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The Indoor Environment

You, your family, and the children you care for share space in your home. Your most important task in designing and organizing your home environment is to make sure each individual feels safe and secure. There are many ways to create a warm, welcoming environment that also serves as a home for your own family members. This lesson examines how to design and organize your family child care setting.

  • Distinguish among spaces for group activities, privacy, storage, and display.
  • Identify characteristics of a well-designed indoor learning environment.
  • Learn ways to arrange the environment for your family and meet the needs of the children you care for in your home setting.
  • Describe how to organize materials for mixed-age groups of children.



Arranging the Indoor Learning Environment

In Lesson One, you had the opportunity to reflect on the spaces in your family child care setting and the various activities that your family members and your child care participants do in those spaces. You created a floor plan, and on it you used sticky notes to represent the different activities that occur in your program’s rooms and outdoor areas. Now it is time to think carefully about arranging those spaces.  Some of the key components will include proper supervision, adequate space for both private and group activities, family-style dining, and making adjustments to fit individual needs. The video below provides extensions for each of these components.

Characteristics of a Well-Designed Environment


In your family child care home, you take full responsibility for the safety of the children in your care. Safety requirements differ based on children’s ages. When caring for infants and toddlers, you will need to cover electrical outlets and put child safety locks on cabinets. It is also important to have a place for young infants to have tummy time that is out of the way of active play areas. For older children, you will need careful safety checks on outdoor play equipment and buildings (checking for wasp infestations in a garage, for example). 

Creating and maintaining a safe family child care environment takes the cooperation of all family members who live in your home. Many times, a provider will complete a safety check and find out afterward that a spouse left a knife out on the counter or an older child uncovered an outlet and did not re-cover it. Because of this, you should continuously monitor safety throughout the day, particularly if there are other family members present in the home during the day. Take time to educate your family members on safety practices and the importance of helping you maintain a safe environment in your family child care home. 

As you design and organize the environment, you must critically address any safety issues. Infants and toddlers present different safety concerns than preschool or school-age children. The Creative Curriculum for Family Childcare (2009) describes the following safety concerns: 

  • Be aware of ongoing safety hazards. Put away sharp scissors and knives. Keep matches, plastic bags, and purses out of children’s reach. Lock away medications, cleaning materials, and other toxic substances. 
  • Check areas every day. Outdoor areas must be checked daily for broken glass, animal waste, trash, and poisonous plants. Cover electrical outlets and keep child safety locks on cabinets. 
  • Develop a schedule for monthly and quarterly checks. Check your first-aid kit monthly and restock items immediately. Hold a fire drill monthly so children know what to do in case of an emergency. Check in with families on a regular basis to be sure all contact information is accurate. 
  • Some things only need to be checked once. When you open your home to care for children, it must be checked thoroughly for health issues. Some requirements might include testing for lead-based paint and radon. Major safety components are part of family child care licensing regulations. All equipment (cribs, changing table, safety gate, etc.) should meet Consumer Product Safety Commission standards. Check with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator for specific details regarding requirements. 


As you design and organize your family child care environment, think about storage. Due to the variety of age-ranges and rapid development of the children, materials will need to be changed out as children encounter new milestones. Some family child care providers prefer to use wheeled carts that are easy to roll, and place them out of the way (make sure for safety that the cart’s wheels can lock).

In the picture, you see open bins that are labeled with pictures and words. You will want to have a number of toys and games available to the children at one time, so prepare to store the rest. Rotating toys and games is a wonderful way to refresh your child care spaces. This is also true for posters, photos, books, etc. Many child care programs often rely on clear storage bins that are easy to see inside of, move, and label.

Separate Noisy Areas from Quiet Ones

Use shelves, tables, or other dividers to separate noisy areas from quiet ones. It is important to provide a calming space to take a break from the group. This space can be limited to one or two children and created so that there is still visibility to ensure safety. Use soft textures (pillows, child-sized blankets, baskets) to make an area feel cozy. Noisy areas, such as blocks or dramatic play, can be designated by a rug on the floor.

Appropriate Space for Messy Activities

It is a good idea to keep messy activities (art, play dough, crafts) near a water source for quick and proper cleaning. Simple rules about where messy activities can take place should be explained to children. Paint smocks, oversized shirts, and other coverings can protect young children’s clothing from paint, glue, etc. Have clean-up materials (e.g., towels, dish soap) nearby so children can assist. Some sensory activities that may become messy are best done in the kitchen or outdoors. Inform parents of the importance of these activities and let them know that they will often occur. Keeping a change of clothing for each child is recommended.

