3 Ideas for Creating Nurturing Spaces for Seclusion in the Early Childhood Classroom

Sandra duncan author spotlight blog header

Sometimes early childhood classrooms can be noisy and overstimulating to young children, leading to challenging behaviors, and decreased engagement and learning. Sandra Duncan—coauthor of Through a Child’s Eyes: How Classroom Design Inspires Learning and Wonder—compares the early childhood classroom to Times Square and explains why young children need comforting, secluded spaces where they can refresh and regroup just like adults do! Here are her 3 ideas for creating nurturing spaces of seclusion in the early childhood classroom, away from the hubbub and the noise.

Have you ever been to Time Square? It's quite a busy place, isn't it? Especially on New Year’s Eve! Even when it's not New Year's Eve, Time Square can be a real assault on your senses. It's filled with bright colors, loud noises, tires screeching, and horns blaring. It's got lots of interesting smells, blinking and neon lights all over the place, and of course, crowded sidewalks. 

Hi there. I'm Dr. Sandra Duncan and I'm co-author of a Gryphon House book called Through a Child's Eyes: How Classroom Design Inspires Learning and Wonder. I'm all about designing inspiring environments for young children. 

Think about your typical early childhood classroom. It's a lot like Times Square, isn’t it? It's noisy. It's overcrowded. There's fluorescent lights glaring from above. There's bright colors. There's lots of conditions and the elements of an early childhood classroom that are very similar to Times Square. 

There's one difference, however, between Times Square and a classroom. The difference is, as an adult, you can get away from Times Square. You can get away from the chaos, the noise, the smells, and everything that's happening on that crowded sidewalk. You can get away from it! All you have to do is step into a restaurant. Maybe if you're a tourist, you can go back to your hotel for a nap. You can step inside a department store. You can go to the city park. There's lots and lots of options that you can do as an adult to get away from the hustle and bustle of Times Square. 

But a child on the other hand is unable to escape a classroom. A child is unable to escape the busyness and the noise—the overwhelming chaotic environment day in, day out, week in, week out, month in, month out, and so on. You get the point. They are forced to stay within that chaotic environment. They have no other choice. Their responses to this chaotic environment are often increased challenging and negative behaviors, and decreased engagement, focus, and of course, learning. 

Indeed, classroom environments are important because they send messages of emotional stability, emotional security, and safety. These messages have become especially important after COVID-19. One of the most basic emotional development needs of the human spirit is opportunity for seclusion—the chance to go back to your hotel room for a nap, getting out of the chaos of Time Square. Children need to have the opportunity just like adults to be alone for even a few precious seconds, to be able to take time away from the hubbub of the classroom. 

Whether they know it or not, children at some point need a chance to rewind, refresh, and regroup, just like an adult. Yet the opportunity for seclusion in early childhood classrooms is pretty rare. It's one of the vastly overlooked elements of classroom design. 

We have lots and lots of excuses for not providing seclusion in our classrooms. We might say, “Oh my gosh, we don't have enough room. We have limited space! I don't hardly have enough room to get all the required learning centers in and yet alone, a place for seclusion.”  We might not believe that there's enough space in our room to dedicate to a type of space like seclusion. Or we might feel, “Gee! I want to be able to see every child every second of the day! So therefore, I don't think this seclusion idea is a good idea.” It also might be because of our lack of equipment. If you look in early childhood classroom catalogs with furniture, there's really not much out there in terms of furniture design for seclusion. But regardless of the reasons why we don't include seclusion areas in our classroom, it needs to be a very, very important element of our classroom design. So I've got three ideas for helping you create places of seclusion. 

1. Rethink Your Space

The first idea is to rethink your space. Just critically look around at the size of each and every learning center that you have. Now think about the children's usage of that center. Based on the amount of furniture in the particular space and the number of children using that furniture, is there too much square footage that has been dedicated to that space? How about the idea of stealing a few square feet from a larger center and allocating that stolen space to a smaller destination of refuge? 

2. Scrounge Your Space

Idea number two is to scrounge your space. Stand in the middle of your classroom and just look around. Are there any unoccupied spaces, like an empty wall? What could you do with this empty wall to make it a place of solitude? You might think, “Wow, I don't have the slightest idea what to do!” But could you find a sturdy laundry basket, add a small pillow in the basket, and add a flimsy piece of cloth so the child can get in the basket and throw the cloth over his head? This will just make him feel that he's in a place of solitude. 

