Information for Child Care Providers
Young Children and Space
Sara Gable, Ph.D., Human
Development and Family Studies,
College of Human Environmental Sciences, University of Missouri
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
Lower the ceiling
Change the size of the patterns on the walls
Use the corners of the playground
Create a temporary indoor or outdoor tent, or
an igloo from a parachute
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.