessori teacher serves as the ‘preparer’ of the environment and is there to supervise a child’s learning. Whilst still playing an essential role, a Montessori teacher lets the child lead their own learning by ‘preparing’ a rich environment that is welcoming and engaging.

This gives every child the freedom to fully develop their potential through developmentally appropriate sensorial materials.
teacher talking to a child on carpet

How to Create an Enabling Environment in EYFS

Now you understand what an enabling environment is and why it’s important, it’s time to start looking at how you can create your own.

It can be helpful to look at this from a child’s point of view and to consider what they would find most beneficial from their early years setting.

After all, it needs to be designed to cater for their needs, so that they can make the most of the learning opportunities available.

  • Make sure you create an environment that is warm, welcoming and makes every child feel valued. The more supported children feel, the more likely they are to participate in different activities.
  • Ensure each and every member of staff understands the importance of building supportive relationships with the children in their care so that they can nurture their learning journey.
  • Provide a range of activities and resources for children to play with and explore, with little adult intervention. Also, give children more freedom to decide which objects they play with and to decide who they play with.
  • Provide children with new activities and resources that they are unfamiliar with as this will make them more curious. They will be challenged to work out how different objects function which extends their learning further.
  • Ensure that the activities provide opportunities for both indoor and outdoor play as fresh air and exercise is very important. There should also be a sufficient amount of space for all children to move around freely and explore without being restricted.
  • Provide a selection of activities that support different areas of development including problem solving, critical thinking, questioning, quiet time, and reflection.
  • Make sure the learning environment and activities support the needs of each and every child. This includes making sure that all resources are easily accessible, such as placing objects at head-height.
  • Rather than purely focusing on ‘set’ learning, consider what interests each child and seek to incorporate these interests into more classroom activities. This gives children more control as they can steer the direction of their own learning.
  • Create a peaceful area that facilitates ‘quiet time’. This allows children the space to sit and reflect which can be very important for those with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
  • Try to involve the children as much as possible when you create different rules for behaviour as this makes them feel more valued in decision making.

Child led learning is an important part of an enabling environment as it transforms the traditional role of a teacher.

Instead of standing at the front of a classroom telling children what to do (which is probably the image you’re most familiar with), an enabling environment puts children at the centre.

In The Moment Planning feeds into this approach, as it focuses on learning that children initiate themselves. The nursery practitioner is there to observe this learning and will then extend the learning by providing appropriate activities.

In an enabling environment, more child initiated play is likely to be observed.
two woman standing in front of whiteboard

What Does Ofsted Say About Enabling Environments?

Whilst Ofsted requirements do not specifically mention the term ‘enabling environment’, they do signpost towards some of the key principles.

The Early Years Inspection Handbook (2019) ‘Good’ judgement states:

‘Practitioners and leaders create an environment that supports the intent of an ambitious and coherently planned and sequenced curriculum. The available resources meet the children’s needs and promote their focus on learning’. (P34)

‘Practitioners share information with parents about their child’s progress in relation to the EYFS. They help parents to support and extend their child’s learning at home, including how to encourage a love of reading’. (P34)

‘Practitioners and leaders use assessment well to check what children know and can do to inform teaching. This includes planning suitably challenging activities and responding to specific needs. Leaders understand the limitations of assessment and avoid unnecessary burdens for staff or children’. (P34)

Therefore, it’s important nursery practitioners follow these guidelines and make a conscious effort to create an enabling environment where children can flourish and learn.
children playing with coloured paper and pencils

How to Create an Enabling Environment in Your Early Years Setting

Creating an enabling environment in early years means creating a safe space where children can learn and grow.

The environment needs to be tailored towards their needs, and should take into account the individual differences of each child. It is well recognised that children learn best when they are in a caring, supportive, and welcoming environment which responds to their needs.

Therefore, you need to create somewhere that children feel safe and comfortable, as this encourages them to explore the world around them, freely and openly. The more comfortable they feel, the more confident they will be to extend their learning further.

As a nursery practitioner, you have a responsibility to look beyond the physical setting of a nursery classroom, and also consider the emotional environment. You must recognise the significance of making children feel secure, and provide them with necessary resources to develop their learning.

This gives parents peace of mind that their child’s needs are being met. Building strong parent-practitioner relationships has never been easier with the Learning Journals Platform.

You can share limitless observations with parents to show them how their child is progressing at nursery. They can also comment on their child’s profile which creates an open conversation between nursery school practitioners and parents so you can work collaboratively together.

To see the benefits in full, request your free trial of Learning Journals today!

Get Your Free Trial

You'll have 30 days to see how our super simple system can help your team and engage your parents.

Find Out More

Request a Demo

Experience a live demo, get answers to your specific questions, and find out why Learning Journals is the right choice for your nursery.

Find Out More