Welcoming Families

Think about the first space a family sees in your child care home and make it as welcoming as possible. It should be a comfortable greeting area where a parent can drop off or pick up their child. The greeting space should have as little clutter as possible. A comfortable adult chair or rocker is a warm touch. Any information for parents should be easy to access. Adult tools—such as sharp scissors, pens, etc.—should be stored where they can be found by an adult but out of reach for young children. Just as you design your home for children, it is also important to plan a welcoming place for their families.

Feeling Connected

Your effort to create a comfortable, environment is critical. It can be overwhelming to spend eight or twelve hours away from home. Including pictures of the children and their families, in conjunction with personal storage and display of children’s and youth’s artwork, is another great way to communicate that they belong in this space. When displaying pictures or adding decorative touches, remember to hang or offer some items at children’s eye level to reinforce that they are valued members of the space.

Organizing Materials and Spaces for Mixed-Ages

Providing developmentally appropriate care and space to children from a wide range of ages (infancy through middle childhood) means that an array of toys and materials needs to be available, and with appropriate spacing in mind. Organizing the materials means thinking carefully about the types of developmental stages children typically go through during these ages. You may also serve children with special needs who may require specialized equipment. 

Organize for optimal independence: Many families value independence and want their children to be able to choose toys and materials. Even infants and young toddlers can be offered engaging toys on a low shelf (or the floor) to promote these skills. As children grow older, they can also find and select items of interest. Arrange puzzles and games so children can find all the pieces and know where to put them away. Labeling clear bins, boxes, or baskets with words and photos of the item helps children learn where to store toys when they have finished playing with them. When toys and games are arranged at children’s eye level, and they can find them and put them away independently, they learn to be competent and confident in their ability to act in the environment. 

If a child with a disability is enrolled in your family child care center, you will want to have the parent or guardian walk through your home to provide feedback and ideas for accommodating his or her child’s specific needs. Each child is an individual, and parents are excellent resources for suggestions on how to adapt materials. For instance, a child with physical limitations may need extra support sitting in a chair or eating. You and the child’s parent or guardian can make decisions about how best to fully include their child in your family child care setting. 

Organize by area: In your home setting, you have areas designated for particular activities. Organize materials by the area where they are used. Small cars, plastic dolls, and road signs can be stored with the blocks. Baby dolls and clothes can be stored in the housekeeping area with the toy stove and dishes. Older children will want space for ongoing projects and a quiet homework area. Decisions about using or not using a computer in your home will also determine how older children’s homework needs are met. Space is important for both active and quiet play. Well-designed areas provide both physical boundaries and visual cues that support individual and peer play. Space is very important and can enhance or hinder a child’s learning. In some cultures, too much or too little personal space may make a child feel uncomfortable and could inhibit unwanted behaviors (Kaiser & Rasminsky, 2020). 

Organize for learning: Keep all areas clean and safe for all children. If older children wish to play with games that have small pieces (e.g., Legos), it is important for them to know where they can play so the pieces are kept away from infants and toddlers. It’s important to be flexible about allowing children to use favorite toys in different areas. For example, a preschooler may want to give a baby doll a stroller ride around the backyard. Photos of children engaged in play with toys and each other make excellent wall decorations and can also be put into simple books that can be viewed in the book area. Watch children to determine their interests and engage families in helping you find materials the children enjoy. Design learning spaces by intentionally posting pictures and children’s artwork to spur children’s imaginations. For example, place photos or books about construction sites near the blocks and truck area or display children’s drawings of their families near the housekeeping toys (just as family photographs might be displayed in their own homes). 

Organize for engagement: Offering items of beauty or wonder invites everyone's exploration and engagement. One way to accomplish this is in your family child care environment is to think about the use of provocations. A provocation is a picture, experience, or item that provokes thought, interest, questions, or creativity (Edwards, 2002). Provocations can help provoke children and youth to use or think about materials in new ways. When designing your environment, it can be useful to think about how you will incorporate provocations. Your inspiration for what provocations to offer will often come from children’s current interests and their learning goals. When you use an emergent inquiry curriculum that includes planning provocations, children can be challenged to explore their own understandings. Provocations might include: pictures, books, items from nature, changes in a display, or an event or experience.


