3 Physical Environment

In ECPK 420 you are observing in 6 different Birth-K settings across the mixed delivery system of early childhood education. As you observe you will write reports.  The first 4 reports are about four of the NAEYC Accreditation Standards categories:

  1. Physical Environment from the first observation site.
  2. Positive Relationships from the second observation site
  3. Learning Environment from the third observation site
  4. Teaching from the fourth observation site

Please Note

Even though you are only writing the first four reports about one program, you want to evaluate all aspects of every program for the final presentation where you will compare and contrast all programs in all areas.


Learning Objectives

For your first narrative, you will write about the physical environment and you will

Identify and recognize national best practices in early childhood education in the area of physical environment.

Compare differences and similarities in a variety of delivery models for programs serving diverse children from birth through kindergarten including children with special needs and dual language learners.


This week you will read and discuss quality physical environments focusing on identifying and recognizing national best practices in early childhood education.  In the first observation, you are looking at the layout and the physical characteristics of the furnishings and climate. The physical environment differs from the Learning Environment which is the materials and equipment added to the room and organized for learning.  The learning environment also includes the daily structure used to promote children’s learning experiences, covering both learnable moments and intentional teaching experiences. Keep the difference between physical and the learning environment in mind as you begin writing Narrative 1.

As you read and watch can you make a connection to these comments and ideas that from students wondering how to apply the course content as they go out and observe the physical environment?

  • Messes and mistakes help children learn and grow
  • How do teachers and administrators decide how much space is needed for each child? Do they use a specific formula? Sue’s Reply to the question: Did you or others read The Great 35 Square Foot Myth (2003)by Randy White & Vicki Stoecklin? Here are some key quotes from White and Stoecklin:

One of the great myths of early childhood education is the standard of 35 square foot of classroom space per child for the design of child care classrooms. No one is totally sure how the 35-square foot standard originally evolved. There is some speculation that it has its origins in health department studies that elementary school children need a minimum of 35 square feet per student to prevent the spread of communicable diseases in the classroom.

Whatever the origins, the myth is perpetuated by state child care licensing standards, which almost universally, have adopted 35 square feet as their minimum standard. Unfortunately, most child care center developers and designers accept the 35 SF as an adequate and quality standard. The problem is that unlike other government codes and regulations, such as building codes where structural standards assure that roofs will be structurally sound and water systems will be safe, the classroom size standard has no foundation or relevance to the actual amount of space required to provide quality care for children

Later in the article they share:

The research found that 54 square feet of accessible play space per child is required to minimize children’s stress levels.

  • I have been in small rooms that work because of the way they were organized.
  • Where I work we have mats if necessary for a child to rest if they’re not well, but we don’t have the space already set up.
  • Student reply to 3rd bullet:  Have you thought about making a removable wooden wall for a quiet space? Something that you could hang up with hooks up take down at the end of the day?

Now begin reading pages 78-92 of the NAEYC Early Childhood Program Standards and Accreditation Criteria & Guidance for Assessment (2016).  In the Physical Environment Section, you will look at criteria for Indoor and Outdoor Equipment, Materials, and Furnishings, Outdoor Environmental Design, and Building and Physical Design.  As you read the section about Environmental Health consider the relationship of environmental health to supervision (read pages 32-34), sanitation, nutrition, and safety practices (pages .

Supervision standards change with the age of the children in the classroom.  What is expected in an infant toddler room will be different than observed in a kindergarten classroom.  Make sure you are using the correct age level criteria on pages 32-34 when you observe, take notes, and then write the narrative draft.

To learn more about the requirements for sanitation, nutrition, and safety read pages 51- 65 the sections:  5.A.06-5. A.16; 5.B. Ensuring Children’s Nutritional Well-being; and 5.C. Maintaining a Healthful Environment.  Make sure to review the 2015 Cleaning, Sanitizing, and Disinfecting Frequency Table. You may even want to print a copy for your workplace and to use when observing.

The technical assistance document from the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care describes how to create effective physical environments.   Creating a Child Care Environment for Success. 

The first five pages are most relevant to the discussion of physical environment and the rest of the document is most helpful for the learning environment.

