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Learning Environments: An Introduction

Research tells us that children learn best in safe, secure environments. Warm, secure relationships with caring adults provide the basis for healthy development. This lesson highlights the importance of the family child care environment and provides an overview of what to consider when creating and maintaining a developmentally appropriate environment for a mixed-age group of children.

  • Recognize the effects of environments on children.
  • Identify features of the family child care environment that help children feel secure, welcome, and comfortable.
  • Describe ways to include children and families’ cultures in the family child care environment.



How Do Environments Affect You?

There are certain places you like to go: maybe a favorite restaurant, a sporting arena, or a good friend’s home. What about those places makes you feel welcome or secure? What makes you want to go back? Thinking about these places, you might remember the people around you, the color of a room, if there is sunlight, the smells and sounds, furniture and accessories, or temperature.

Now consider places you don’t like to go: maybe the dentist’s office, the airport, or a noisy restaurant. What makes these environments less pleasant for you? In some settings, we feel relaxed and comfortable. In other places, we might feel tense, overwhelmed, and confused. The environment has a powerful effect on us. It influences how we feel, what we do and the ways we respond. Some of us dislike places where we feel we cannot control or predict our experiences. In some spaces, we may feel like we don’t belong or are not appreciated.

Just like adults, children are affected by their environments, even if they cannot yet tell us directly how they feel. As a family child care provider, it is your job to ensure that learning spaces make the children you serve feel welcome, secure, and ready to learn.


Designing the Environment to Meet the Needs of a Mixed-Age Group of Children

As a family child care provider, you serve families and children in your own home. The ages of the children in your home may vary widely; from infants, toddlers, preschool, to school age. Additionally, your home must serve your own family members. This can present challenges when designing the environment to serve the children in your care. Unlike a child care center facility, family child care homes should feel like a home. Many families choose a family child care home for their children because they prefer the home setting that this type of care provides. It is important that you keep the “family” in “family child care.”

Think about your family child care home from the perspective of a child. If you were a child, what would your family child care home feel like?

  • Is it a good place to be?
  • Can I grow, learn and be independent in this place?
  • Is it a safe place, physically and emotionally?
  • Can I find the things I need? Are they in the same place each day?
  • Does my caregiver know me and what I enjoy doing?
  • Is my culture represented in the environment?

A supportive, care environment is:

  • Well-organized: orderly, planned, safe.
  • Dependable: a stable home base for children who need it.
  • Flexible: able to adjust to meet the needs of different children.

Designing a responsive and developmentally appropriate family child care environment takes thoughtful reflection and careful planning. The environment includes safety concerns, furniture, materials (e.g., toys, games, equipment), a food preparation and serving area, schedule and routines, and a family welcoming area. The careful choices you make as a family child care provider affect the positive experiences that families and children have in your home every day. These choices also affect your daily work experiences and your family members as well.

Designing Your Environment

There are many options for designing learning environments.


The Family Child Care Environment and Children’s Cultures

As a family child care provider, you are in control of all aspects of your child care environment. When you focus on your family child care environment, you think about the needs and interests of the individual children you serve. Their individual interests and family cultures should be reflected in the materials and furnishings you provide. The family welcome area (where children are typically dropped off and picked up each day) should be a warm, welcoming spot for parents and children. Pictures of children with their parents, special announcements, etc., should be readily available to families to address their cultural and individual family interests. When you ask each family to share with you their child’s favorite foods, special events, toys, music, dances, games, and books (in their home language and culture) you demonstrate your commitment to include all families in your program. School-age children may also be helpful in bringing aspects of their home culture and language to your family child care program.

Quality Rating Scale

The Family Child Care Environmental Rating Scale, Revised Edition (FCCERS-R), is often used to rate the quality of family child care environments. This scale measures a family child care provider’s program quality. The scale is often used in state child care quality rating and improvement systems (QRIS). The FCCERS-R contains several major areas that all family child care providers should intentionally focus on:

  • Space and Furnishings
  • Personal Care Routines
  • Listening and Talking
  • Activities
  • Interaction
  • Program Structure
  • Parents and Provider

As you see from this list, the term “environment” encompasses all aspects of your family child care program. It is much more than just toys and furniture. A trained observer can use the FCCERS-R to rate your program in each area. This is a useful tool for looking at your environment and setting personal goals for any changes you may want to make within one or more areas. The lessons in this module will help you reflect on these components of your family child care.

Completing this Course

For more information on what to expect in this course, the Learning Environments Competency Reflection, and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Family Child Care Learning Environments Course Guide

Please note the References & Resources section at the end of each lesson outlines reference sources and resources to find additional information on the topics covered. As you complete lessons, you are not expected to review all the online references available. However, you are welcome to explore the resources further if you have interest, or at the request of your trainer, coach, or administrator.


Complete the attached questionnaire, “A Day in the Life of Your Program.” Think about any areas that you want to improve in your family child care environment. What aspects of your program are you most proud of? Are there any areas you would like to improve?


As you think about the your family child care home environment, there are online resources you may want to use to help you plan or rearrange spaces for age-related activities, food prep and snacks, outdoor play, a quiet area, a homework space, etc. You may want to create a to-scale floor plan of your home and think about where activities may take place. Always focus on safety first and be sure you can see all the children in your care. Read and review the Designing an Ideal Floor Plan activity to follow steps for designing your floor plan and make lists of your activity areas. Seeing this on paper can help you think about how you arrange your environment.


Developmentally Appropriate Environment:
an environment that fits the stage of development the child is in, but is still flexible enough to allow for differences between children in skills, interests, and characteristics
Environmental Rating Tool:
a tool, such as a survey completed by an observer, that helps examine and provide an overall picture of an environment created for child care centers and homes. The FCCERS-R is an environmental rating tool


True or false? Environments can affect what children learn.
Which area is not included in the Family Child Care Environmental Rating Scale?
What elements help make the family welcome area an inviting spot for parents and children?
References & Resources

Armstrong, L. J. (2012). Family Child Care Homes: Creative spaces for children to learn. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf Press.

Copple, C., & Bredekamp, S. (2009). Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8 (3rd ed.). Washington, DC: National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Harms, T., Cryer, D., and Clifford, R. (2007). Family Child Care Environment Rating Scale, revised edition. New York: Teacher’s College Press.

Osborn, H. A. Designing the Family Child Care Environment. Child Care Information Exchange, November/December, 2001, 46-49.