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Young Children and Space

Sara Gable, Ph.D., Human Development and Family Studies,
College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri Extension

What would you think if someone told you that how you arrange your classroom space can provide more time for children to learn and play? Some researchers asked a group of preschool teachers, “What are children’s favorite play spaces?” After hearing the different answers, the researchers discovered that the spaces had one thing in common, they were small.

This finding inspired the researchers to examine why young children prefer to spend more time playing in small places. Through a series of different research studies, they found that children prefer to play in smaller spaces because when they do, their style of play moves more quickly from simple play to complex play than when they are in larger spaces. Additionally, the children’s complex play was sustained for a longer period of time than the children’s simple play.

Something unusual about these findings is that moving from simple to complex play more quickly actually seems to influence children’s attention span. That is, children are able to attend to complex play activities for longer periods of time than during simple play activities. The researchers believe that this is because complex play engages, stimulates, and rewards children more than simple play and holds their attention for longer periods.

Methods for Altering the Child’s Perception of Space and Size:

  • Create an indoor porch structure and place an activity table inside of it.

  • Create small patterns of wallpaper and hang them on the wall around activity tables and areas.

  • Move book/block shelves closer together to create smaller spaces

  • Build a loft

  • Create nooks and crannies

  • Use a closet or an appliance box

  • Lower the ceiling

  • Change the size of the patterns on the walls

  • Use screening

  • Use the corners of the playground

  • Create a temporary indoor or outdoor tent, or an igloo from a parachute

Adapted from:
Tegano, D.W., Moran, J.D., DeLong, A.J., Brickey, J., & Ramassini, K.K. (1996). Designing classroom spaces: Making the most of time. Early Childhood Education Journal, 23, 135-141.

 

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Last updated: 10/30/14