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Enticing environments for infants and toddlers

Written by Tania Coutts and Justine Mason, CORE Education, April 2011

This story describes a centre's journey to improve their outdoor environment by undertaking a 'nature challenge'.

Reflective questions, following the story (and in Word), can be used to provoke further thinking and discussion.

Tania Coutts initiated an infant and toddler network in Whangarei to provide opportunities for infant and toddler teachers to meet on a regular basis. This has provided an opportunity to share and discuss ideas around philosophies, pedagogy and practice for the care and education of children under two. It has proved valuable to spend time in each other’s environments, and the following story provides an example of how one centre has inspired others.

At our recent Infant and Toddler Network meeting in Whangarei, we had the opportunity to explore Norfolk Street Baby Centre’s newly improved outdoor environment.  

Norfolk Street is one of seven Educare North Centres in Northland, owned by Jackie and Alan Lints.

“All our centre’s are very focused on tuning back into nature and getting rid of the plastic look. We want centre’s to create areas of curiosity, challenge, wonderment, movement, living things and the list goes on….”
Marianne Wood – Educare North Centre Manager

'Nature challenge' is set

Jackie and Alan recently set a 'nature challenge' for each centre. The purpose was to enhance the outdoor environment and inspire the teaching team to work together within their communities. Each centre was given a small budget to work with, and needed to think about:

  • budget adherence (you were allowed to be creative)
  • aesthetics
  • being child focused
  • having community involvement.

Not only did this challenge encourage team-building, it also required teams to work alongside children, whānau, and the community.  


Take time to read the following reflections from Marianne and Alan.  

"At Norfolk St Baby Centre the process was one of discussion amongst the team through informal and formal conversations. An information sheet was put out for parents with a request for involvement of ideas, resources and manpower. From there we set two working bees and all the staff had jobs allocated in order for the project to move along. As manager I wanted all staff to be involved no matter how. We needed to be empathetic to each staff’s situation at home in terms of spare time.  We soon had parents offering help through the working bees and members in the wider community donated resources (bamboo, rope, logs, etc) and time. As soon as you mention “for the children” people want to be involved. Our outcomes were achieved in terms of adding texture, movement, sound and places to explore.”

“What blows me away is that the children can be all outside but they are engaged immediately with their new environment either by themselves or in small groups”.
Marianne Wood

"We have a very good Educare North community comprised of great children and staff with exceptional whānau support - hence the working bees for our nature competition. Who would have thought we would have working bees for privately owned centres.”
Alan Lints – Educare North Centre’s Owner

Photo story

Check out some of the before and after photos in the photostory.


It’s amazing to see what you can achieve with a budget (very small), time, and commitment from teachers and whānau; and, a HUGE pinch of imagination and creativity!

Reflective questions

  • When thinking about your environment, in what ways do you create areas of curiosity, challenge, wonderment and movement for infants and toddlers?
  • Do you have spaces where infants and toddlers can explore living things?
  • Where are the spaces in your centre for infants and toddlers to explore by themselves or alongside others?
  • In what ways do you involve your whānau and community in establishing environments for infants and toddlers?
  • In what ways can you include the local environment in your setting?
  • When looking through the photos from Norfolk St Educare, are there things you could easily include in your own environment?

(Download a Word version of these questions, or print them using the 'print' icon at the top right of the page.)


If you would like to initiate/contribute to a discussion related to this video, please post a comment in the box below.

ECE Online - Infants and toddlers 'resource' survey

Kia ora. We want to ensure that the resources we are making available on ECE Online - Infants and toddlers are useful and relevant for teacher practice.

After you have viewed the resource, you could tell us what you think: