Article Three Summary: Planning Environments And Materials That Respond To Young Children’s Lively Minds The Assignment Summarize the article by answering

Article Three Summary: Planning Environments And Materials That Respond To Young Children’s Lively Minds The Assignment

Summarize the article by answering the three questions listed below. Each question should have an answer that has a minimum of 7 sentences. Please make sure you read the statement on Plagiarism. Also, do not copy and paste the article – that is plagiarism.  Title must be included 

NAEYC Young Children, November 2013  Planning_Environments _1_.pdf Planning_Environments _1_.pdf – Alternative Formats  

(If you have difficulty accessing this pdf, contact your instructor for assistance)

After reading the article, answer the following questions:

1. What is the main focus of the article? What did you learn about planning appropriate environments?

2. What are three principles for planning environments and choosing materials?

3. Using the strategies/ideas from question two, how would you use them in your classroom?

Grading Criteria

Maximum points are given when length of 3 paragraphs,minimum of 7 sentences in each, is met and content summarizes key strategies to use with young children and families. Title must be included

20 points – Three paragraphs are included, each paragraph has a minimum of seven sentences

20 points – First paragraph summarizes the main focus of the article

30 points – Second paragraph summarizes three strategies from the article

30 points – Third paragraph gives specific strategies/ideas you will use when working with young children.

Points are deducted for errors in grammar and spelling.  Also noted is clarity of the summary and students comprehension of the content. D
uring our many years working as
teachers of young children, teacher
educators, and colleagues offer-
ing professional activities together
as Harvest Resources associates

(, we have come to admire
toddlers’ avid curiosity, determination, bigheart-
edness, and delight in engaging with people
and the world around them. From our review of
current research about the learning capacities of
children under age 3, we realize that the eager-
ness toddlers have for almost every encounter
is no accident, and we took it upon ourselves to
study more about them.

Research confirms that during the toddler
years children experience one of the most sig-
nificant periods of development and learning.
Children under age 3 have exceptionally flexible

brains that allow them to hear more, see more,
and experience more than adults. Their enhanced
learning abilities reflect special features in their
brains that make them more conscious than
adults. They also innately approach learning in
the same way scientists do, using the scientific
method to experiment and analyze the results
of what they discover. When toddlers use their
brains well, through focused, sustained activity,
their potential is enormous (Gopnik 2009).

Some materials limit exploration
Many times, the environments and materi-
als offered to toddlers emphasize health and
safety. While health and safety are important,
an overemphasis on these features can limit the
possibilities for richer experiences of explora-
tion, collaboration, and learning. Some commonly

26 n Young Children September 2013

Planning Environments and Materials
That Respond to Young Children’s
Lively Minds

Deb Curtis,
Kasondra L.
Brown, Lorrie
Baird, and Anne
Marie Coughlin


That Engage
and Inspire


, 3
, 9

A study guide
for this article is
available online at

Photos courtesy of
the authors.

used materials provide few opportunities that engage chil-
dren in the complex ways their lively minds deserve. Most
toys chosen for use in child care settings have hard, plastic,
unyielding surfaces that adults can easily sanitize. Toddler
toys frequently teach simple concepts like color and shape
or have a cause-and-effect component, such as a button or
knob that beeps or lights up. Children might accidentally
discover this feature or adults show them what it does.
Once children figure out the minimal uses for these ob-
jects, there is not much else to challenge their lively minds.

Implied in the use of such materials may be the view of
some educators that toddlers have limited capabilities or
inner resources and require overstimulating experiences to
stay interested in an activity or toy. Instead, what if we rec-
ognize and provide for toddlers’ dynamic brains and their
capacity for seeing and using materials in boundless ways?
What if, rather than thinking of materials as a way to teach
or entertain toddlers, we are eager to see the extraordinary
discoveries they make?

There is much for us to learn about translating research
into practices for offering out-of-the-ordinary materials
to toddlers. We strongly support the health, safety, and
well-being of all children, but in this article, we want to
discuss providing children with fascinating materials
and supervised experiences that engage and challenge
them. We have found that when teachers recognize the
profound nature of toddlers’ learning abilities, they are
excited to provide supervised experiences with interest-
ing and challenging open-ended materials. And they
more willingly tackle the barriers and worries that come
with health and safety standards, as well as overcome the
reluctance to offer messy experiences that take extra effort
to clean up. Instead they come to join in the delight and
discovery with children.

