Creating Environments for Toddlers


At the Child Development Center at MiraCosta College, the environment is seen as a critical component for creating relationships with children and supporting their learning.  As you look at the information below, think about the kinds of messages the environments give to children and families.  How do these environmental qualities impact development and learning?


The California Department of Education has created four guidelines that are useful in creating environments for infants and toddlers.  The full guidelines may be found in the document referenced at the end of this page.  The four guidelines are listed below with one example for each guideline:

4.1 Both indoor and outdoor spaces support the development of a small community of families, teachers, and infants in which they build relationships of care and trust.
Example: “Arrange furnishings and equipment so that adults can comfortably observe, supervise, and interact with infants” (p. 74).

4.2 The environment is safe and comfortable for all children, teachers, and family members.
Example: “Ensure that areas and furnishings in the environment support full participation of all children and adults in the program, including persons with disabilities or other special needs” (p. 74).

4.3 The environment is arranged and organized to support children’s free movement.
Example: “Being able to move freely and spontaneously is essential for infants’ exploration and discovery... They learn about themselves and the environment through movement and touch” (p. 75).

4.4 The environment is organized and prepared to support children’s learning interests and focused exploration.
Example: “Provide predictable play areas, where children can reliably find familiar materials, and modify the environment in response to children’s emerging interests” (p. 77).

Videos and Photos of Environments:

Room 1 - Younger Toddler Classroom

Room 2- Older Toddler Classroom

Click on the photo to enlarge image:

View of a toddler classroom.  In the center of the room there is a rug, shelves, and toys.  Plants are in the foreground and children's artwork is hung on the wall.
Photo of a play house under a tree.  A long rug leads to the doorway of the house.  In the background more outdoor equipment can be seen.
A loft with stairs leading up to a platform.  A slide is next to the stairs.

A Case Example:

This story shows how powerful the environment can be to shape learning and relationships in the toddler classroom:

“As two-year-old Lin gazes into the mirror, she smiles at herself and says, ‘Lin, that is Lin.’ Her teacher, Jamal, says, ‘Yes, a reflection of Lin in the mirror and look, here’s Jamal in the mirror too!’ Lin scans the room behind her in the mirror and sees that Emma is at the top of the slide. ‘Emma slide,’ she says to Jamal. They both turn from the mirror and look as Emma slides her favorite doll down the slide. Jamal notes that Lin is using the mirror as a tool to survey the room. As quick as a cat, Lin darts across the room and catches Emma’s doll at the bottom of the slide. Jamal moves with her to see what will happen next. Emma howls, ‘Mine!’ Lin looks from the doll to Emma, to Jamal. She offers the doll to Emma and says, ‘More?’ Emma smiles, and the game of sliding the doll together begins. Jamal breathes a sigh of relief and smiles to himself. He has intervened many times in conflicts between Lin and Emma, and it is a joy to see their friendship develop. He looks forward to telling their families about the game they invented.”

What do you think?  Have you seen similar events in toddler classrooms where you have observed or worked?

Reference: California Department of Education (2006).  
Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Program Guidelines.  Retrieved from

Now you are ready to take the quiz!

This quiz can help you assess your knowledge in the area of environmental design for toddlers.  The quiz is anonymous.  No one sees the results except for you!  Click the link to the quiz below or go to

Related Websites:

California Department of Education (2006).  Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Program Guidelines.  Retrieved from

Friedman, S. (2005). Reflecting, discussing, exploring: Questions and follow-up activities for environments that inspire.  Beyond the Journal: Young Children on the Web.  Retrieved from