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Creating Welcoming & Calming Learning Spaces

Creating Welcoming & Calming Learning Text and Plant pot Vector graphic

What a year it’s been!

In fact, what a few years it’s been! A few years of a rapidly evolving ‘new normal’ which is affecting us all in countless ways. We’re all impacted by what’s happening around us, and when the physical and emotional demands of our day-to-day tasks and experiences exceed the amount of energy we have, over a long period of time this can lead to feeling overwhelmed and drained.

Often called burnout, many of us are experiencing physical and emotional exhaustion, and this includes educators, the families who rely on education and care settings and of course the children, who may be struggling to cope with events and changes happening in the world around them. There’s a lot to process!

In this piece we will discuss some of the valuable ways in which learning spaces can be shaped to support and respond to children’s and families’ needs, ensuring everyone feels safe, connected and comfortable in the setting, including all the great educators out there worth their weight in gold!


Comfy & Cosy Spaces

Young girl sat on beanbag chair in childcare learning environment


Soft furnishings ensure children have access to a comfortable learning environment and can include anything from rugs and carpets to cushions, canopies, netting, fabrics and more!

Soft furnishings can transform a loud and busy learning environment by absorbing noise and helping to create pockets of calm where children can, for example, snuggle into a big cushion to read a book, or lie down and have a rest in a cosy and comfy spot. Soft furnishings can modify a rustic cubby house into an inviting and comfortable cave or create a welcoming area for the class to sit together to yarn, share stories and plan out the day’s events.


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MTA Spaces –  Navy Foam-Filled Lounger 



Calming & Reflective Spaces

Young girl sat in cosy nook reading


Calming and reflective spaces offer a peaceful learning setting in which children can embrace quiet. Here, children can spend time relaxing and reflecting away from the hustle and bustle of a busy classroom.

Cushions, fabrics, tents and dens can all contribute to quiet and reflective spaces, making cosy and comfortable spots for children to explore and make their own.

Combine these spaces with books, puzzles, soft toys, tea parties or anything else that children would like to add to their retreat. A calming and reflective space can be just the thing to refuel children’s energy.


Featured Product:

Stockholm Spaces – Cosy Retreat 



Spaces of Belonging

Peg People of the world on table


The way children and their families are welcomed into the learning environment makes an incredible difference to their sense of belonging. Belonging is all about feeling connected and secure, valued and accepted with the community’s people and place. A deep sense of belonging ensures the emotional wellbeing of children and their families can thrive, including their self-worth, confidence, capability and adaptability, to name a few.

Feeling secure and connected within their social and physical learning environments will also ensure that these settings become places of safety and refuge for children and families to work through the challenges and difficulties they might be experiencing.

Educators are in an excellent position to build a sense of belonging, not only with their words and actions but also with the physical settings too. Seeing welcoming resources such as wall hangings or displays or children’s names on parent communication pockets will invite families into the settings. Classroom journals will also empower children and their families to contribute to the program and the day’s happenings.

A place where everyone belongs.


Featured Product:

Peg People of the World



Mindful Spaces

Birds eye view of young girl surrounded by mindful picture cards


Affirmations, mindfulness and restful breathing activities, including yoga, can all help ‘cultivate calm’ while fostering a peaceful and positive mindset. Creating a daily ritual with affirmations and yoga
or meditation and breathing will empower young children to nurture their self-awareness, set positive intentions and work through emotional regulation in healthy and helpful ways.

Focusing on gratitude – the feeling of appreciation – is also a powerful way to see the silver lining when everything seems gloomy. These Positive Mindset Affirmation Cards and I Am Me Affirmation Cards can enable the building of confidence, resilience and self-esteem by helping children to find the sunny side of any situation.


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Mindful & Co Kids Yoga Flash Cards



Engaging & Inspiring Spaces

MTA Light table with chids hands and coloured shapes on top


It’s hard to feel motivated when you’re burnt out.

Refreshing your learning environment with a new and exciting project can go a long way in helping to reignite energy and enthusiasm. Light boxes and panels along with light box resources are wonderful tools to drive children’s motivation to explore and investigate with energy and enthusiasm. They light up the room in the most magical of ways, in turn bringing delight and wonder to learning curriculums.

Creating an engaging and inspiring learning environment ensures everyone wants to come back for more. What will happen today? The possibilities for discovery are endless!


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Stockholm Spaces – Round Table & Light Panel



Culturally Meaningful Spaces

Young girl playing with culturally meaningful resources on table


Culturally meaningful curriculums in early childhood settings increase opportunities for its community members to feel connected – a place to feel safe and secure, to feel loved, appreciated and valued. A place to belong.