Toddlers and sensory materials
Toddlers’ explorations of materials are filled with small ac-
tions during which they hear and see more than adults do.
Because adults experience the world so differently (Gopnik
2009), seeing the significance of what toddlers are doing
requires that we stop to notice the details of their actions

and try to imagine what they might be thinking. To help
cultivate our ability to see children’s minds at work, we
offered a collection of natural materials—including shells,
wood rounds, and stones in wooden bowls—to a group of
toddlers. We placed the materials on fabric and placemats
to create a visual focus for the children. The materials gave
the toddlers many possibilities for investigating texture,
shape, color, size, weight, light, and sound. The toddlers
manipulated the materials by dumping, filling, and trans-
porting them. We carefully planned this experience, mak-
ing sure we were with the toddlers for the entire activity to
supervise for safety.

A lively mind at work
As we observed 19-month-old Javier, and later studied the
photos of his explorations, we saw evidence of his flexible,
scientific brain at work. Javier eagerly approached the
materials, placing his entire hand inside a wooden bowl
filled with stones, shells, and wood rounds. He carefully
studied each of the objects. He touched the variety of
natural objects and moved them into piles, perhaps notic-
ing the similarities and differences of the items. With a
look of wonder, Javier closely examined the stones he held
in his hands. Next he tapped two stones together. His ac-
tions resulted in clicking sounds. Javier began to immerse
himself in the materials as he placed objects on his head.
He slid the stones down his face and dropped them back
into the bowl.

Next Javier put an insect specimen encased in acrylic
up to his eyes. We wondered if he was exploring its trans-
parent and magnifying properties. Then Javier put the
specimen block to his mouth and moved it around his lips,
tongue, and teeth, perhaps exploring the texture, taste, and
temperature that his other senses did not pick up.

Throughout this experience, Javier used all five senses
and explored the materials in ways we never would have
imagined. He seemed to have a purpose or question for
every action he tried. We took his smallest actions seri-
ously, and were impressed with his deep engagement with
these objects. This motivated us to offer more possibilities
for him to use his abilities to explore and learn.

27September 2013 Young Children n

About the Authors
Deb Curtis, MA, a teacher of adults and children, has coau-
thored several books for early childhood educators, including
Designs for Living and Learning: Transforming Early Childhood
Environments (Redleaf Press).

Kasondra L. Brown, BS, is a consultant and trainer with
Collaborative for Children–United Way Bright Beginnings in
Houston, Texas. Kasondra serves as a coach, mentor, and col-
lege instructor.

Lorrie Baird, RECE (registered early childhood educator), is the
associate executive director of Kawartha Child Care Services

in Peterborough, Ontario. She has been a teacher, program director,
and college faculty member.

Anne Marie Coughlin, ECEC (early childhood educator and certi-
fied), RECE, is program director for London Bridge Child Care Ser-
vices in London, Ontario, and provincial director for the Canadian
Association for Young Children. She is an associate with Harvest

The authors would like to thank teachers Lauren Forcier and
Lachana Fisher, who contributed notes about children engaged in
schema play. n Young Children September 2013

Calling on toddlers’ aesthetic sense
Javier’s meaningful engagement in exploring these materi-
als moved us to expand our definition of sensory experi-
ences, like water play and sand play, to include aesthetics.
Webster’s Dictionary suggests that aesthetic comes from a
Greek word meaning perception. Aesthetic development is
a focused way of knowing and experiencing the world that
involves engaging with the senses. Feelings, processes, and
responses to objects and experiences are heightened, lead-
ing to an appreciation of the beauty found in the world and
allowing us to become totally lost in the moment (Curtis &
Carter 2008). This definition fit Javier’s investigations per-
fectly. Toddlers’ senses are highly attuned to taking in the
sights, sounds, and movements that surround them. Why
not take advantage of their enhanced abilities and design
our environments to create more and varied opportuni-
ties for seeing and discovering the world? With toddlers’
aesthetic senses in mind, we now regularly add pleasing
elements to our learning environments and find that the
children engage with them enthusiastically.

