Creating Nurturing Environments for Infants and Toddlers

Child care provider reading to toddlers.Infants and toddlers learn about and experience life through sensory and motor explorations. They touch, taste, smell, observe, and move through the world about them to make sense of it. Children from birth to three years of age live directly through their senses … Therefore, the environment in which infants [and toddlers] are placed has a tremendous impact.

—Lally, Stewart, & Greenwald, 2009, pp. 1–2


This statement highlights the powerful role of the environments in which infants and toddlers spend their time. The spaces surrounding infants and toddlers influence what they do, how they feel, and the kinds of interactions they have with others. Take a moment to think about the impact environments

View the video example: Teacher Welcomes Children (Bilingual) 
Access the Video Clip Series.

In this video clip, a caregiver greets two toddlers as they arrive at their center in the morning.

  • Notice how the teacher gently brings the girls into the environment and talks with them in their home language, Spanish, as they adjust to being in care.
  • How do the setting and furnishings support interactions and togetherness?
  • Notice how the photos of the children are at their eye level, and that they provide an opportunity for talking about each member of the group.

Please note that all programs filmed for this project are in full compliance with licensing regulations at the time of filming. In each video, the required adult-to-child ratio is met and all children are supervised, even if other adults are not visible on the screen.

have on you. Are there settings where you feel more relaxed or more stressed? To different degrees, environments affect all of us. Spaces may influence infants and toddlers more than older children and adults since young children cannot change the environment or move to another space (Lally, Stewart, & Greenwald, 2009). You can create a nurturing environment in a center-based child care setting or a family child care home. The time you spend making thoughtful and careful decisions about the environment will help you create high-quality spaces where infants, toddlers, and the adults caring for them can thrive.

This chapter provides information on best practices for creating infant and toddler environments. It can help those who are setting up an infant and toddler child care space for the first time and those working to enhance the current environment. In center-based child care, you may need to share your reflections with your program director and work together to make plans to improve the infant and toddler setting. If you are an assistant in a family child care home, you can discuss your reflections with the main provider as you work together to enhance the environment. Through articles, videos, and photographs, the information and examples that follow give you a chance to consider your own experiences with infants and toddlers, including the following:

  • How does your environment support the development of infants and toddlers?
  • In what ways can an environment support the adults who care for infants and toddlers?
  • How can your environment help you to strengthen adult-child relationships?
  • In what ways can an infant and toddler care setting help family members feel welcome and included?
  • How can you create an environment that has space for infants and toddlers to spend time with their families?

Video Example: Family Child Care Setting Supports a Nursing Mother and Her Young Infant

  • In the following video clip, a family child care provider has arranged her environment to welcome nursing mothers.
  • Notice how she has created a space with a comfortable chair that can be physically separated from the other children with a gate.
  • The respectful interactions between the caregiver and the mother are supported by an environment that allows the mother to feel comfortable and welcomed in her daughter’s child care setting.
  • Please note that all programs filmed for this project are in full compliance with licensing regulations at the time of filming. In each video, the required adult-to-child ratio is met and all children are supervised, even if other adults are not visible on the screen.

Whether you are new to child care or have been caring for young children for years, your direct experiences with infants, toddlers, and families are valuable information to consider as you go about creating nurturing environments. It is important to continually assess how your child care environment supports the infants and toddlers in your care. Thinking in this way is essential to creating and maintaining high-quality environments for young children.

While there are many guidelines for designing supportive spaces for infants and toddlers, there is not one perfect environment that will be right for all infants, toddlers, families, and child care providers at all times (Bergen, Reid, & Torelli, 2009). The environment needs to be flexible and easy to change because infants and toddlers grow and develop new skills and interests quite rapidly.

Infant and toddler care settings need to include welcoming spaces for family members, who tend to spend more time in the care environment than families of older children. By considering best practices and continuing to reflect on the unique group of children in your care, you can engage in an ongoing process of creating and adapting a high-quality setting for infants and toddlers.


Bergen, D., Reid, R., & Torelli, L. (2009). Educating and caring for very young children: The infant/toddler curriculum (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Lally, J. R., Stewart, J., & Greenwald, D. (2009). A guide to setting up environments (2nd ed.). Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education and WestEd.