If you’re thinking, ‘This sounds great, but where do I begin?’, a good starting point is to have a wander through your setting. Does everything in your setting reflect the diverse backgrounds of its community members (the children and their families, the educators and service staff, as well as the wider community at large)?

There’s no end to the items that you can meaningfully interweave throughout your environment. Include dolls, figurines, pretend food, dress-ups and props from around the world. Ensure children’s books portray the diversity of the world’s peoples, perspectives, cultures and abilities in a positive light. Make sure there are truly authentic cultural and Indigenous resources for children to connect with on a daily basis. Invite educators and families to share their cultural backgrounds – learn some keywords and phrases from different languages, learn a song or dance, cook foods from around the world or engage in traditional storytelling.


Featured Product:

Fair Trade Aboriginal Ceremony Matching Game



Purposeful Spaces

Childcare centre furniture


Learning spaces that are set up purposefully can bring safety and comfort and a sense of calm to the environment. The physicality of the space (the size, furniture placement etc.) communicates what is to happen, providing clear boundaries and fostering behaviours of motivated and engaged learners. Create breakaway areas, book corners and home corners or simply direct foot traffic in safe and effective ways.

How can a purposeful space be created? It might be through using non-fixed furniture pieces that can be easily moved around the room to create and define predictable play spaces. Open-backed shelving also acts as a barrier while allowing for maximum supervision. Rugs and carpets define a learning space, while the number of chairs, cushions and pillows communicate how many children the area is suitable for at any one time.

The resources chosen to join the space will also encourage positive behaviours. Organised and uncluttered spaces with a considered selection of materials will invite children to develop their skills and interests while interacting in positive ways and achieving learning goals.


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Stockholm Spaces – Circular Low Table



Creative Spaces

Paining easel with paintings hanging in childcare learning environment


With all those big feelings and emotions children are experiencing, spaces in which children can express themselves with art become even more important. The creative and expressive arts (including painting and drawing, dance, drama, music and movement) all allow children to work through their feelings and emotions by creatively expressing themselves, which is especially important when the words can’t be found.

Providing a space that includes a wide variety of creative materials ensures children have endless opportunities to process what’s happening in their world and come to terms with their experiences. A space where children’s voices and perspectives are seen and heard.

Creative spaces aren’t just for children though! A selection of art materials in the staff room can provide a creative strategy for educators to relieve stress. Drawing or colouring-in for adults can help boost positive feelings or simply take your mind off things.


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Premium Wooden 4-Sided Easel



Storytelling Spaces

Young girl and boy reading large storybooks in earlychildhood centre classroom


Grab a comfy cushion – it’s storytime!

Books that gently and sensitively capture the lived experience of lockdown, such as While We Can’t Hug, Share Your Rainbow and Windows are invaluable in helping children make sense of an ever-changing ‘new normal’ during the current pandemic. The Fun & Humour Book Pack is guaranteed to make children laugh with continuous joy and entertainment, while the Emotional Development Book Pack celebrates some important milestones in young children’s emotional development with just the right touch of imagination.

Whether it’s everyday shared reading with the Big Books Mixed Carton or storybooks that delve into specific topics, books are a powerful way for children to explore and process their feelings and emotions, supporting and empowering them to identify and articulate the things they are experiencing.



Multigenerational Spaces

White cots and blue armchair & cushions


Adult-sized furniture pieces ensure educators have places to sit safely and comfortably throughout the day, as well as provide welcoming statements for families to participate. Whether it’s reading a story from the Intergenerational Shared Reading Pack or providing a space for carers to feed their little ones before setting off, adult-sized armchairs, sofas, chairs and cushions will ensure a homelike setting where all the members of the learning community feel comfortable and welcome.

Featured Product:

Aalto – Full-Size High Back Armchair


A well thought out learning environment has the power to support the wellbeing of children & their families – and educators too! It can encourage exploration, enquiry and discovery – and can include open spaces to move about, cosy nooks to hide away and everything in between. It can respond to individuals needs and interests, provide stimulation and excitement, security and comfort, demonstrate cultural diversity and perhaps most importantly- a deep sense of belonging for all.


Thanks for joining us over here at the Modern Teaching Blog today!



