Physical Environment
Refl ect on the Following
Furniture and Equipment
Don’t clutter the room.
Consider the following:
• Is there furniture or equipment that is rarely used? Could this be stored
somewhere until needed?
• What could we do without?
• What is missing?
• How can the furniture be organized to promote talk and collaboration?
• Is there enough shelving for storage? How well is the storage space
• Are there enough tables for work spaces in the different learning areas?
Are tables of the appropriate height for the children?
• Are there quiet spaces for those children who need to be alone at times?
Select furniture that is:
• flexible, (can be used for more than one purpose -rectangular tables are
more flexible than round).
• moveable .
A storage shelf that is on casters can be used to define a special area such as
the quiet corner, as well as moved to serve as the front for a puppet show.
Materials and toys are the textbooks of play.
Have tried and true toys available that appeal to children of all ages and
stages (Lego, blocks, puzzles …)
Absolutely essential for any primary classroom:
• blocks of various size, materials, and features.
• containers for sand and water exploration.
Materials that are open-ended, multipurpose, and flexible:
• scraps and larger pieces of cloth, wood.
• modelling clay, and playdough.
• ribbons, wool, string, paper plain and patterned, of different sizes,
shapes, and thicknesses.
• found materials – stones, feathers.
Use of Time and Space
Lack of time and space is a major obstacle to play-based learning. Children
need time to engage, sustain, and develop complexity in their play. Don’t let
unrealistic expectations, imposed by administration or of your own making,
rob the children of play.
Make a commitment to play, and set aside a dedicated period of time daily
for self-directed play – no less than one hour of continuous time.
Encourage children to be creative in the use of space.
Are there areas outside the classroom that could be used safely for play but
still be supervised?

Learning involves making connections.
As teachers observe, they may reflect
on possible connections between the
play, other classroom experiences, and
curriculum opportunities.
Scaffolding also involves establishing a
social environment conducive to building
trust and risk-taking. The social environment
encompasses the general atmosphere, as
well as the quality of the interactions among
the members of the group. From day one of
school, educators work diligently to create
a classroom community where each child is
acknowledged and feels they have a place
within the room. In this community, children’s
ideas are listened to and valued, and they have
opportunities to make choices and decisions
as individuals and as part of a group. Children
hear respectful language modelled, see
models of treating others with respect, and
are treated with respect themselves. Children
are invited to help others and are encouraged
to seek help from their classmates, as well
as from the adult in the room. These are the
underpinnings of a classroom that allows
children to function as they play.
Part of the environment also includes
establishing the rules which are needed for
managing a group of children. These rules
enable children to function safely within
the classroom and give them protocols for

accessing and using materials and putting
them away, and for maintaining a clean and
organized room. When children understand
the routines and follow a typical pattern
every day, they feel more secure and less
anxious about what to do and what happens
next. They need to know the routines so that
their time for self-directed learning can run
In a classroom that values children’s choices
and provides opportunities to make decisions,
children are involved in presenting solutions
to problems as they arise. (What can you do
when someone interferes with your project?
What do you do when you need help? What
might you do when someone hurts you in the
Neuroscience research confirms what teachers
have always understood, that is the emotional
health of a child has the most profound affect
on learning. Even in the most comfortable of
environments, stress can overwhelm a child.
It is play that provides a means of coping.
Social Environment
Refl ect on the Following
Every child in the class needs to feel secure and valued.
How are children welcomed into the classroom? How are they acknowledged?
What are the practices in the classroom that build trust?
As an educator, do I trust that children are learning as they play?
Children should be encouraged to learn from their mistakes and not be afraid
to take a risk. When things don’t go well have them consider:
What did you learn?
What surprised you?
What might you do differently next time?
Show children that their ideas are respected by listening attentively as they
talk and by taking more than one answer to a question.
Recognize children’s need to test limits and respond positively to this need.
There is no place for racism, bullying, or making fun of a less able child.
Community Responsibility
Children need to have a say in what happens in the classroom.
• Give them choices of materials to use in the context of their play.
• Provide a space for children to display their work. Involve them in putting
up exhibits and displays of classroom learning.
• Have them help plan special events.
Everyone is responsible for the clean-up at the end of the day.
Encourage students to take care of one another, in particular take care of the
less able. In some cases, children may need to be shown what this ‘looks’ like
and ‘sounds’ like.
Involve children in establishing rules and routines that are needed for the
classroom to function and for learning. For example, ask:
What can we do about too many people wanting the computer at the same time?
How can we organize the classroom library so that the books aren’t jumbled

The play that happens in school is
different than play that happens in the
home or outside. At school, the teacher
makes informed decisions about how
to organize the classroom and which materials
to make available to optimize learning through
play. In other words, there is much purposeful
planning and decision-making that occurs
before, during, and after play. Before self-
directed play evolves, educators plan the
time children will need within the schedule
of the school day and set up the classroom
with goals in mind, for example they may
position tables to promote interaction and
place the sandbox where children can walk
around it to see their landscape from different
perspectives. They carefully choose materials
to facilitate learning, selecting appropriate
sensory materials for information gathering,
concrete materials for mathematical thinking,
and tools for collecting data for science
experiments. As the children play, educators
actively support their learning. They observe
the children and identify those who require
support; they interact, making thoughtful
decisions about when to enter into role play
and when to redirect play to extend the
learning. After the scheduled time dedicated
to exploration and play, educators provide
opportunities for refl ection and sharing, based
on children’s needs. Educators reflect on their
observations to support individual children’s
needs and determine different ways they may
connect the learning to curriculum areas.
Traditional models for planning curriculum
that describe by subject what will be taught,
and when, present a major challenge to
learning through play. Teachers do need to
have a firm view of what they are expected to
teach within a projected time frame however,
these expectations must be flexible if
learning through play is to be effective. There
must be time allowed for topics of interest
to the students and teachers. What needs
to change is the practice of pinning down
topics with specific timelines. As one teacher
commented, “If this is November, in grade 3 it
must be pioneers.” We would go a long way
toward restoring the enthusiasm for learning
of both students and teachers by having less
rigid demands on time and content.

Once the teacher has set up the physical
environment of the classroom and established
an atmosphere where curiosity and
imagination are valued, she needs to provide
time for students to play freely. This notion
of playing freely may be misinterpreted
by some as an aimless ‘free-for-all’ that is
without objective. To the contrary, this time
provides educators with critical opportunities
to observe the children and gain insight into
their choices, interests, and needs so as to
determine best strategies for addressing
individual and group challenges.
What do you see when you watch your
students during free play?
What does it tell you about what they
know and can do?