What makes an environment ‘enabling’?


An enabling environment in a nursery setting is a carefully crafted space that supports children’s development and encourages their natural curiosity and desire to learn. It is an environment where risks are minimised, and young children are protected against harm and abuse. An enabling nursery setting involves both the physical and emotional aspects of the environment, as well as the relationships between children, practitioners, and families.


The environment should be child-centred, and practitioners should encourage independence and understand how individual children learn best.


Enabling environments can be split into three factors:

  • The Emotional Environment – the atmosphere of a setting and how it feels.
  • The Indoor Environment – the resources available in the indoor space and how activities are led.
  • The Outdoor Environment – the resources available in the outdoor space and how activities are led.

How to create an enabling nursery environment


Safe and Secure Atmosphere

Providing a physically and emotionally safe environment where children feel secure to explore and learn is essential. This includes implementing safety measures, such as childproofing, and offering emotional support to reassure children.


Stimulating Learning Environment

A well-designed nursery environment should be rich in learning opportunities and resources that encourage exploration, creativity, and problem-solving. This includes age-appropriate toys, books, sensory materials, and open-ended resources that promote active engagement and discovery.

Supportive and Responsive Adults

Nursery practitioners play a crucial role in creating an enabling environment by being responsive to children’s needs, interests, and abilities. Building strong relationships with children, offering individualised support, and providing positive guidance are essential aspects of effective practice.


Inclusive Practices

An enabling nursery environment celebrates diversity and promotes inclusion by respecting and valuing each child’s unique identity, culture, and background. This involves creating an environment where all children feel welcomed, accepted, and included in learning experiences.

Rich Language and Communication

Language development is fundamental in early years, and an enabling nursery environment provides rich opportunities for language and communication development. This includes engaging in meaningful conversations, storytelling, singing, and providing access to a variety of language-rich resources.


Emphasis on Emotional Wellbeing

Supporting children’s emotional wellbeing is essential for creating an enabling environment. This involves helping children develop emotional literacy, self-regulation skills, and resilience, as well as providing a nurturing and supportive atmosphere where children feel valued and cared for.


Collaboration with Families

Building strong partnerships with families is key to creating an enabling nursery environment. Collaborating with parents and caregivers, involving them in their child’s learning journey, and respecting their input and contributions are essential for supporting children’s holistic development.

Individualised Support

Recognising and responding to each child’s individual needs and interests is central to creating an enabling environment. Nursery practitioners observe and assess children’s strengths, preferences, and developmental milestones, tailoring learning experiences to meet their unique needs. Children are empowered to take ownership of their learning, which promotes independence and confidence.


Promotion of Play and Exploration

Play is at the heart of children’s learning and development, and an enabling environment prioritises opportunities for open-ended play and exploration. Children are encouraged to engage in child-led, hands-on activities that promote problem-solving, creativity, and critical thinking skills. Nursery practitioners facilitate and scaffold children’s play experiences, providing guidance and support as needed.

An enabling nursery environment plays a key role in supporting children’s learning and development across the early years. Children learn best in caring and supportive environments that respond to their individual needs.


By creating a rich, varied and safe space where children can play, explore and learn, nursery and early years practitioners can contribute greatly to children’s learning and development. It ensures that children grow to be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured.


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