Keeping materials organized and logically arranged helps children learn to use, respect, and clean up toys after they are done playing with them. Your environment teaches children important skills that they can use throughout their lives. As you design and arrange your family child care environment, think carefully about what you want children to learn. A safe, warm, bright, and well-designed child care environment allows children to explore, question, experiment, grow, and learn. Your careful environmental arrangement will support children as they grow to become self-confident and competent adults.

Designing Spaces for Learning

Learn about spaces for group experiences, privacy, and storage and display.

As you plan your environment, focus on the children and families you serve every day. Think about the many ways they enhance your family child care environment. Let your environment be fluid as new children and families participate—keeping it fresh is important for you and the children who come each day for caregiving. Take advantage of all the resources available to you to create a warm and engaging place for fun and learning.

Indoor Environments

Learn more about the key aspects of indoor environments in family child care.


Arranging for Your Family’s Needs

As you design and organize your family child care environment, keep in mind your family’s needs for privacy and space within the home. If you do not want children to enter certain rooms, you may have to lock the door during the day. If you do not want children accessing your family’s personal items, those items will need to be stored in places that the children cannot reach or in rooms that are not part of your family child care program space. You may need to create physical barriers. For instance, stairs must be blocked by child gates to keep mobile babies and toddlers from climbing them.

In your paper floor plan, you identified areas where your family members’ activities might occur. As you rearrange furniture and storage, keep in mind that your family will share these spaces with the children in your care.

  • What aspects of your family members’ daily schedule will you need to keep in mind when you schedule families to use your home for child care? Do you have a family member who works a night shift and needs to sleep during the day?
  • What expectations do you have for your family members when the children you care for are present?
  • How will you ensure that valuable or breakable items that belong to your family members are protected (e.g., musical instruments, tools, projects)?
  • How do you ensure that your environment meets the needs of your family members as well as the children you care for in your home?

Balancing your family members’ priorities and the business of managing a family child care home takes intentional planning. Communicating with your family members about their needs in advance can help alleviate surprises as you create a well-designed family child care environment.


Using the information you have learned in this lesson, examine the indoor environment in your family child care home. You will want to get down at a child’s eye level so you can see how a child experiences your family child care home. Read and review the Indoor Learning Environment activity to capture your ideas. Share your responses with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.


Think about the furniture, layout, and storage you have inside your home. Does it feel organized for children? Use your floor plan and activities you created in Lesson One and the responses to your questions in the Explore section of Lesson Two to assess your family child care environment. The attached tip sheet, Indoor Space Used for Child Care, can serve as a guide as you examine your indoor environment.


Emergent Inquiry:
Learning that evolves as the interests of the children change and they make new discoveries about their world
A picture, experience, display, or item that provokes thought, interest, questions, or creativity to inspire or guide children on ways they can engage with materials


True or false? For the best family child care home design, a quiet space to be alone and look at books should be located right next to a noisy block-building area.
As you plan design features for your child care program, all of the following points should be considered in your own family except...?
When organizing materials for children of mixed-ages, what guide is being used when toys and games are arranged at the children’s eye levels and they can find them and put them away on their own?
References & Resources

Armstrong, L. J. (2012). Family child care homes: Creative spaces for children to learn. Redleaf Press.

Broderick, J. T, & Hong, S. B. (2020) From children’s interests to children’s thinking: Using a cycle of inquiry to plan curriculum. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Dodge, D. T., Rudick, S., & Colker, L. J. (2009). The creative curriculum for family child care (2nd ed.). Teaching Strategies, Inc.

Duncan, S., Martin, J. & Kreth, R. (2016). Rethinking the classroom landscape: Creating environments that connect young children, families, and communities. Gryphon House, Inc.

Erdman, S. & Colker, L.J. (2020). Trauma and young children: Teaching strategies to support & empower. The National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Harms, T., Cryer, D., and Clifford, R. (2019). Family child care environment rating scale (3rd ed.). Teacher’s College Press. 

Kaiser, B. & Rasminsky, J. (2020). Valuing diversity: Developing a deeper understanding of all young children’s behavior. Teaching Young Children, 13(2).