About the Author
Penny Groen is an Early Childhood Teacher who has been working in Early Childhood Education and Care settings around Sydney for 17 years. She has a passion for working in meaningful partnerships with families and communities, providing a responsive and engaging curriculum where everyone feels welcome to contribute. You can see Penny’s interest in the natural world with all the weird and wonderful experiments growing both inside and outside the classroom. Penny is also known for equipping children with the tools to explore their interests and celebrate the discoveries each day brings.



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Mirrors And Reflections In The Learning Environment

Mirrors and Reflections Rainbow Arch

We see reflected and mirrored images wherever we go. From our own reflections looking back at us in the bathroom mirror or a shop window to the reflections of nature on a still lake or in our car’s rear-view or side mirrors – we are surrounded by reflections! Mirrors and reflections can bring curiosity, fascination and discovery for all of us, including children.

You’ll likely remember the look of surprise when a baby recognises themselves in the mirror, or the look of wonder and concentration as toddlers examine the details of their facial expressions or the happy giggles of pre-schoolers as they dress up and march past the mirror in their fancy and creative costumes. Mirrors and the reflections they make can be a source of fun, intrigue, inquiry and experimentation and have so many incredible learning opportunities. Let’s have a look at some mirrors and reflections activities ideal for the early childhood learning environment.


Mirrors + Nature

The great outdoors is filled with an endless supply of beautiful and interesting objects. Leaves, pebbles, sticks and twigs, flowers, feathers, pinecones, seedpods and grass to name but a few! You might even be fortunate enough to find an old birds’ nest on the ground after a windy day. It’s a wonderful opportunity for a nature treasure hunt, and the children are able to bring back their treasures to place on the mirrors ready for further exploration. There are all sorts of shapes, textures, colours and shades to investigate. With so many incredible reflections happening, many questions can arise and conversations can take place, welcoming further inquiry and exploration. This is also an ideal activity for magnifying glasses, opening the door for even more opportunities for reflective surface exploration.

Mirrors and Reflections, natural loose parts in mirrored tray

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Reflective Mirror Tray


Mirrors + Art

Mirrors are a great addition to the art space. They allow children to experiment and explore all the angles of their painting subjects, from still life paintings of fruit and flowers to exploring light and shapes in multiple dimensions. Mirrors can also be a fun way to combine art with the exploration of a child’s self-image by using their own face as the painting subject. Children are able to look at their reflection in the mirror and, using a brush with paint, they can apply the paint directly onto the mirror to create a portrait of themselves using the mirror as the painting surface. Simply wipe the mirror clean and it’s ready to go again.


Mirrors and Reflections portrait activity featuring childs painting on a mirror and paint pots

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Non- Spill Paint Pots

Reflective Mirror Tray

Mirrors + Loose Parts

Mirrors and loose parts go so well together. Loose parts play is all about the open-ended possibilities to use loose items to make and mould, to tinker around, to build and construct, to form shapes and patterns, to transport and carry loose items around or to use as visual representations for children’s imaginings. There’s really no limit to loose parts play. With loose parts, each day becomes a new way. Adding in mirrors provides even more possibilities for wonder and discovery, bringing mirrored images and reflections to the learning space for an extra added dimension to loose parts play.

Mirrors and Reflections buttons and jewels reflecting on Mirrored table

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Mirrored Sensory Tray

Mosaic Pieces



Omni Wooden People


Mirrors + Rainbows

So often children are fascinated by rainbows. The giant presence of a rainbow in the sky when the sun comes out after a rainy day is truly spectacular. There are bright colours to explore, all nesting neatly into each other in gradually increasing arches. When rainbows are reflected over a still lake there are even more opportunities for wonder and exploration. Recreating the magic of rainbows in the learning environment can be done using mirrors combined with colourful wooden rainbows. The rainbows can be rearranged in so many combinations of colour and size and can also be combined with all sorts of resources for building, loose parts exploration or small world play. The only limit is their imaginations!

Mirrors and Reflections rainbow arch refelcting in mirrored tray

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Large Wooden Rainbow

Reflective Mirror Tray


Mirrors + Print Making

Another creative way to use mirrors in the learning environment is with paint as a print-making surface. Paint is added onto the mirror, ready to be smoothed out with brushes or sponges, or, for an, even more, fun hands-on sensory exploration, use hands and fingers to smooth the paint across the mirror. Your print-making surface is now ready for the design process to begin. Simply use brushes, or fingers, to make a pattern or picture in the paint. Place a piece of paper onto the paint-covered mirror and gently smooth the paper down. Then, carefully peel and lift the paper off the mirror to reveal the picture or print that has been transferred over. It’s a wonderful way to explore the concept of reflections and mirror images through hands-on art.

