Does your Program Environment Say You’re a Professional?

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It’s important that parents and educators see child care staff as professionals! We want to be perceived as individuals who care about the development, interests and education of the children and families we serve.

What does the environment of program space have to do with our image?

The environment in which we house our programs speaks volumes!  It is the first impression made when entering  program space. It tells others what we are doing.

Are we organized? Is the program stimulating? Is is a place where children are safe, learn, have their needs met and have a good time?

What does your space say about your program and the people working in it? Use the following ideas to gage how you’re doing.

What Should be Included?

Room Organization for Child Care Programs

FIRST… make rooms look and feel homey and attractive…(See other photo ideas at page bottom)

  • Store materials in their appropriate activity centers and/or large labeled containers
  • Keep areas organized, neat and clean
  • Display attractive bulletin boards
  • Personalize space with children’s work and play
  • Include soft elements such as pillows, carpets, bean bag chairs and mats. A large patio umbrella and rug lends a nice touch in the relaxing/quiet area.

Are you lucky enough to have your own room? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if young children could enter a  tropical rainforest when they go to the Quiet/Reading Center? Pillows in a child’s pool provides a comfy place to read at  lilteacher!  In an after school program, is your room large enough where you can include a couch in the quiet area?

No room of your own??? There  needs to especially be a quiet area in an after-school program that is housed in a cafeteria or gym! Also on a daily basis… be sure to …

  • Use color and forethought where possible. (Bright plastic tablecloths, table-tent signs indicating the activity for “That” table, silk/paper flowers, posters, etc.)
  • Play soft, soothing music in early a.m. and late p.m., sign-in and stressful moments. Use appropriate music at other times such as transitions, games, clean up, etc.
  • Have a welcoming entrance; post a “Welcome” sign. Make a sign for over the entrance-saying “This is a Fun Place!” All of these ideas will especially make a program that is in the gym or cafteria much more welcoming!!!

DON’T HAVE A WINDOW IN YOUR ROOM? Make one! (This Dramatic Play Center is in the room of  lilteacher)

2. Whether in a  room of your own–or using a cafeteria or gym -provide a “FAMILY INFORMATION CENTER” This center should be placed adjacent to where family sign in their children .  If you are in a “shared space” …you can set up an attractive info center by daily placing a ‘tri-fold board’ and the other items on an available table.  Where ever your ‘sign-in’ area is located, the ‘Information Center’ should be right near it–in plain view; otherwise many parents/guardians will not look at it.

Be sure the  “Information Center” is user friendly and contains…

  • Business postings from the main office
  • General daily schedule/routine (What is offered at what time)
  • Current month’s activity plans
  • Current month’s gym activity plans
  • Staff photographs with short, professional/interest biographies (Parents want to know those caring for their children. Don’t overlook this important and program-friendly feature!)
  • Snack List- What is served for the week or a reminder to bring a snack
  • Monthly program newsletters (Also share with host-building staff)
  • Reminder to “Look at the Kids’ Board”
  • Suggestion/idea box-Something as simple as this speaks volumes to children and their families. It is another way of showing them that you care! Even if only one person uses it over the year-it is a visual reminder to families. Note: When working with  children, be sure to explain to them what a ‘suggestion’ is–and the purpose of the box.
  • Attendance schedule changes, pens, note paper, stapler and tissue. (Make this area user friendly)
  • Periodic articles on current child development and timely topics
  • Occasional program memos
  • Recipes/directions used in popular SAC activities (cooking project, play dough, etc.)
  • ‘Mission Statement” and all licensing requirements posted.

3. Peace Wall (Or any name you choose to call it) This is an area where ‘Behavior Management Tools’ are posted. It tells both children and staff what is expected. It gives information on limits, expectations and boundaries of the program. It contains:

  • Children’s Rules
  • Color Rules –A rebus with words underneath-for those who don’t read yet. Each rule is placed on its own ‘color’ sheet. You can  remind the children of rules by asking/reminding, “What is the Blue Rule?”
  • Conflict Resolution Steps (Problem Solving Steps)
  • Self-Esteem Posters
  • Behavior management tools of the school if the program’s host is a school.

 If you share space and do not have wall space, place a  tri-fold board–such as this sample– with information near the Parent Information Center.

