Enabling Environments: Collections - Me do it!

Self-care is an essential life skill, but it can also help children grow in confidence. Nicole Weinstein suggests some supporting resources.

Physical Development -health and self-care: children manage their own basic hygiene and personal needs successfully, including washing and dressing.

Learning to become more independent in dressing and washing is an important skill for children in the early years. Not only should nursery settings provide accessible storage for coats and outside gear to support their growing independence in this area, but they should also offer opportunities in the home corner where children can explore concepts about health and self-care in their own time.

Practitioners should provide plenty of dressing-up clothes with simple fastenings, clothes to dress dolls and teddies and a selection of different-sized shoes, as well as engage in conversations about the importance of basic hygiene, like washing hands after being outside.

Early years consultant Penny Tassoni says, 'When children are able to do tasks relating to self-care, they gain huge amounts of confidence and that can move into other areas of the curriculum.

'In a daycare setting, one of the ways that practitioners can help children is by making sure that getting dressed is an activity in its own right. So instead of just getting dressed to go to the garden, where the garden is the focus, practitioners should make the "getting dressed" part the activity.

'Dressing is as important as singing rhymes or counting objects. It's great for the development of motor skills and on an emotional level it's a very valuable skill.'


The process of learning to get dressed and undressed takes time, practice and patience. A two-year-old might be able to fetch their shoes and sometimes put them on the correct feet. By the age of three, a child can put on simple items of clothes, like coats, with help. By the age of three and a half, they are mostly able to dress themselves. But it is not until they reach four that they can totally dress and undress themselves, and that doesn't include fiddly items of clothing.

Ms Tassoni says, 'It's important that adults have reasonable expectations of what a child is capable of. Sometimes adults have very high expectations in some areas of development, but sometimes not sufficient in others. So there's an irony, particularly in behaviour, where expectations can be too high, whereas when it comes to mealtimes and dressing it can be too low.'

'Practitioners need to share with parents what children can do - and how fast they can do it - in terms of dressing, so that parents' expectations are realistic. Some parents may baby their children, not knowing quite how much they can do. One of the key things is for parents to understand the emotional benefits for children when they are competent.'



The area where children dress and undress for going outdoors needs to be well thought-out and organised. Storage of coats, shoes, wellies and waterproofs can be problematic, especially if settings don't have a dedicated cloakroom.

Ms Tassoni says, 'I'm a fan of the hanging rail. Children can pick up their coats with a hanger and take them back into their room to put them on. Also, for older children it is good for their motor skills, as they learn to hang their coats back up on a hanger. If there are lots of children all putting coats on at the same time, adults are more likely to feel under pressure, whereas if children do it in small groups, it is less pressurised.'

Children need accessible storage for coats and other outside gear to support their growing independence in this area. Having wellies and outside waterproofs enables children to make decisions about what they need and gives enhanced opportunities to develop these skills.

Useful resources



  • Mobile storage solutions mean that you have flexible provision which allows children to maximise their opportunities to practise dressing and undressing. Try the Mobile Outdoor Cloakroom (£56), the Welly Shed Ready Assembled (£285), the pack of four Horizontal Simple Wall Welly Racks (£32.50) or, for a more lightweight version, try the Double Sided Welly Rack (£199). Useful outdoor clothing includes Puddlesuits (£14.99) and Fit All Gloves (£3.34 for three pairs). All the above resources are available from Cosy Direct on 01332 370152.


  • Welcome Cubbies (from £345) from www.communityplaythings.co.uk, include a bench for children to sit on when putting on or taking off shoes, wellies or slippers, and a knob on the wooden peg that prevents coats from sliding off. Name holders make it obvious to each child which cubby belongs to them.
  • c-ponchos-wescoThe Zip Zap Cloakroom range from www.wesco-eshop.co.uk is a customisable cloakroom unit with coat hooks, cubbie holes and bench tops to sit on while changing. The price for the basic straight unit with shelves is £353.50. Wesco Ponchos (from £10.50) are available in four sizes and are easy to put on and take off.
  • The Outdoor Wooden Wellie Wall (£249.95) holds up to 14 pairs of wellies, or try the Metal Wellie Racks (single for £149.95 or double £179.95), all from www.tts-group.co.uk. For practice with different fastenings - zips and buttons, hook and loop, poppers and press studs - try the Activity Frame (£34.95), also from TTS.
  • Try hanging coats on the Cloakroom Unit With 8 Hooks & Boot Rack (£415) or the portable Cloakroom Trolly, 3 in 1 (£327) from www.morleysearlyyears.co.uk.

  • Coat racks may be more suited to small settings or childminders. Try the Children's Coat Rack - Jungle Animals (£15.85) or the Girl's Coat Hook (£9.99), with a pocket to store small objects, both from www.childmindingshop.co.uk


Babies and toddlers are often encouraged to enjoy activities that involve exploring materials such as gloop, paint, jelly or honey, which inevitably get them 'messy'.

Linda Thornton, education consultant to Morleys, says, 'While cleaning up afterwards, practitioners should talk about hand washing and demonstrate how to do this properly, giving the children a good role model to follow.'

Hand washing (and when needed, face washing), she advises, must become a regular part of the preand post-mealtime routine, after particular activities, such as handling pets or gardening, and, of course, after visits to the toilet.

Useful resources

  • The Kiddiwash hand washing unit with poster (£147) from www.ypo.co.uk is a self-contained hand-washing unit that keeps water warm for several hours and provides a minimum of ten 12-second hand washes per filling. The portable Kiddisynk (£277) from www.morleysearlyyears.co.uk works in the same way.
  • Posters and reminders about hand-washing and basic hygiene can be printed from the internet. Or try the the Wesco Hygiene Poster (£7.70), which displays good hygiene practices and shows children wiping their feet, washing their hands and face and brushing their teeth, or the Hygiene Bulletin Board Set (£14.99) from www.ypo.co.uk.
  • Mirrors displayed by sinks are a lovely way to encourage children to wash their hands - and to see themselves in action. Try the Wash Hands Mirror (£5.99) from www.reflectionsonlearning.co.uk.
  • The Health and Hygiene Puzzle Set is a set of six tray puzzles depicting health and hygiene (£52.60) from www.ypo.co.uk.


Dolls and resources such as baby baths and toothbrushes should be available in the home corner to extend knowledge about children's own needs as well as others. Providing dressing-up clothes allows children to practise dressing and undressing with no pressure.

Role-play resources to support baby play enable children to practise care skills and think about how they are changing and growing and how they are becoming more independent in their self care about toileting, washing, dressing and eating.

Ideas of what to include in the role-play area

  • The Real Baby Role Play Set (£17.99), the Reusable Doll Nappies (£4.50 for six), and the pack of three Dolls Hooded Towels (£3.60) from Cosy Direct.
  • Outfits in the Dressing Up Chest Special Offer (£91.75) from www.hope-education.co.uk have been designed for use by three to six-year-olds, but all have fully adjustable straps and elastic waistbands to allow extra flexibility. Don't forget to provide a mirror so that children can see themselves. Try the Freestanding Mirror (£87.99) from www.reflectionsonlearning.co.uk
  • Children can zip, button, tie shoelaces and secure Velcro on the two Activity Rag Dolls - Boy and Girl (£9.99) from www.thechildmindingshop.co.uk, or dress the Clothed Newborn Dolls - White Girl (£18.50) with Doll's Clothes Pack 1 (£33.94) from www.hope-education.co.uk.



Mary Sheridan's From Birth to Five Years: children's developmental progress by Ajay Sharma and Helen Cockerill.

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