Learning Environments

Places for Looking at Books, Making Sounds and Music, and Pretend Play

These indoor experiences work just as well outdoors. Think about the places and spaces where they can happen.1

a girl sits on a chair in the shade to look at a bookInfants and toddlers can look at books almost anywhere (e.g., on a blanket in a shady area, in a hammock with an adult, or in a cozy nook). Consider bringing a selection of books outdoors. Books about animals and nature are particularly appropriate for extending learning about the natural world.

Similarly, pretend play can happen in many places. Some outdoor equipment such as playhouses, wheeled ride-on toys, and water hoses naturally lend themselves to pretend play. Staff can also bring indoor materials and equipment outdoors, such as dress-up clothes, dolls, and shopping carts. Another option for encouraging and supporting pretend play is to create a stage. A stage may be as simple as something flat to stand on, such as a low platform or level tree stump, or a sturdy, child-size table. Make sure the surface accommodates at least two children with enough room to stand next to each other without crowding. A stage may also be more elaborate, such as an amphitheater made from wood or stone with built-in seating.

There are many ways and places where sound and music can be created. Consider how to add various types of sounds (e.g., loud, soft, wooden, metallic). Here are some suggestions:

  • Hang wind chimes made from different materials such as metal, wood, and bamboo from tree branches and coverings over shaded areas
  • Banners or colored cloth streamers make sounds when they flap in the wind and are interesting to look at, especially for young infants lying on their backs
  • Attach bells and chimes on shrubs, fences, and gates
  • Install a fountain that trickles water
  • Create a sound area and include homemade instruments, such as xylophones made from PVC pipes and pots with wooden sticks for banging
  • Provide various types and sizes of containers and lids for making shakers using natural materials such as dirt and sticks2
  • Plant trees and shrubs that make sounds when the wind blows through their branches and leaves

In home-based programs, work with families to explore the possibilities for these kinds of activities in their outdoor environments.

1Keeler, Natural Playscapes, 82, 85; Lally et al., Guide to Setting Up Environments, 59.

2U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Office of Head Start, "Outdoor Spaces."