Why your centre’s physical environment needs an upgrade

A picture of a young girl swinging on a swing with a huge smile on her face

The physical environment of your service is about more than looking good to prospective families.

Quality Area 3 (QA3), Physical Environment, is related to two aspects of your centrehow the indoor and outdoor areas are designed and used. Designing your facility should involve consulting with staff and experts to ensure that the environment is stimulating and safe for children. 

The design also needs to ensure that all areas are accessible to all the children in your care. Staff should be well-informed about the purpose and maintenance of the environment, with documentation supporting all design decisions.

A well-designed environment 

To rate well in QA3, your centre’s environment should include several features:

  • Children are free to move from one area of the centre to another
  • The equipment is versatile and can be used in various ways
  • Provides a safe area, yet one that allows children to take acceptable risks
  • Both indoor and outdoor spaces support the access of every child
  • The environment is subject to regular maintenance and safety checks

Bring the outdoors inside or engage in quiet activities outdoors

Part of ensuring your centre can be used in various ways is to facilitate access to all resources placed in different areas. Create an indoor nature table with natural items for children to touch, stack and build. This is an excellent way for children to engage with nature while indoors.

  • The outdoor environment need not only be for running, jumping and burning off steam.
  • A well-designed outdoor area provides opportunities for group and individual play.
  • Outdoor facilities incorporate spaces for traditionally indoor activities.
  • Stations for making clay sculptures 
  • Comfy chairs for reading under shady trees

Learn more about designing a safe, inclusive and suitable environment for children of all ages in our guide, How to Improve Ratings in Quality Area 3.

How to Improve Your Ratings in NQS QA3

Create learning galleries in a Programming and Planning (P&P) tool to show how educators are working to create a safe, inclusive environment.

How the physical environment affects children— and your ratings

A varied, modular environment can go a long way to engaging and challenging children. An area with movable equipment that children can use in different ways helps keep things fresh. It allows children to explore the space in creative ways. It will also continue to challenge them, allowing them to develop skills on an ongoing basis.

Indoor and outdoor environments with different levels allow climbing and exploring. Raised platforms, stairs, boxes, ladders, climbing walls and trees are ways to get children higher off the ground. They can test their physical skills, particularly when the area is adequately safe for acceptable risk taking. This helps build independence and develop confidence.

Babies require specific considerations

The Sleep Check function in Playground can be used to maintain records of children’s daily sleep routines and be shared with parents via the Home app.
  • Don’t confine babies to indoor environments
  • Allow babies to explore the outdoors
  • Provide them a variety of tactile sensations
  • Let them crawl on grass
  • Let them lie on a soft fall mat or wooden deck
  • Take adequate safety precautions
  • Babies interact with the world by mouthing
  • No items smaller than a D-size battery

Documentation, as always, is key

Regardless of the quality area under consideration, documentation is critical. A lack of documentation gives assessors nothing to assess. There is no proof you’re meeting the NQS, even when you are.

Things you can document in Quality Area 3:

  • Your cleaning schedule, safety checks and regular maintenance logs
  • Design plans and motivation for implementing specific designs and equipment
  • Photos and videos of children using the space in a variety of ways
  • Records that all equipment meets or surpasses Australian standards (particularly cots)
  • A sustainability policy posted for staff and children to see

Make sustainability discussions part of your routine 

Environmental responsibility isn’t just about saving the environment. It’s also about educating children about how they can contribute. A solid sustainability plan is splendid for your centre and the environment. But involving children in those efforts is of even greater value. Additionally, this will also help you with your NQS ratings.

Portrait of a diverse group of schoolchildren wearing green t shirts with a white recycling logo on them, standing behind colour coded recycling bins in an elementary school classroom with arms around each other, smiling to camera with thumbs up

Have children collect leftover drinking water they can later distribute in the centre’s garden. This can lead to a conversation about water conservation. Educators can engage children about why it’s important to turn off lights in rooms when they leave. Teach children to sort recyclable materials from the waste after an arts and crafts activity. This will help them feel involved in the recycling efforts.

You have the toolsnow it’s time to use them

Using the information and suggestions in this article, combined with the content in the complete NQS Quality Area 3 Guide, you should be well prepared to develop your centre’s Quality Improvement Plan (QIP). With planning involving critical reflection, a well-designed environment that includes sustainability considerations and documentation of your efforts, you’ll be well on your way to Meeting NQS. 

We’ve created several free guides aimed at helping ECEC services improve the quality of their service to secure high NQS ratings. Please visit our free resources section to view other completed NQS quality area guides, along with our other guides on topics relevant to ECEC services.