How Do You Set Up Your Environment?

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Ask Melinda is a Playvolution HQ column offering thoughtful answers to family child care questions written by Melinda Marshall.

Your questions, comments, and answers are welcome in the comment section at the end of the post.

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This week’s question:

How do you set up your environment?


That’s a great question! For years, I poured over pictures online of other providers’ environments swooning over the fancy furniture and beautifully set up materials. As time has gone by, I’ve come to realize that its not about the size of the space in our programs, but the relationships built within them.

We need to remember that the whole point of family childcare is to keep the idea of being a family in our programs. Our homes are not meant to look like classrooms or catalogs, nor should they. It is important that our home feels like an extension of not only the child’s own home, but should be warm, relaxed, comfortable, open and inviting to the parents as well.

That being said, here are a few things I like to keep in mind when setting up my environment:


Research has shown that an overcrowded highly decorated and brightly colored room can over stimulate children. I like to use calm neutral colors and natural wood furniture. Most of the décor on the walls is the children’s own artwork, which gives them a sense of belonging.


I want our environment to be as home like as possible. We use rugs and pillows to soften the room. Light is usually natural from the windows, but soft warm table and pole lamps are preferred over harsh overhead fluorescent lights. Strands of twinkle lights are hung throughout the year and add a touch of whimsy. Plants and photos of the children also add an element of home to the environment.

Placement Of Materials

Materials are stored in areas that are easily accessible to the children and not overcrowded. Materials are allowed to travel throughout the room and can be used for multiple purposes. Our environment includes all of the typical things…books, blocks, dress up and dramatic play, art and writing materials, and lots of loose parts. Toys are open ended, mostly made from natural materials, and are not flashy, noisy, or battery operated. 

Sense Of Smell

When I think back to my own childhood, certain smells evoke many warm and happy memories. Research has shown that scent is the closest sense linked to memory and has a strong influence on the emotions we feel. A stew or soup bubbling away on the stove, warm baked cookies, citrus and cinnamon, vanilla, lavender, fresh linen, and even the smell of art materials such as crayons, paint and pencils happen to be some of my favorites smells from my own childhood. I would suggest that when you think about how to set up your environment, you consider the important role your sense of smell plays in both the children and your own day-to-day activities, emotions, and memories.

I now have a separate playroom, but in our first home the childcare was directly in with our personal living space. It takes a bit of creativity to incorporate both together, but it certainly can be done. We can explore that more in another post.  

At the end of the day children aren’t going to remember how big or fancy your house was, or how perfect you had it set up. What they’re going to remember most is how you (and your home) made them feel.


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Owner at Mountaintop Family Child Care

Melinda lives in Upstate New York and is owner of her home based program, Mountaintop Family Childcare.

She has been a family child care provider for over 18 years and worked with children for over 27 years. Her program offers relationship based care that includes many aspects of farm life and nature/forest school with PLAY at the center of all they do. She firmly believes in slowing down childhood and allowing children to develop at their own pace.

Melinda believes family childcare programs offer unique settings that have much to offer to the early learning world. She strongly supports family providers in keeping a home like atmosphere in their programs. Backed by research, she continuously advocates for children's right to play.

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Ann M Smith
Ann M Smith

Great article! Agree whole-heartedly!


Outstanding post! Smell is one we don’t think of often. Thank you!