Seeing schemas
As we continued to observe the details of children’s inves-
tigations with interesting materials, we saw more evidence
of their active brains at work and we identified examples
of actions related to other learning theories. The following
observation is an example of children exploring schemas as
identified by child psychologist Jean Piaget. A schema is a
line of thought that is demonstrated by repeated actions and

patterns in children’s play. These repeated actions suggest
that this play is a reflection of inner and specifically di-
rected thoughts. When children explore schemas, they are
building on their understanding of abstract ideas, patterns,
and concepts (van Wijk 2008). Here are some of the sche-
mas Piaget identified as applied to a toddler (Piaget 1969):
n Transporting—Picks things up, moves things, puts

things down, or dumps.
n Transforming—Uses materials to explore changes in

shape, color, consistency, and such.
n Trajectory—Explores the horizontal, vertical, and di-

agonal movement of things and herself. Makes things fly
through the air, moves her own body in these ways.

n Rotation and circulation—Experiments with things
that turn, such as wheels and balls; explores curved lines
and circles.

n Enclosing and enveloping—Surrounds objects with
other things. Moves himself inside a defined area, like a
ring of blocks or a box. Hides, covers, or wraps himself
and other things.

n Connecting—Joins things together and ties things up.
n Disconnecting—Takes things apart, scatters pieces and

parts (van Wijk 2008).
We offered the children a variety of materials, including

balls, ramps, trays, and containers, to invite their investiga-
tion of schemas. The materials, although common, were not
something we had offered to them before in this combina-
tion. Would the children be interested in these items? Would
the small objects be safe for the children to use? Would the
children throw the balls around wildly? Our concerns were



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30 n Young Children September 2013

quickly put to rest when we witnessed the competence and
focus the children brought to this experience.

The children walked into the room with confidence
and quickly made their way to the carpet where we had set
up the materials for play. Without directions or ideas from
the adults, they discovered a multitude of possibilities the
simple materials offered. For nearly an hour the children
explored in the following ways:
n Noticed and repeated the many ways they could make

sounds with the materials
n Negotiated various ways to fill and dump the containers

and tubes
n Used the ramps and tubes to transport balls and other

objects to various places in the room and to send them to
a friend or a teacher

n Balanced the balls to move them back and forth between
the tubes

n Rolled the balls rapidly down the ramps, concentrating on
balancing them to keep them from flying off the ramps

n Manipulated the balls so they were spinning around and
around on the trays

n Observed each other’s ideas and actions and imitated
what they saw one another doing

n Tested new ideas as they observed other children’s ac-
tions, which caused their explorations to evolve, change,
and grow more complicated
We were surprised when we realized that an hour had

passed and the children remained immersed in the play.
Our role was to observe their actions, narrate what we saw,
and help them see each other’s actions. We were also there
to supervise safe use of the materials, but we were surprised
to note that none of us had to intervene in this way.

While watching the toddlers play, we realized that their
actions—including some we previously prohibited—had a
significance we had never noticed before. For example, be-
cause we understood that making things move and fly is the
trajectory schema, we found ways to support the children’s
work with the concept. When toddlers use their adaptable
brains to explore, they are learning unlimited possibilities
for how the world can be. They consider and act on count-
less unconventional ideas that can alarm or delight us. This
is the gift young children bring to the world and to us. As
they grow older they will put all they have discovered to
use—to invent what has yet to be imagined or perhaps to
solve the serious problems of our time (Gopnik 2009).

Principles for planning environments and
choosing materials
Through our observations, we developed principles that we
turn to again and again as we strive to ensure our practices
engage children’s capabilities (Curtis & Carter 2003).

Offer materials in careful combinations and collec-
tions. Find open-ended and unusual materials at unusual

sources, such as garden
stores, garage sales, or thrift
stores. Here are some items to
n Wooden trays, bowls, mas-

sage balls, spools
n Faux fur and fabric pieces

with different colors and
textures (soft, shaggy,
sheer, shiny)

n Tubes, balls, and contain-
ers with lids

n Natural items, such as sea-
shells, pinecones, rocks,
gourds, dried flowers,
twigs, and pods

n Coaster sets, napkin rings,
hair curlers, paper towel
tubes, and candle holders

n Light-reflecting and colorful objects (flashlights, color
paddles, prisms, and other translucent, shiny objects)
Explore materials for their possibilities before

offering them to children. This will help you see what the
children may find engaging.