Or how about taking off the door of a closet and in the lower part of the closet, perhaps there's a space that you can create for a child to be alone. Add cozy elements for snuggling up. Even if it's in the bottom of a closet, it makes a perfect place. You can even add a battery powered light that the child can flip on as he goes into that small snugly space. 

3. Reimagine Your Space

Idea number three is to reimagine your space. Try considering this idea of what I call “topsy-turvy furniture” as a way of reimagining your space. For example, could you turn a small table upside down and drape a flimsy piece of cloth over the four legs? This is instant refuge and instant seclusion! 

Got an extra crib hanging out in the storage closet that you're never going to use in the infant room? What about sawing the four legs off from the crib, turning the crib on its side, adding some lounge-chair cushions, adding a few pillows, and of course, adding some books to make it a terrific place for solitude for one child? You could also drape some flimsy material over the top and on the sides of the crib for an extra sanctuary effect.

Reducing the chaotic effect of Times Square in your classroom can have a dramatic impact on children, especially the emotional impact of safety and of security and of emotional stability.  Start now by creating at least one place where children can find solace. Thank you.

ORIGNAL POST: https://www.gryphonhouse.com/resources/3-ideas-for-creating-nurturing-spaces-for-seclusion-in-the-early-childhood

NAEYC 2022 Washington D.C.

Play it Forward Podcast

I was recently a guest on the Wearthy Podcast, learn more about this podcast below and you can listen to what we talked about with the two links.

Listen on Spotify here.

Listen on iTunes here.

A Wearthy Podcast

Hosted by Playground Designer, TEDx speaker and Founder of Wearthy; Lukas Ritson, Play it Forward is an educational podcast about the importance of play. With the increase of technological advancement, it has never been harder to get kids playing outside.

Lukas interviews leading early education experts and play advocates to chat about how the next generation is being formed by play (and a lack of play).

Play It Forward is full of practical takeaways for parents and early educators to support children in feeling fulfilled in their childhood and confident about their future - a future that is theirs and to which they can contribute.

2nd international conference on Nature-Based Early Childhood Education and Care

Nature Play and Sustainable Development

Learn more about 2022 NBECEC

How can environmental sustainability be viewed as a broad pedagogical approach to creating environments and experiences that, on the one hand, promote young children's learning and development, and on the other hand, foster their sense of purpose in maintaining and improving their natural and social environments? How can children grow up to be responsible and responsible citizens of the planet without placing heavy environmental issues on their shoulders?

In order to deepen the discussion on these issues, the conference gathered 15 scholars and educators to answer these questions from different perspectives.

SAVE 10% on conference full access with code: SANDRA


Why Join the 2022 NBECEC International Conference?

Who Attends the NBECEC International Conference?

The event is attended by early years educators and managers who are interested in or already bring nature into their daily practice, as well as representatives of for-profit and non-profit organizations, research institutions, and government agencies.


SAVE 10% on conference full access with code: SANDRA


Better Learning Podcast

Sandra DuncanInspiring Spaces for Young Children
Our seventeenth episode in the Season features Sandra Duncan, an international consultant, author of six books focused on the environmental design of early childhood places, designer of two furniture collections called Sense of Place and Sense of Place for Wee Ones, and adjunct faculty at Nova Southeastern University.Sandra works to assure the miracle and magic of childhood through indoor and outdoor play spaces that are intentionally designed to connect young children to their early learning environments, communities, and neighborhoods.Sandra has designed and taught university courses on built learning environments and has collaborated with architects, interior designers, and educators to create extraordinary places and possibilities for children and students of all ages.
Kevin Stoller is the host of the Better Learning Podcast and Co-Founder of Kay-Twelve, a national leader for educational furniture. Learn more about creating better learning environments at www.Kay-Twelve.com.

How to Support Movement, Play, and Belonging for Toddlers in Your Classroom

How to Support Movement, Play, and Belonging for Toddlers in Your Classroom

Monday, July 18, 2022 @ 2:00 pm - 3:00 pm EDT

How to Support Movement, Play, and Belonging for Toddlers in Your Classroom

Presented by Sandra Duncan, Ed.D., International Consultant on Environments for Young Children, Nova Southeastern University
Moderated by Raven Griffin, Marketing Manager, Kaplan Early Learning Company

Sponsored by Kaplan Early Learning Company

Watch the Recording

Learn more about viewing the live presentation and the recording, earning your CE certificate, and using our new accessibility features.

Are you needing inspiration for how to set up your toddler classroom? Watch renowned author and international early learning environment consultant, Dr. Sandra Duncan, as she shares easy-to-implement ideas for designing a classroom that supports movement, play, and belonging.

