Changing Spaces: Focus and simplify learning in continuous provision areas

I have decided to write another post about the wider curriculum and classroom organisation. Over the years I have posted a few times about my classroom spaces and provision as it adds a bit of flavour to the technology focus of my blog. It shows another side to my work.  


I always look to Alistair Bryce-Clegg for inspiration, he is a one-stop-shop for all things early years. Not only does Alistair share great ways of working, his recommendations are well within the reach of all early years settings. They are cheap, sometimes free, and every time his ideas are effective! Alistair’s post Creating an Environment to Provoke Learning gave me the confidence and vision to go ahead and put all my energy in to redesigning our areas.

“As a class teacher, when it came to my environment less was definitely not more! In fact more was more with a bit more chucked in for good measure!” writes Alistair.

This half term has seen a huge overhaul of our Foundation Unit and a massive step towards focusing our learning environment and simplifying the way children approach it.  For me, Alistair’s post gave these four priorities:

1) Effective use of display and displaying resources effectively

do our displays focus the children’s eyes on the content we want them to see? We are training our children to use the working walls further up school, so how are our walls working for Foundation children?

2) Provoke the learning behaviours we want to see

do the spaces in our unit provoke the learning behaviours we want to see? Do they display the resources on offer in an appealing way? How do our spaces invite harder to reach pupils over, are the resources catching their eyes from a far?

3) Personalised content to learn from

are our resources and displays personal to the children? do the resources and content displayed make sense to them?

4) Focus and Simplify (and this one is a great lesson learned from being an Apple Distinguished Educator!)

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do” Steve Jobs

“People think focus means saying yes to things you have to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that are there. You have to pick carefully” Steve Jobs

“Simplicity is not the absence of clutter, that’s a consequence of simplicity. Simplicity is somehow essentially describing the purpose and place of an object and product.” Jony Ive

achieving focus and simplicity means cutting those parts that you really, truly love. It means letting go of something that is important to you, because it is distracting others. This project has seen us let go of some many things we thought we loved, like printed dangly number fish and astronaut themed literacy resources, coloured display paper and debating which border/backing paper combination we should use next term.

Alistair explains “as full of colour and pattern and dangly things [my environment] was what I now realise is that when it comes to creating an effective learning space it was RUBBISH. That is not a statement based on personal preference, it is a statement based on the facts of how developing eyes and brains work and how they process the environments around them.” 

Now that we display colour through resources on suspended branches, our children’s eyes can focus on the content we want them to see on the walls.


Eye Level is My Level

A more focused and simplified learning environment is the outcome of this project. Including the children in the content we display, ensuring the content and resources on offer stand out from everything else and following the golden rule ‘eye level is my level’ is proving that our environment now enables effective use of what is on offer in those spaces.

Take a look around, and remember, we spent a maximum of £12.50 to achieve this: parcel paper, a few garden canes, ‘S’ hooks, artificial ivy and potted herbs. The areas of textured wood paper are print outs from images online too.

Water and Malleable Play:



Effective and interesting ways to display work:

We have had a bad relationship with these cupboard doors, and covered them in all kinds of wrapping paper and colours to make them “more appealing”. After removing hundreds of staples, they are now looking the best they ever had, because what we display now stands out!

The Marvellous Me squares give children their first sense that their work is displayed on the wall, we have used these since September and they remain a strong focus in our unit. Black and white backgrounds, wood and brick effect paper and parcel wrap make great backgrounds as displayed content becomes the real focus.


The Maker Space

A real size home corner. this has been a great place to observe talk, with provoking images that can be changed displayed on vintage style (printed) frames. A comfy place to get fresh fruit or water, and a transition place from outdoors to indoors.

Mark Making and Writing: writing and mark making tools are also available in other areas (construction, maths mats, maker space, role play and outdoors)

An example of personalised display is pictured here, with children’s photographs displayed with the letter which represents that sound. We also capitalised on World Book Day costumes and added their character photographs to the initial sounds on the display. This personalised phonics display is of course at child eye level, with the adult’s eye level seeing targets and progress notes in Literacy.

DSC_0314 IMG_3233

Construction and Block Play:    

The Maths Mat:  an example of a personalised display for number. Children are holding Numicon pieces and representing numbers on their fingers. Children display their work here on peg lines, and with a neutral background their work really stands out. Observations and notes on maths progress are shared higher up for practitioners.


This has been a huge project which has taken around 2 weeks of labour and 4 week of planning and discussion. I could not have achieved it without the support from a great early years team in our unit. There’s still a lot of tweaking and work to be done on other areas of the unit, so these are just a few highlights of our success so far.

“It is a fine balance between creating an ‘interesting’ space and creating a ‘busy’ space. I am not entirely sure I have got the balance right yet – but it is the sort of thing that you have to live with and play around with once the children are in situ.” reflects Alistair and I agree, there are always tweaks that need to be made.

Finally I want to thank Alistair for his dedication to sharing best practise on his blog, and being there to chat to during this project. If you haven’t already booked a conference of his, you absolutely must. He’s a very entertaining and engaging speaker as well as knowledgable and practical!

4 thoughts on “Changing Spaces: Focus and simplify learning in continuous provision areas

  1. Looking good:) I had a similar ‘revelation’ reading the same post. It helped to bring a lot of thinking back together. I have a very specific part of my room which isn’t covered by sensors so thats where I get to hang things.. so jealous you can hang so much! Wonderful, James

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