Finally, read the documents from Community Playthings:  Infant and Toddler Spaces  The photos illustrate effective and desirable design techniques.  For those of you who prefer to watch and hear; you will enjoy the video

Watch  “Preparation for Life: Montessori Infant-Toddler Communities” by EdVid is in the Public Domain  (2009)

This is a 10-minute excerpt of a parent orientation DVD for Montessori Infant-Toddler programs. It is an update of the American Montessori Society DVD “In the Beginning: The First Years of Montessori” The schools featured include Hope Montessori Infant-Toddler Community in St. Louis, Seton Montessori Infant-Toddler House in Chicago and The Montessori Children’s Center in White Plains, NY.

The segments from an EEC Webinar about physical environment are very helpful.  When you open the link; you will be asked to register which requires typing in your first and last name and an email address.  You can then advance the saved video to the first segment at 17:45. Watch these segments:

  • Room Arrangement: 17:45 – 21:21
  • Supervision: 21:22 – 28:50
  • Indoor Gross Motor: 46:06 – 50:15
  • Accessibility for Infants: 57:45 – 59:50

Challenge 1

After reading and watching; to prepare for discussing the physical environment either online or in person, I invite you to complete the reading reflection form:

Reading Reflection Form

Use the table below as you complete the readings and/or watch the videos as a note taking method.  Using your notes as recorded on the table, write out 3 paragraphs to summarize your ideas. Make sure to use multiple examples to illustrate ideas and to ask an open-ended question to invite others to engage in your discussion.

Connections Extensions Curiosities
Relate ideas from the reading to learning in other courses or life experience. How did ideas from the reading extend your thinking? What are you curious about?  What do you want to explore further?   Why?



Challenge 2

Physical Environment Narrative Description

In the narrative, you will compare your observations to the NAEYC Standards:

  • 3.C
  • 5.A.06–16
  • 5.B
  • 5.C
  • 9.A
  • 9.B
  • 9.C
  • 9.D


  1. Indoor Design.  RATING: _____.
    1. Provide a description of indoor design elements, with enough detail and range that the rating is supported. Often your evidence is interpreted relative to NAEYC indicators of standards-based practice.  To achieve a target score you will need to make sure to include rich, varied descriptions that give a detailed view of important indoor design elements.  Explain your overall impressions of the program’s unique features and its strengths and areas for improvement.
    2. CONCLUSIONS where you restate and defend the rating. To achieve a target score, make sure the conclusions reached carefully consider impact of design decisions on quality, are fully supported by the evidence provided, and clearly linked to NAEYC standards of quality.
  2. Outdoor Design.  RATING:  _____.
    1. Provide a description of outdoor design elements, with enough detail and range that the rating is supported. Often your evidence is interpreted relative to NAEYC indicators of standards-based practice that you list.  To achieve a target score you will need to make sure to include rich, varied descriptions that give a detailed view of important outdoor design elements.
  3. Continuous Supervision.  RATING: _____.
    1. To achieve a target score you will need to make sure to include rich, varied descriptions that give a detailed view of important indoor and outdoor design elements.
  4. Sanitation, Nutrition, and Safety Practices.  RATING: _____.
    1. For this section, provide evidence only on aspects of the standard which were cause for concern. A rating of 7 and absence of further comment indicates you are satisfied these design elements were fully met.
  1. THE PHYSICAL ENVIRONMENT (Uses NAEYC Standard 9 and 5) from your first observation site.
  • Indoor Design. RATING: _____.
  • Outdoor Design. RATING:  _____.
  • Continuous Supervision. RATING: _____.
  • Sanitation, Nutrition, and Safety Practices. (For this section, provide evidence only on aspects of the standard which were cause for concern.  A rating of 7 and absence of further comment indicates you are satisfied these design elements were fully met) RATING: _____.
  • CONCLUSIONS (Overall impressions of program’s unique features and its strengths and weaknesses, done by stating an overall rating between 1 and 7 for each of the standards areas above and defending it).

Rating System:

      7….. A highly visible strength of the program.

      5…. Multiple sources of evidence visible that the program adequately meets this standard.  Ways in which program could do even better are stated.