Toddlers, or wee ones, are compelled to move! They happily move about the classroom while they carry and place (sometimes with no apparent destination), devise unique ways to use materials and equipment, climb to different levels on the furniture and apparatus, and transport all kinds of items from one side of the room to the other. As a result, toddlers need an environment that supports their innate play patterns and encourages physical and cognitive development.

In this edWebinar, Dr. Duncan discusses the research and theory to consider when designing a toddler early learning environment. She also provides practical examples and resources to empower viewers to create inspiring spaces for wee ones. Viewers learn the following:

This recorded edWebinar is of interest to teachers of toddler classrooms as well as school and district leaders.

Dr. Sandra Duncan

About the Presenter

Childhood is fleeting—it’s such a short time in a person’s life but an extremely important time in a child’s life. Dr. Sandra Duncan’s vision is to preserve the miracle and magic of childhood through indoor and outdoor play space environments. She is an international consultant, author of seven books focused on the environmental design of early childhood places, designer of two furniture collections called Sense of Place and Sense of Place for Wee Ones, and adjunct faculty at Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Duncan has designed and taught university courses on built early learning environments, collaborating with architects, interior designers, and educators to create extraordinary places and possibilities for children and students of all ages.

Raven Griffin

About the Moderator

Raven Griffin is a Classroom Management for Early Learning edWebinar and community host. Raven is the marketing manager for Kaplan Early Learning Company with a passion for early education and advocacy.

Learn more about viewing the live presentation and the recording, earning your CE certificate, and using our new accessibility features.

Join the Classroom Management for Early Learning community to network with educators, participate in online discussions, receive invitations to upcoming edWebinars, and view recordings of previous programs to earn CE certificates.

Orignal Post HERE

2022 Free to Play Summit!

4-Day Guided Virtual Experience With:

You don’t need another summit of 30+ talking heads.

It’s Time For Something More.

For the Educators, Directors, and Parents Who Want to Take the Frustration, Overwhelm, and Guesswork Out of Play-Based Learning.

MAY 14-17, 2022


Early bird pricing until April 8th 2022.

Register HERE

Lunch time webinar series

Reclaiming children’s loss of habitat by rethinking classroom design

In the April issue of Parenta Magazine I have an article on Page 6 and 7 covering the topic of reclaiming children loss of habitat by rethinking classroom design. Take a look at the small excerpt below, and use the link at the bottom of the article to see the full story at Parenta Magazine.

Loss of habitat for wild species

Loss of habitat for nature’s wild species is a worldwide threat. The lakes, forests, swamps, plains, and other habitats which plants, fungi, and animals call home are disappearing at an alarming rate. With every passing day, the list of endangered and threatened animals continues to mount. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species estimates there are more than 40,000 threatened wild species such as amphibians, mammals, birds, and sharks. Even more disturbing is that some wild species (i.e. Northern White Rhinoceros, Splendid Poison Frog) are no longer threatened but have succumbed to extinction. Much of this loss is because of human activity. Natural habitats are being destroyed with bulldozers ploughing down forests, highways being built in wetlands, and pollution disrupting the natural rhythms of nature including migration, propagation, and finding food and water.

The good news is that many believe habitat loss is reversible and it is within our capabilities and power to rebuild nature’s ecosystems. On a national level, for example, organizations such as River Partners are helping to restore floodplains in California by using the latest developments in science and technology. On a local level, the National Wildlife Federation recommends creating a Certified Wildlife Habitat  in your community or backyard or, even better yet, outside the classroom door.

Look for the April 2022 Issue to read more!

Colorado State University Early Childhood Center

Colorado State University Early Childhood Center

Spring Professional Educator Series
with Author:Dr. Sandra Duncan

“The Honey Comb Hypothesis: A Fresh Perspective on How We Ones Learn”
When: Thursday, March 10, 2022 10:00am -11:30am

“Balancing the Classroom Canoe”
When: Thursday, March 10, 2022 1:40-3:15pm

“Shelves More than Furniture”
When: Friday, March 11, 2022 1:30pm - 3:00pm

With over 46 years of experience, Dr. Sandra Duncan has a wide and varied background in early care and
education. She has extensive experience in working with young children and their parents, teaching at the
university level, designing professional development programs for practitioners, and authoring several books.
Dr. Duncan is an international consultant and designer of two furniture collections called Sense of Place and
Sense of Place for Wee Ones.

The CSU Early Childhood Center is honored to have Dr. Duncan join us for this wonderful educator event.