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How to create infant environments that spark curiosity

Creating environments that spark curiosity and wonder is not difficult and yet, at times, infant environments in early childhood settings can be sterile or uninspiring. Here I explore the notion of creating environments that spark curiosity in infants.
Infant curiosity

Written by Nicole Halton

What is curiosity?

Before we begin to consider our environments and how they spark curiosity, do we really know what being curious means? Merriam-Webster defines curiosity as a “desire to know”, and more specifically “interest leading to inquiry”.

So what does that mean for infants? Ultimately, what we are trying to encourage in them is a desire to know. We want them to be interested in the world around them. Leading them to explore further, to wonder and to seek to make sense of the world.

Curiosity in the indoor environment

In recent years, we have come to understand as a sector that our early childhood environments need not be brightly coloured and highly stimulating in order to be engaging or spark wonder and curiosity for children. Where once we may have had canary yellow walls with alphabet posters and large boxes of colourful toys, we have pared back our environments to be more reminiscent of many homes. They include cosy cushions, wooden toys and photographs of children in beautiful frames.

When we are designing environments for infants, it is important to consider all areas of the space. For example, what opportunities do we provide for infants to be curious in the nappy change space? Perhaps it includes hanging plants, or a sun-catcher over the window, or child-safe mirrors on the wall where infants look to.

While the main play space will be our key focus, it is vital that we think about the spaces that form an integral part of a child’s routine in an infant room, such as nappy change, meals and sleep spaces. We need to be mindful of not overstimulating in sleep spaces; yet we can still create a sense of wonder, magic and beauty here that will inevitably spark curiosity.

Resources to spark infant curiosity in the indoor environment

Sparking infant curiosity indoors can simply involve adding elements to the environment such as:

  • mirrors
  • plants (be mindful of safety recommendations about the types of plants to include in your space)
  • heuristic play resources (eg, baskets, bowls, pots, loofah, whisk, scarves)
  • objects that make sounds (eg, musical instruments)
  • soft balls
  • sensory materials (eg. goop, water).

indoor infant environment

Curiosity in the outdoor environment

What is wonderful about being outdoors is that it already contains so many things that spark children’s natural curiosity. Nature is intriguing: it prompts us to wonder and shows us new phenomena all the time. It provides us with sensory input that we cannot find indoors. Unfortunately, not all early childhood services have wondrous, natural spaces for the children to explore outdoors. Some are designed with synthetic surfacing and have no natural materials. If that’s the type of space you are working with, it is important to consider creative ways in which you can embrace the natural environment. Perhaps that means adding some potted plants to the space, or bringing in a large, low trough and filling it with dirt for infants to explore. Perhaps it even means heading beyond your service and into the community on an excursion – seeking out gardens and trees, butterflies and birds. We want to create spaces for infants where they can watch the clouds, or see shadows dance on the ground, or listen to wind chimes that tinkle in the breeze.

Resources to spark infant curiosity in the outdoor environment

Some simple suggestions for resources to include in your outdoor environment are:

  • individual plants or more extensive gardens
  • fabric or scarves hung from a tree
  • sun catchers
  • wind chimes
  • large loose parts (eg, pots and pans, balls, cable reels)
  • other sensory experiences (eg, dirt, mud, sand, water, grass).

Outdoor infant environment

Setting up the environment to spark infant curiosity

Having the right resources is not enough on its own. How we set up the environment can also inspire curiosity in infants. For example, if we are sitting in a rocking chair trying to comfort and calm an infant, can we position ourselves to be near a window so that they can see the leaves blowing in the breeze outside? If we are providing space for newly crawling infants to explore some heuristic play resources, can we spread these out to encourage them to move between the items that grab their attention?

In setting up infant learning environments, one of the key recommendations that I always make is to get down on the floor yourself. Until you are sprawled on the carpet, or crawling around the room, it is difficult to gain enough insight into how our littlest ones see this space.

A curious adult inspires curious children

As biologist, writer and conservationist Rachel Carson put it in the mid 20th century, “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, 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.”

Her words really do sum it up. When we are curious alongside our infants, we spark a sense of curiosity and wonder within them. We model it and share in the joy of new discoveries, seeing the world through their young eyes. And if that isn’t something to aspire to, I don’t know what is.

In the book I co-authored with Natashja Treveton, Birth and Beyond: Meaningful Practice for Babies and Toddlers, you will find further explorations.

About the author

Nicole Halton – Co-founder/director of Inspired EC and educational consultant
Nicole Halton has been a proud member and advocate of the early childhood profession for over 13 years. Nicole is particularly passionate about the provision of quality early childhood services and children having the right to a childhood filled with risk, adventure and fun.

From 2005 to 2012, Nicole was the director of Woodrising Community Preschool and Child Care Centre, a service that has developed a strong reputation for its commitment to natural play environments and authentic experiences for children. During her leadership the centre was one of the first services to be assessed under the National Quality Standards and achieved the rating of 'Exceeding'.

In 2007 Nicole and her business partner Natashja Treveton spent countless hours discussing the need for inspiring professional development in their local area and, as a result, founded their educational training and consultancy business, Inspired EC. Their passion and enthusiasm in their beliefs have allowed the company as well as the services they offer to develop and expand and to ‘inspire’ thousands of educators Australia wide.

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