      3…. Limited visible evidence of program attention to this area.  Possibly (a) some minor lapses or reasons for concern observed; (b) evidence only available through self-reports.  Possibly an area for program improvement.  Ways in which program falls short and could be improved are clearly articulated.

      1….. A noticeable area for improvement of this program.  Several significant observed lapses or violations of best practices noticed in this area.  Ways in which program falls short and steps to take to improve in this area are provided.

UNK…. Unknown.  No basis upon which to make a positive or negative judgment (Use only if there is no way for you to form a judgment in this area.  Do not use this if there is no visible or anecdotal evidence that this is part of the program).



NARRATIVE 1 EXAMPLE – Physical Environment

ABC Preschool [name changed for privacy] is an inner-city Head start and Community Center. The brick, three story building corners two main roads which are heavily populated with residential and commercial properties. The center houses two Early Head Start classrooms, one-part day Head Start classroom, one Head Start/daycare classroom and the local WIC offices. The center is neatly organized with references, supports and activities for families in multiple languages. Three of the four classrooms are located on the main floor and are separated from the main area by locked doors that only the receptionist has control of. The part day Head Start Program is located on the third floor and the WIC office, staff area and offices are all located on the bottom floor. All floors are accessible by elevator or stairs.

Indoor Design: (Rating 3)

           Classroom 1, a Head Start classroom, serving three four and five-year old’s, is located on the main floor tucked into the right corner of the building. There is one door located to the right of the classroom which is the only form of entrance. There are 6 large rectangular windows on the left and back walls of the classroom, which supplied an ample amount of natural lighting. (9.C.03-9.C.05) The classroom has carpeting that runs vertical throughout the room leaving half the classroom uncarpeted. The areas on the laminate floor are used for meal times, sensory play and art projects. Areas on the laminate floor such as Dramatic play and quiet area/library had large area rugs to make the space cozier.

Each child had their own individual cubby, labeled with their name and supplied with a plastic reusable shopping bag for all their belongings. (9.A.02) There are two sets of cubbies for the children, however they are located on opposite sides of the classroom. A plastic, over the door shoe holder was used as parent mailboxes and the only form of parent communication that was evident. The classroom was set up in a way to support independent center learning by using shelves to section off dramatic play from art areas and so on. While some areas had center signs and signs with the number of children able to play in that area, not all the centers did, making it hard to tell exactly what area was where and the number of children that the area could support.

The classroom had a variety of materials for children to explore and learn with. Each center had four or more options to choose from and each option had a sufficient number of items so that play would not be hindered by lack of materials.  All materials were in good condition and promoted cultural diversity and disabilities through food in the dramatic play area, people in wheel chairs, on crutches and older generations in the block area and puzzles where community helpers are gender neutral. They also had materials for varying difficulties, such as larger markers, right and left handed scissors, puzzles with knobs and assorted manipulatives in different sizes.(9.A.09) Evidence of living things were supported by plants the children are growing and plants throughout the room. They had a large gold fish as a class pet however it was high on a shelf where it was difficult to see.

They also had a bathroom located within the classroom. (9.C.05) Set on the right side of the room is a wall with two large windows and a door cut out to provide supervision of the children but also to create a sense of privacy. The door to the bathroom had a curtain hanging down that hung about a foot off the floor. There are two toilets as well as a vanity for hand washing and extra supplies, as well as shelving attached to the wall to hold extra clothes and towels. Next to the bathroom is an adult sized counter and cabinets used for food service supplies cleaning supplies and first aid supplies. (9.A.01)

During my observation only two areas were occupied, blocks and dramatic play. One child had an accident on the dramatic play area rug and the teachers proceeded to close the area. Then the children scattered to sand table, water table, Playdough and the children from blocks moved into science to play a magnetic game that the teacher took out. There was also a large plastic children’s computer which no longer worked and served as a magnetic board. However, children were dumping the bucket of letters into the storage bench then sticking them to the magnetic board. Teachers occasionally walked over and redirected the children by saying “I don’t think those belong in their can you show me another way to use them?” The child would then clean up the magnets by putting them back into their bucket then walking away from the area.

In conclusion I feel that the lack of organization for parents and children in the classroom made this an un-welcoming environment that was visually over stimulating. Evidence of appreciation of the children’s work was not evident as there were no pictures, or art work hung up. While children moved freely, lack of labeled shelves and buckets made it harder to clean up and promote independence. This would not support standards 9A of the NAEYC standards. The center did support the NAEYC standards for having a variety of materials that support differences in abilities, culture and gender. There are enough materials for all the children and while it was disorganized and cluttered required health and safety posting are hung up and practiced. Having labeled materials, specific area’s for the parents, where they can read postings, policies, and curriculum information as well as posting the children’s work would increase the classrooms score to the next level.

Outdoor Environment: Rating 1

The outdoor play area is surrounded by 10-foot-tall chain link fence and is accessible by emergency doors in the infant toddler rooms as well as by the stair well across the hall from the preschool classroom. (9.B.02) Once outside the building the path to the playground is fenced in to maintain the safety of the children because the walk way borders the parking lot of the postal office next door. Aside from the fence there is a small strip of grass that provides a barrier from one property line to the next. The gate to enter the playground is the same height as the fence with its latch five feet high so the children are unable to reach it.

The playground layout provided constant supervision by sight and sound. (9.B.03) Half of the playground area is covered by a large blue canopy to provide shade and shelter. The ground surface is made up of a rubber surface which covers the entire area.  The playground is surrounded by parking lots on both sides, one being the center’s parking lot and the other being the post office parking lot. Behind the playground was a community playground filled with debris and graffiti. There were no barriers between the community playground and center playground and there is also a car sized gap in between the 3 feet shrubs bordering the center’s parking lot. In this gap there was a large dent in the fence insinuating that a person at one time may have driven up and hit the fence. (9.B.06)

The play area held very little materials for the children. There was an 8ft by 8ft sand box which had extremely low amount of sand. A dozen of tricycles in varying sizes but mostly toddler sizes, helmets which were not being used because they were too wet from the rain earlier in the week, assorted construction trucks, 1 basketball and a basketball hoop. They also had four large cylinders built in to the ground and a xylophone for children to make music. There were three plastic and mesh storage containers which held helmets, large foam blocks which were covered up and an empty storage container covered up that the teachers used to put their materials on. There was also a small area with extra rubber material pieces which held sand, chalk drawings and trucks. An interlocking plastic structure was leaning against the fence which after 30 minutes the children pulled out to build a house. However, lack of stools and time to play created a fight between multiple children. Children were observed yelling “hey that’s my chair give it back” children crying and other children taking the other children’s chair when they weren’t looking. Teacher’s just reminded the children to share. Once the infants come out side teachers said “it’s the babies turn outside we need to clean this up right away.” This direction resulted in tantrums, tears and children refusing to leave the playground because “I wasn’t done” and “I didn’t get a turn.”

In conclusion the playground rating of a one holds true. Materials were not supplied to promote in-depth learning in all areas. Safety was maintained during my observation but the gap in the shrubs where families drive up, is not in compliance with the standards. As well as the concern of confidentiality having open access to view the playground from a public parking lot and playground. Having only one surface type for children also is not supported by NAEYC program standards. There are no natural materials to enjoy and the lack of sand in the sand box promoted play for only one. Staff stated that outdoor play is only 30 minute sessions, as to ensure every classroom has enough time to play, during my observation we were out for forty-five minutes. Leaving the infants and toddlers having to wait by the fence for preschoolers to get ready to leave.

Children remained engaged with teachers and other children however the center would have benefited from more materials, such as bubbles, sand, a small slide or climber and a privacy screen. Policies around First aid kits, water, cups, and daily attendance sheets as well as attention to the weather conditions for asthma children were followed an evident throughout my observation.

Continuous Supervision: Rating 5

The classroom area is set up to provide continuous supervision of all the children at all times. (9.A.04) There were four staff in the classroom the entire time of my observation and 14 preschool children. Staff reported this is standard and at 2:30 staff begin leaving with the children. The design of the classroom where low shelves were used as dividers, larger shelves placed up against the walls and secured created an open floor plan where children could always be seen.(9.A.07) During my observation multiple children had tantrums. Staff remained calm and collected as they sat with the child, used visual supports and supported them in calming down.

