One of the aspects of starting a home child care or preschool that can be the most intimidating is transforming your home into a nurturing and enriching learning environment. From home child care setup and design to materials to keeping it all within a budget, it can be a challenge to successfully convert your home into a learning space.

We often hear concerns like…

“I live in a small apartment and can’t visualize how it could be a classroom”

“I don’t understand how I could make my living room function as both a living space for my family and a classroom”

and

“I want to do most of my program outside but I’m not sure how”

So in this post, we’ll address all of these concerns. You’ll also get to peek inside three Wonderschool partners’ homes for setup inspiration.

Preschool setup ideas for homes of all shapes and sizes

You can turn your home into a preschool or child care no matter the shape or size. Whether you live in an apartment or single family home, there are options for your space.

Separate the space into interest areas

You’ll want to start by separating your space into different interest areas. For example, we recommend starting with a block construction corner, dramatic/symbolic play corner, manipulative corner, and child sanctuary/literacy library.

You can use rugs and shelving or storage units to separate the spaces.

Literacy library corner design in home preschool
The literacy library corner in Little Scholars Preschool

Related: Design an Enriching Home Preschool Environment: 4 ‘Interest Areas’ to Include


Storage

Storage is key to saving space and staying organized in your in-home child care. Many teachers choose to invest in movable furniture, like shelving with baskets.

Baskets give children easy access to toys and materials. They also make cleanup easy. Baskets can be placed in hidden areas like under a side table, but are still accessible when you need them.

Karen, the Owner and Head Teacher of Creative Journeys Wonderschool in Tustin, California spent her entire career working in large center-based preschools before deciding to start her own Reggio-inspired in-home program.

Karen lives in a two-bedroom apartment. Her space is smaller than any space she has ever had for a classroom before but she has done an incredible job of creating an enriching environment in her home.

She converted her living room into a learning environment using storage units with removable baskets:

Before:

Before picture of converting living room to preschool

After:

Home preschool setup picture

Ottomans with built-in storage are also a great item of furniture for an in-home child care program. You can store materials inside and use the ottoman for kicking back on the sofa during off-hours.

Lastly, you can keep the space uncluttered by storing extra toys and art materials in a separate closet and switching materials out every week or two. This tactic also keeps classroom projects exciting for the kids, as they will be inspired by new materials every week or so.

Create a flexible space for teaching AND living

While some in-home preschool teachers have an extra unused space in their home to completely dedicate to their program, many use a space that doubles as their own living area.

So how can you incorporate both into one space?

Take care of your body and your needs

It’s important to be sure you have a comfortable adult-sized chair for yourself. Even if you need to replace a large couch with something smaller to conserve space, make sure you bring in something for you so you aren’t sitting in a low chair all day.

Linda, the Owner and Head Teacher of Little Scholars Preschool in Pleasanton, California, is an experienced educator but was unsure about starting her own program because she lives in an apartment.

When she converted her living room into a classroom, she switched out a large sectional sofa for a smaller couch she and her family can still use during off-hours.

Her family is also able to use the activity table as a coffee table when school isn’t in session:

Before

Family child care room setup before

After:

Family child care room setup after

Before:

In-home child care setup picture: before

After:

In-home child care setup picture: after

Maintain your personal or home’s style with muted colors and natural textures

You don’t have to sacrifice your personal style just because you’re using the space as a child care. You don’t have to use bright colors when you start an in-home preschool; you can keep your living space muted in color with natural textures that match the rest of your home.

If you decorate with neutral colors, the color in the room will come from the children and their movement instead of from the room itself.

Karen from Creative Journeys Wonderschool kept her living space neutral in decor. She used natural textures like wood throughout the space.

Before:

Home-based preschool kitchen and living room before

After:

Home-based preschool kitchen and living room after

Create clear boundaries

Lastly, when thinking about the room set up for your in-home preschool or child care, remember you can keep certain areas of your home off-limits. This will allow you to have some privacy and space for yourself and your family.

If you don’t have doors you can close, try hanging a curtain or using a baby gate to mark off-limits areas from the main play spaces.

You can use a different entrance from the front door as your family child care entryway. This allows for privacy for your family or other visitors who come by during non-school hours.

Have a look at the Creative Journey’s entryway:

Before:

Entryway for family child care before

After:

Entryway for family child care inspiration

Design an outdoor-based environment for your in-home program

If you want to run most of your program outdoors, you can either take the kids to a nearby park or use your own back or front yard.


Related: How to Start a Forest School


Linda from Little Scholars Preschool uses a nearby park with a fenced-in play area for her program’s outdoor play and learning.

Outdoor learning environment for home preschool: playing at the park
Linda and the kids at the park

Outdoor learning environment for home preschool: playing on the slide at the park

On the other hand, if you have a back or front yard, you can transform it into a learning space for your program.

For example, Sherie, the Owner and Head Teacher of Little Seedlings, worked with a Wonderschool mentor to renovate a carriage house in her backyard that was previously used for storage. She also set up a great outdoor classroom in addition.

Sherie does mealtimes, bathrooms, and nap time in the main home, but is able to use the other spaces as well for an amazing and dynamic setup.

Designing home-based child care before picture
Stage 1: Sherie’s carriage house was originally being used as a storage shed
Designing home-based child care renovations picture
Stage 2: The carriage house after renovations
Designing home-based child care picture
Stage 3: The carriage house after being converted into a learning environment

Designing home-based child care before picture

Outdoor learning space at home preschool
Part of the outdoor space at Little Seedlings

An outdoor space is great for messier activities, like gardening or sensory play. Sherie built a garden in her yard for the children to practice growing their own plants. She also added in a small sandbox and some recycled tires:

Before:

Outdoor learning space setup: before picture   Outdoor learning space setup: before picture

After:

Learning environment outside home preschool: playing with tires

Learning environment outside home preschool: children gardening

Outdoor learning environment at at-home preschool: sensory play outside

Outdoor learning environment at at-home preschool: sensory play outside 2

Have you started a child care in your home? What works well for you in terms of learning environment design and setup?


You may also like…

How I Started A Home Preschool: Bernal Infant and Child Care Case Study

In-home Preschool Startup Costs and How to Keep Them Low

5 Great Reasons to Start Your In-Home Preschool with Infants & Toddlers


At Wonderschool, we have helped hundreds of teachers, child care providers, and parents start their own in-home child cares and preschools. Our team of mentors works individually with each of our partners to offer support, guidance, and inspiration on how to transform homes and yards into fun learning environments for children.

Looking for environment design inspiration for your home daycare? Check out these before and after photos from inside real home child care directors' homes.

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