4. Kids’ Center:

It should contain:

  • Children’s current events and activities
  • Upcoming events and activities
  • Sign up sheets for clubs, classes, and special activities
  • Current Info for ‘on-going activities’
  • Directions and recipes for Special Activities
  • Children’s work
  • Unit or theme pictures/seasonal materials
  • Reminders for children’s forms/questionnaires/contracts to be filled out and returned by youth. Examples: “Gym Contract”  & “Who’s Who” Page

5. Suggested Display Areas

  • Bulletin boards
  • Windows
  • Hallways
  • Posters
  • Draped materials
  • Sheets
  • Oil cloths
  • In/on Parents Center/Table
  • From ceiling
  • Directly on Walls (attractive when colored roll paper taped to wall like a board, surround by border; items then adhered to paper)
  • Doorway Entrance
  • Large Chalk board/white board
  • Tri-Fold Boards


1. Take a long roll of wide ribbon and at the top of the wall near the ceiling, securely tape the ribbon to the wall.
2. Next tape the ribbon at the bottom of the wall.
3. Staple children’s art work and pictures vertically down the ribbon.
4. Do as many ribbon lines as you have room…
5. Regularly update art work.

6. What to Display…

  • Children’s work
  • Unit or theme pictures/seasonal materials
  • Photographs of children/pictures from home
  • Upcoming events/activities
  • Program planning/daily schedules
  • Photographs of program activities and children in action (First get parental consent

7. Use an eraser/white board at the entrance to the room; it is advisable for lead caregivers to post daily plans… This daily plan should include:

  • Approximate times of activities Free time, staff and child directed activities
  • Snack of Day (if supplied)
  • Scheduled activities, transition and cleanup times, announcements and discussions

8. Arrange for Adequate Space…

  • To accommodate the number of children
  • To accommodate a variety of activities
  • To provide several rooms for a large number of children rather than one room
  • To accommodate extra activities such as gym, kitchen-type space, auditorium
  • To provide a base room specifically for SAC
  • To provide enough space so children can move about safely
  • To provide areas where space is arranged for youth to be alone, or in groups.
  • For storing multi-stage projects.
  • For storing supplies, foods, and all necessary items to run program

9. Arrange Room into Activity/Interest/Storage Centers

  • Arts & crafts, messy area near a water supply
  • Games and puzzles
  • Blocks, cars, Legos, and trucks
  • Reading, homework and computers
  • Talking with friends and doing nothing; a quiet area
  • Dramatic play
  • Science and cooking activities
  • Woodworking
  • Music, dance and gross motor play

10. Procure Sufficient Equipment/Materials/Supplies…

  • Furniture for every child to sit on at the same time
  • Toys for every child to have one to play with
  • A  variety of toys and materials to interest children

Enough materials to eliminate waits to share scissors, paste, etc.

Materials are readily accessible to children

Creative materials are available for use without permission

Materials are durable and in good repair

Materials are available for children to do homework

11. Plan Storage Space…

  • For children’s personal things
  • For extra art/craft materials
  • For food serving Items
  • For program records/office supplies
  • For additional toys/games
  • For outside and gym equipment (balls, jump ropes hula hoops, etc.)
  • For staff personal things

More wonderful child care and classroom environments…

The ‘Wyatt Animal Clinic’ is an example of what can be done when ‘changing out’  dramatic play area themes! Notice the ‘Waiting Room’ side; it not only allows more children to play, but also doubles as a reading, library or quiet area.

The kitchen play area would draw in any young child ! It’s both colorful and homey. Note the blue fabric attached to the wall, as well as the tablecloth and silk flowers. It’s something very easy to do–and adds the ‘zip’ that makes this space special.

This triptych art inspired example for a room with no windows (or a wonderful mural) is the creation of Michael Cardimen, SAC Associate (trainer) for Rochester, Michigan Community Schools. It’s a very special piece of art for the Kindergarten K-Club children who spend time in this room! Michael searches the internet for pictures that he likes–copies and/or enlarges them. He then pieces it all together on large sheets of roll paper.

What makes this mural special is the capacity for it to be interactive. As shown, fall leaves are beginning to appear at the top of the windows. Michael shares that the children modify the mural with each season and theme. At times there may be pets and animals at the base–or a snowman and children playing out in the landscape area!

Photos are from Cesar Chavez Foundation’s Facebook page The first is the front wall to the underwater theme at the Gilroy, CA Si Se Puede Learning Center! What student wouldn’t want to come here after school?! The second is an underwater cave entrance/door to the kitchen.

Tip Page: Creating Great Program Environment

For ‘Center’ Ideas see:

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