I got to talk with early education expert Terei Baker about designing the learning environment of an in-home preschool.Designing your home preschool environment can be both exciting and overwhelming. As you start to plan, your use of space and materials will likely depend on the educational philosophy of your school.

For example, if your program is Waldorf-based, you may use all-natural felt dolls. If you plan to run a Montessori child care or preschool, you may have specialized Montessori materials and self-corrective toys. Or you might use a mixture of philosophies and your environment design will reflect that.

But no matter what, you’ll want to include some basic interest areas in your home preschool.

I was lucky enough to chat with our Bay Area teacher mentor, Terei Baker, on how she advises Wonderschool directors when designing their home environments.

Here are the four basic preschool home environment interest areas Terei recommends including to get you started in planning your space:

1.     Block construction corner

Terei recommends designing a block construction corner for children to create and build during play. She says it’s a good idea to keep this area away from the majority of foot traffic and other quieter activities because it can be quite active.

Shelving and storage is important in the block corner; don’t just throw everything in a bin. Instead, use a sectioned storage unit to organize the blocks and keep them visible.

Construction area in Little Scholars Preschool
Playing with a train set in the construction area of Little Scholars Preschool, and in-home preschool in Pleasanton

Here are some ideas of what can go in this area of the room:

  • A  set of wooden unit blocks
  • Cars and trucks
  • Railroad tracks and trains
  • Toy people
  • Toy animals. You could include dinosaurs one week, farm animals the next, and so on. Including these helps the kids expand into their creativity.

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

2.     Dramatic/symbolic play corner

The dramatic/symbolic play area of the learning space includes items like toy kitchens, dolls, and play food for children to engage with. This area includes anything that gets the children out and symbolizing what they’re seeing in the world. Terei recommends putting this area near the block construction corner because sometimes equipment can be shared between the two.

Dramatic play area in in-home preschool
Dramatic play with wooden toys in Little Nest Learning Space in Los Angeles, a Montessori-inspired in-home child care.

For organization, you don’t need a big shelf here necessarily. You could use baskets to separate out toy food, clothing, kitchen items, etc. Helping children learn to clean up and organize the toys themselves will create a sense of ownership.

Some more ideas of what you can put in this area:

  • Play stove, refrigerator, and/or kitchen sink
  • Dolls and doll accessories
  • Small table and chairs
  • Dishes and play food so they can cook and make meals
  • Dress up clothes for both boys and girls. You can buy or borrow these.
  • A basket of shoes and/or hats
Home environment of in-home preschool Kids Collage
The home preschool environment at Kids Collage, a Reggio-inspired preschool in Oakland

3.     Manipulative corner

The manipulative corner is used for activities that help develop fine motor control, such as puzzles or Legos. If the home can only fit one table, this is usually where it goes so children can sit down while they play. This table can also be used for meals. However, if the kitchen is big enough, Terei recommends serving meals in there.

Manipulative area at Little Butterfly Small School
Manipulative area in Little Butterfly Small School in-home child care in San Lorenzo

For storage, the toys in this section usually have their own shelf or section of a shelf and are in baskets or bins. Puzzles can be stacked up on a shelf or in a puzzle folder.

Some ideas of items for the manipulative corner include:

  • Playdough
  • Lacing toys
  • Stacking toys
  • Puzzles
  • Legos

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

4.     Child sanctuary/literacy library

Lastly, it’s important to include a space in the learning environment that allows children to take time on their own, away from others, while still being supervised. For older children (ages 3-5), this could be a “literacy library” and writing center with paper, pens, pencils, and so on. For toddlers and infants, it can be a “cozy corner”.

Home preschool learning environment in Little Nest Learning Space
The home learning environment in Little Nest Learning Space, a Montessori-inspired child care, including a cozy literacy corner with pillows and stuffed animals.

Terei recommends getting a crib-sized mattress and covering it with a soft blanket and pillows. If a child needs to retreat, he or she can go here. Just be sure to keep the area big enough for you to get inside and sit with a child or two. If you keep a small couch in the room for yourself, the cozy corner can be in this area.

Items in the literacy library may include:

  • Paper, pens, pencils, stamps, like a mini office
  • Bin of books. (This doesn’t mean you don’t have books somewhere else in the room.)
  • Stuffed animals

Other spaces in your in-home preschool

If you have more room when designing your in-home learning environment, you can also include an area for arts and crafts and one for science to complete your learning environment.

Outside of the learning environment, you will also want to plan for a parent area, cubby area, and diaper changing area (if you care for infants and toddlers in your program).

Here at Wonderschool, we partner with amazing educators to open home-based preschools and child cares in their communities. Click here to learn more about how we can help you open your own program!

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