Mirrors and Reflections pink paint printing activity

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Pink Finger Paint

Non- Spill Paint Pots

A3 Cover Paper

Reflective Mirror Tray


Mirrors + Sensory Exploration

Mirror trays along with sensory exploration are also a wonderful addition to the learning environment, allowing all sorts of fun and discovery to take place using sand, slime, goop or foam. Hands-on sensory exploration has so many developmental benefits, from allowing children to get a ‘feel’ of their fingers and hands and all the things they can do, to building strength and coordination of motor skills. This all allows children to carry out so many everyday activities and tasks including drawing and writing, brushing teeth, self-feeding, dressing and undressing, building and construction or working on fiddly and tricky manipulation objects. Children are able to use their hands and fingers to make lines and patterns in the sand or other chosen sensory material, drawing and even experimenting with making the form and shapes of numbers and letters.

Mirrors and Reflections_mirrored tray filled with sand and sandcastles

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Reflective Mirror Tray


Mirrors + Construction

A mirror added to building and construction adds another level of interest and intrigue. Mirrors can be used as a building surface, or placed in and around the building space, allowing children to explore and experiment with the shapes and forms of their chosen building materials as their structure builds up into the sky. The best part of construction is knocking it down afterwards! We all know that happy sound of shrieking and laughter as a child knocks down their building when they’ve finished with it. Mirrors multiply the merriment, providing many angles of reflection as buildings go up as well as down. And when mirrors are added with more mirrors, they reflect children’s constructions infinitely. It’s an activity-rich in exploration and learning!

Mirrors and Reflections LEGO Duplo on mirrored table

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Reflective Mirror Tray


How do you use mirrors in your learning environment? We’d love to hear from you!


About the Author

Penny Groen is an Early Childhood Teacher who has been working in Early Childhood Education and Care settings around Sydney for 17 years. She has a passion for working in meaningful partnerships with families and communities, providing a responsive and engaging curriculum where everyone feels welcome to contribute. You can see Penny’s interest in the natural world with all the weird and wonderful experiments the growing both inside and outside the classroom. Penny’s also known for equipping children with the tools to explore their interests and celebrate the discoveries each day brings


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Magic And Wonder: Creating A World Where Children Lead

Young girl exploring whilst walking over tree roots

“Drink in the beauty and wonder at the meaning of what you see.” Rachel Carson


I recently watched the film ‘Mary Poppins Returns’, and as the film came to a wonderful and uplifting end, I was struck by a couple of strong elements that weave their way through the film and demonstrate how we can allow children to take the lead in their quest for answers to questions that matter to them.


Talking about it

We are a society that struggles with grief, we don’t know how to talk about it, how to enable it and how to live with it. In my own experience, grief is often overwhelming and debilitating, so I was surprised to see this children’s film, based on P.L. Travers’ books, featuring grief and loss as central and underlying themes. ‘Mary Poppins Returns’ is a lesson on living with grief, it’s woven through the film in a number of ways, the loss of the children’s mother, the impact this has on their father, the impending loss of the family home, the loss of of innocence and that sense of wonder and the loss of childhood. We are reminded throughout the film of the strong community ties that were quintessential of that time, ties that we see less and less of now in our sprawling cities and disconnected lives. There is a very strong emphasis on the need to talk to others about our problems, and a clear message that talking to family and friends when you are struggling allows you to get the support you need to effectively manage your feelings.


Young girl laying down on Grass


Seeing the world through children’s eyes

When Michael Banks is told he’s “forgotten what it’s like,” by the Balloon Lady, he responds, “To hold a balloon?” , “To be a child,” she replies.

This simple quote by the Balloon Lady (Angela Lansbury, 93) captures the other main element that runs throughout the film, “When did we forget how to be children?”

This film was built around the notion of letting children lead and giving them opportunity to give a voice to their ideas and theories, to delight in the magic and unexplainable and be in the moment with them.

This begs the question; are we, as early childhood educators, at risk of becoming so focused on curating the child’s life with us (every moment accounted for and photographed, notes on toileting, eating, sleep, pencil grip, physical skills, knowledge, social networks and everything in between) that we are missing the very thing we should be focused on? How children see the world and how they understand and make sense of what they see.



Young girl exploring the outdoors with magnifier glass


Have we actually forgotten how to be children and to see the world as children see it?

