The Early Years Foundation Stage framework outlines certain minimum space requirements which your setting will need to meet:
children under two years: 3.5m squared per child
two year olds: 2.5m squared per child
Children aged 3-5 years: 2.3m squared per child
As long as you meet those space requirements, even if your home is small there is a lot you can do to set up a great learning environment!
Use flexible resources. This will not only save you money, but is great for supporting children's creativity! Many of the items on this list are low-cost or even free; and those that you do buy are a good investment because they can be used in many different ways and with children of different ages and needs. Many of these things you probably already have in your home, or in a local park:
Cardboard boxes and tubes. A collection of cardboard tubes and loo rolls can be a marble run, rabbit warren or complex underground train system...
Large scarves or light cloths in different colours. These can be used in a dressing up area (cloak? Mermaid tail? Fairy wings?), combined with movement as flowing dance cloths, spread on the floor to make tidying up Lego much easier, or can be hung over furniture to create a den or cosy reading nook. You can also use a large cloth to cover up the TV screen so little ones aren't tempted and can focus on more active play.
Wooden bricks - Appealing for babies, toddlers and older children too because they can become anything children want - telephones, ramp supports, castles, bridges....
Loose parts: Conkers, acorns, leaves, twigs, pebbles (keep an eye on choking hazards around babies), clothes pegs, wooden lolly sticks can be combined in many ways - from a counting or sorting activities, constructing towers, making patterns
Art materials: Having crayons, markers, chalks, washable paints, coloured paper, child-safe scissors and glue readily available opens up so many opportunities for children. As well as exploring mark-making and drawing, they can combine marks with their games - making a 'menu' for snack time, recording the winners of a race, draw their family... Small bathroom shelving is often a good option as it tends to fit into smaller spaces, and can fit well alongside a small table to create a mini art studio.
A child-height table: This can be used for art, for meal times, or for a table-top display. The Ikea flisat table has a removable lid and waterproof trays so can be used as a water table or for sensory activities (and containing glitter so it doesn't go into your carpet and remain there for all time). You can buy bigger 'tuff trays' for containing messy play if you have a bigger space.
Water: A small water bucket or tray provides a myriad of potential investigations - what materials sink or float? Can we make a boat from tin foil? Which cup contains more water? What happens to an ice cube in water? Combine with earth and a new world of mud play possibilities open up...
Books: The tiney book club is fantastic because we will help you to build up your own tiney library by sending you some great children's books and resources to inspire many activities relating to thee stories. You don't need hundreds of books - you can take the children on a trip to your local library to get more! It's a good idea to have some books in rotation (packed away), and then you can mix them up every now and then to get a fresh collection out. Stories can spark role play, puppet shows and many great conversations. Children will love to snuggle up on your sofa or some cushions on the floor and enjoy a story.
2. Smart storage
You can use storage smartly so as to keep materials and toys tidy, and so that you can pack things away to have your own space for you and your family. We recommend choosing storage which is accessible to the children so that they can see what's available and choose materials themselves, or that is clearly labelled. This makes it easier for children to help tidy up (phew!), and enables them to engage independently with the resources.
There are various affordable storage options that work well because resources can be stored at children's height, and which have a child-height surface which you can use to display books and other materials.
You don't need to buy millions of toys or materials. I recommend having one storage unit that is open for the children to access, and keep some of your materials in a cupboard somewhere else. If you rotate them every few weeks once the children are tired of the resources, it will be like you have a whole new toy collection to explore!
3. Use your wall space and windows
Even a narrow corridor can be a great learning space. You could set up a gallery wall to display children's work, capture and celebrate their questions, and display photos of their (and your!) family. Try growing broad beans in a sandwich bag sellotaped to a window, or fold tissue paper stars to bring colour to grey skies.
4. Use light as a learning tool
Light offers a vast number of opportunities for scientific and artistic exploration. Can you make long shadows on a sunny day? Can you use a lamp to make shadow puppets? Hang a mirror at a low level so babies can learn to identify their own reflection. Fairy lights in a plastic box covered in paper make a great light table - usually over £150 to buy! - so children can explore how light transforms transparent and translucent objects.
5. Remember, your home doesn't need to look like a nursery!
Many parents will choose a childminder precisely because they don't feel a larger nursery setting is suitable for their child, so you don't need to start packing away your sofas and family photos! They've chosen your setting because it is homely.