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Enabling Environments: Space for movement

Central to the business of supporting child-led movement play is the environments we create. Do they invite and support movement, or restrict and contain it? Read about how this Manager re-looked at both the inside and outside environments at her setting and led substantial changes in the way the team thought about the environments …

Manager, Children’s Centre, Oxfordshire

I manage a brand new Children’s Centre in Oxfordshire. Before I went on the DMP Certificate Course I was planning to use couches and chairs to create the welcoming atmosphere of a comfy living room for the centre. But the course revolutionised my thinking about creating spaces for children and families. I realised the importance of having clear floor space so I went back and got rid of much of the furniture, changing the plans to encourage a different sort of enabling environment. 

Changes to the environment 

Together we: 

  • removed 60% of the chairs, (one a week, so people didn’t notice). 

  • de–cluttered the environment, recycled plastic toys and replaced them with natural materials

  • removed all baby containers, bouncers, bumbos, car seats and rockers and substituted soft nests and cushions - happy babies are now free to wave and stretch

  • created a movement area

  • displayed DMP posters to help parents and carers understand the importance of letting their children experiment physically

  • created a large comfortable area in the middle of the children’s centre room for group music/ singing sessions

  • created a messy play session – Gloop - for the under two’s 

I want to make clear plans for Developmental Movement Play without imposing restrictive structures. That is an ongoing challenge and takes time. We look at how we can be helpful adults supporting child-led movement and spontaneous play – being more relaxed about children running and moving. 

The garden 

Outside, too, we aim to keep the space uncluttered. The garden is landscaped to create open grass space, a grassy slope and mound, a soft play arch and a sunken sandpit, with a sound system and props for DMP. There is always a member of staff in the garden with the children. Dipping toes in the walk-in sand pit is popular, even with parents and carers who are more reluctant to get involved. Some children have never felt sand between their toes or crawled on grass. 


I notice how risk-focussed everybody is. We need to look out for our children, but we must not stop their movement. As children move, they know what they need to do; they are physical beings. Most children can keep themselves, and others, safe. I work to get that message across to parents and carers.  

Responses from users

‘Getting grown-ups on the floor has worked wonders; the dynamic changes if you have children on the floor with adults...’

Babies and children are enjoying the space, moving freely rather than crashing and banging into furniture as they navigate their way and play. 

Getting grown-ups on the floor has worked wonders; the dynamic changes if you have children on the floor with grown-ups, as opposed to adults sitting round on chairs or standing over their children. Being together on the floor changes the relationship immediately without you having to do anything - both parents and carers and children are more relaxed. 

For some adults spending time on the floor is a challenge; some people find it uncomfortable and some find it hard to get up and down, so we are adaptable. 

We aim to take the DMP approach into people’s homes and encourage families to clear space for moving. I recognise just how much ‘stuff’ we have - in my own home too! 

At our centre the space creates an open and inclusive feel and we have avoided cliques forming which has been very important. I get people to crawl around and recognise what a space looks like to a smaller person. We spend more time on our backs thinking about what the ceiling looks like and we are always turning fabric upside down to see what it looks like from below! 

I believe in having an environment that looks very inviting to the eye; so that people feel physically lifted - feel better - when they walk in. 

Visitors are very impressed with how our centre looks and feels. 

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