Seeing the world through children’s eyes is challenging, because it requires us to suspend our existing thinking and knowledge and to see the world with new eyes for the very first time, to be in the moment each and every day, for every child. For some, this their everyday practice, whereas for those of us who are more like Michael, and have forgotten what it’s like to be a child, it can be a struggle to really listen and see and we can often be bogged down in the collecting, curating, cleaning and the sound of our own voice. Anne Pelo challenges us to “fall into momentswith children, to join our attention” with them and what they are doing, to put down the pen and pad, to listen more deeply to what children are saying, to look at the world with the child’s eyes and see that everything is new.

“To be as curious and as open to what is possible as a child.”


Now, this is not new thinking. In fact, I believe the song lines of our First Nations People is an extraordinary example of explaining how the world came to be, such was the richness of these song lines that they are actually linked by generations of storytellers to the beginning of the Dreaming.

Rachel Carson, writing in the Woman’s Home Companion magazine, July 1956 said:

A childs world is fresh and new and beautiful, full of wonder and excitement. It is our misfortune that for most of us that clear-eyed vision, that true instinct for what is beautiful and awe-inspiring, is dimmed and even lost before we reach adulthood.

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.

Carson challenges us to be these adult companions, to listen deeply to children, not muddy their ideas with our rationalism and encyclopaedic knowledge, but to be lead by children as they discover the world around them. She asks us to be the keepers of “Awe and Wonder” in each child.

This reimagining our own role in the early childhood space is supported in the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF), asking us to enable children to actively construct their own understandings and contribute to others’ learning. They recognise their agency, capacity to initiate and lead learning, and their rights to participate in decisions that affect them, including their learning.’ EYLF p.9

This is a powerful way of seeing how we engage and enable children to be at the very centre of their learning journey. It will challenge how we let children take risks and has the potential to enrich the lives of families as they learn how powerful and uplifting those moments can be when adult and child are captured by the beauty, wonder and awe of what is around them.

The solutions to climate change, curing diseases and making clean drinking water accessible to everybody on this planet will be solved by a child who sees the world through a lens that we can provide and build into their thinking. This pattern of reflective thinking could be set out in a series of simple questions that ask the child and adult to focus, such as:

“What would you like to know about …?”
“What do you think will happen if your idea is correct?”
“What do you think will happen if… or when…”
“Why do you think that will happen?”
“What will you need to do to find out…”
“How might you let others know about this?”
“How might you do this again?”

“Wonder is the centre of all motivation and action in the child. Wonder and beauty are what make life genuinely personal. Wonder attunes to beauty through sensitivity and is unfolded by secure attachment. When wonder, beauty, sensitivity and secure attachment are present, learning is meaningful.” L’Ecuyer (2014)

“Facilitate and engage, then step into the world of children.”


Who was Rachel Carson?

Rachel Carson worked for the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries (1936-1952) and in 1962 published “Silent Spring” based on her research into the effects that pesticides, in particular DDT, were having on birds, fish and small animals. It is cited as one of the catalysts for the birth of the environmental movement. It also reflected on something else that Ms Carson had been mulling over for sometime, which is how children see the world and how this engagement was being diminished by the modern world in which they lived.


About the Author

Neville Dwyer has a long history in early childhood services, with 32 years as Director of a community-based long day care service and, prior to that, five years coordinating a mobile children’s service and a short stint teaching at TAFE.

In 2005, Neville received the National Excellence in Teaching Award – Early Childhood and 2009 his early childhood service was the first to be named as a winner in the Australian Awards for Teaching Excellence in the School and Its Community section.

Neville has also sat on a number of management committees, including those for Griffith Neighbourhood House, Griffith Early Intervention, Western Riverina Family Day Care Scheme, Western Riverina Respite Care, Riverina Children’s Activity Van, Mobile Resources Services Association and Contact Inc. In 2018, he completed a 25-year stint as a board member of the CCSA (Community Connections Solutions Australia – previously known as the Country Children’s Services Association of NSW).

Neville’s passion is outdoor play environments, the natural world, risk and its value in play and development, technology, management, STEAM, and a service model that provides much more than just child care for preschool children.

Further Reading

Anne Pelo, in the “Thinking Together Video series ‘Joining children’s inquiry – with Anne Pelo” , Early Childhood Australia, 2015

Pelo A The Language of Art: Inquiry-Based Studio Practices in Early Childhood Settings. Red leaf Press

Pelo, A ; The Goodness of Rain, Exchange Press 2013

L’Ecuryer, C (2014) The Wonder Approach to Learning, Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Oct Vol. 8, Art 764

“Help Your Child to Wonder,” Woman’s Home Companion magazine, July 1956 h[p://