Staff was also very engaged in all aspects of my observation. During hand washing and transitions teachers and children were communicating expectations, number of children present and helping those in need. When multiple teachers were occupied with other children and activities one teacher surveyed the children and areas by walking around or standing in place scanning all the areas. Children were excited to see their teacher return from vacation and immediately wanted to show her their new skills (riding a bike, showing off chalk drawings and asking her to build in blocks with them.) They ran up to her and gave her a hug and said “we really missed you.”

Teaching staff used positive language through-out my observation, such as “walking feet,” “I am so proud of you,” “how do you think we can fix this” and “that is a great idea.” There were feeling cards and visual supports with techniques to calm their bodies, ways to solve problems and reminders of the rules hanging on each of the walls to ensure easy access to materials while maintaining supervision at all times.

Children were divided into two circle times based on age, however during my observation a 4-year-old went to sit in on the three-year-old circle, instead of redirecting this child they engaged him in the circle and gave him a job of helping the teacher to come up with ideas for the younger kids.  This child also wanted to sit in a chair and not on the floor like his peers. This too was also accepted. The older children’s circle had the same set up where children had jobs and interacted in the story being read and songs being sung. There are two teachers placed in each circle so that if there is a behavior that needs to be addressed the teacher conducting circle time does not have to stop and correct the behavior. This supports children being able to learn in an uninterrupted environment. (9.A.12)

In Conclusion there were many ways in which continuous supervision was obtained through out my observation. Teachers engaging in transitions, having calm down techniques readily available, and communicating with children and staff made the team work really well together. No harsh judgment or punishment was evident, and children and teachers enjoyed each other’s company by laughing, talking and playing together.  The classroom set up while lacking organization, supported supervision by having low shelving units, ensuring children were not able to find a place to hide, and by having a variety of inviting materials for children to be engaged with also supported the standards. I would recommend to better their supervision scores would be to remove the curtain hanging in the bathroom door, as well as using mirrors in the corners of the room. This would make supervision easier when engaging with children on their level.


Sanitation, Nutrition, and safety practices: (Rating 5)

The program followed all health and safety practices regarding health services such as asthma, allergies, physicals, dental exams and injury and illness concerns. (5.A.01) These practices were evident through postings about children’s asthma and allergies next to the food serve and first aid areas. They were in compliance with having policies and procedures for fire and evacuation drills, medical emergencies as well as lock down and evacuation drills by having policy and procedures posted as well as visual postings such as maps of the building with clearly labeled exits and paths to exit the building. Evidence of cleaning and sanitation were evident through documentation and my observation. Staff wiped down table surfaces with a cleaning solution called “Steramine” and paper towels.  Nutritious foods were provided through a catering company in conjunction with federal nutrition guidelines and prepared and served by trained staff. Disposable materials such as gloves, diapers, wipes, plastic utensils, napkins and paper towels were used throughout the day. All hazard materials are stored out of reach from the children in clearly labeled bottles. Staff also carried fully stocked first aid bags with them to the playground and had a specific labeled place to put the bag in the classroom.  Children also had updated emergency cards that were kept in the emergency bags. (9.C.10)

In conclusion the center met NAEYC guidelines in the areas of health and safety. Postings about fire drills, evacuation drills and health and safety policies were posted around the room, however the center would have benefited from having a clear place for families to locate the information. Children with food allergies are provided an equally healthy meal that meets FDA guidelines. (5.B.05) Children washed hands regularly during transitions from indoors and outdoors, after sensory play activities and after using the bathroom or blowing their nose. (5.A.09) Staff wore gloves when cleaning up a urinary accident on the rug. She kept the area blocked off, to limit exposure to the chemical and urine while she cleaned it. After she finished cleaning she disposed of the gloves and washed her hands as well. (5.C.02) The center would benefit from teachers washing hands during transitions as well, having a clearly defined parent area and sanitizing sinks in between handwashing transitions and bath rooming.


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