Display materials in an orderly, enticing way. Place them
on a particular rug or mat to create a visual focus and to
signify a time for play.

Provide ample time and space for a small group
(4 or 5 children) to play with the materials. Don’t hurry or
offer ideas too soon. Some children may need more time to
begin their investigations or to see more possibilities. It
is best if children work at their own pace and learn from
each other.

Sit nearby to supervise. Be sure to take an interest in
what the children are doing as they work.

Offer descriptions and narrations of what you see
unfolding. What you give attention to supports children’s
interests and communicates to them that their pursuits
have value. Avoid dictating, controlling, or directing.

Observe children to learn their interests and
points of view. Use these questions to guide your
n What are the children drawn to about the materials—

textures, shapes, colors, weight, size, or combinations?
n How do the materials support the children’s focus and

purposeful actions so they stay with a particular investi-
gation for an hour or more?

n How do the children manipulate the materials to learn
about them? What actions reflect the children’s flexible
brains and learning capabilities?

n What possible experiments and theories are the chil-
dren working on?

Materials for Supervised

To enhance toddlers’ incredible potential, we plan experiences and offer materials for children to use when pursuing their instinctive and extensive
approaches to learning. The following are examples
of materials we offer toddlers for their supervised

n A collection of mirrors, metal containers, bracelets,
jewels, and jewelry holders gives children oppor-
tunities to explore enclosing and enveloping, as
well as rotation and circularity (experimenting with
how things turn and spin); the mirrors’ reflections
and the shiny objects appeal to children’s aesthetic

n Textured tiles and shiny wooden wedges encour-
age children to connect and disconnect the items
in rows and lines, possibly using shape, color, and
size as references

n Bamboo cove molding, plastic troughs, and balls,
spools, and other objects that roll invite children to
explore trajectory in a focused way

n Colorful bracelets, round containers with lids, and
paper towel holders provide children with opportu-
nities to explore rotation and circularity

n Colored water in small containers, pipettes, and
ice cube trays invite children to explore transform-
ing and transporting as they change the color
of the water and move it from the bowls to the
pipettes and then into ice cube trays

n Gak and Flubber (homemade), along with a wire
rack, intrigue children when they discover their
ability to transform these magical substances

September 2013 Young Children n

When we offer meaningful materials to children and study
the details of their actions to identify the significance they
hold, we become intellectually engaged with children in
their pursuits. We understand the role we play in provid-
ing vital materials and opportunities to explore and learn.
Every day teachers witness complex learning and potential
in the children they work with.

We invite you to offer a collection of unusual learning
materials to toddlers. Notice the way they immerse them-
selves in the rich and magical world around them. Appreci-
ate the flexible thinking and skills children use in their ex-
ploration and discovery. Share in the joy of being alert and
alive. If we open ourselves to it, we learn from children to
see and experience the world in new and wondrous ways!


Curtis, D., & M. Carter. 2003. Designs for Living and Learning: Trans-
forming Early Childhood Environments. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf.

Curtis, D., & M. Carter. 2008. Learning Together With Young Children: A
Curriculum Framework for Reflective Teachers. St. Paul, MN: Redleaf.

Gopnik, A. 2009. The Philosophical Baby: What Children’s Minds Tell Us
About Truth, Love, and the Meaning of Life. New York: Farrar, Straus,
& Giroux.

Piaget, J., & B. Inhelder. [1969] 2000. The Psychology of the Child. New
York: Basic Books.

van Wijk, N. 2008. Getting Started With Schemas: Revealing the Wonder-
Full World of Children’s Play. New Lynn, Waitakere, Auckland: The
New Zealand Playcentre Federation.

Copyright © 2013 by the National Association for the Education of Young Chil-
dren—1313 L Street NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20005. See Permissions and
Reprints online at


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