Enabling Environments: Let's explore ... Night-time

Create night in the day, or wait until dark, for a host of imaginative activities indoors and outdoors that will help children explore their natural fascination with the night, suggested by early years adviser Judith Stevens.


Areas of learning

(1) Personal, social and emotional development

(2) Communication, language and literacy

(3) Problem solving, reasoning and numeracy

(4) Knowledge and understanding of the world

(5) Physical development

(6) Creative development

For some young children, this time of year will be the first time that they have shown an interest in night-time and the dark. This could be for any number of reasons. Perhaps they have been involved in outdoor activities when it has been dark - Halloween or Bonfire Night, with fascinating fireworks, exciting bonfires or enjoyable tricks or treats. Maybe they have experienced Diwali celebrations with divas, lamps or candles. It could quite simply be that they are travelling home from their early years setting in the dark for the first time and noticed the stars or the moon. With Christmas fast approaching, perhaps lights or sparkling decorations have caught their interest in the dark.

Whatever the initial stimulation, practitioners can focus this interest and extend and develop it to give children and adults opportunities to explore aspects of night-time together.


Create a role-play area which gives children opportunities to explore the light and dark. Wherever possible, create this in a small room where the light can be turned off. If not, try to create a den-like area, using dark fabric or camouflage netting. Use small, clear Christmas lights, out of the children's reach, near to the ceiling, to create a starlit sky.

Provide a range of resources to stimulate children's imaginations:
- 'camp fire', metal cooking pots
- blankets
- cushions
- sleeping bags
- pillows
- rucksacks
- shiny fabric with stars design
- maps
- torches
- water bottles
- lunch boxes
- compasses
- plastic minibeasts
- furry woodland creatures
- branches
- logs
- fir cones
- leaves
- other natural resources
- 'treasure'
- baskets and shiny boxes

(1) Co-operating and collaborating
(2) Talking for a variety of purposes
(3) Using the language of size
(4) Observing and finding out about the natural world
(5) Using a range of small and large equipment
(6) Using their imagination in role play


- Act in role as a camper, magician, lost traveller or explorer.

- Support the children as they explore the resources.

- Extend their conversations about what they are doing, and why.

- Develop the home corner to reflect the role-play area by adding bedtime reading books, a star mobile, soft toys, cushions, pillows and duvets.



- glitter

- sequin stars

- unbreakable Christmas star decorations

- sieves

- treasure boxes and jewellery boxes

(1) Using resources independently
(2) Using descriptive language
(3) Problem solving
(3) Counting and calculating
(5) Handling small equipment with increasing care
(6) Exploring songs and rhymes


- Observe children, noting significant achievements.

- Support children as they recall favourite songs and rhymes such as 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star'.

- Encourage children to explore the resources.

- Extend children's learning as they sort the resources, make predications and test hypotheses.



- playdough with glitter and sequins in

- rolling pins

- star and crescent cutters

- plastic or paper plates decorated with stars (Consider adding a non-toxic scent such as cinnamon or ground cloves to dough)

(1) Working as part of a group
(2) Using descriptive language
(3) Counting and calculating, exploring shape and size
(4) Exploring materials
(6) Exploring texture
(5) Developing motor skills


- Engage the children to talk about what they see, smell and feel.

- Encourage them to explore the resources, using all their senses.

- Support them as they make connections with earlier experiences.



- assorted fiction and information texts about night-time, the dark and stars

- an assortment of stars of different sizes and textures on a shiny metal tray

- assorted laminated stars with magnetic tape on the back

(2) Retelling and creating own stories using props
(2) Exploring books
(3) Sorting and ordering stars by size
(3) Counting stars
(4) Exploring the properties of materials


- Share books with individuals and pairs of children.

- Model the use of information texts and the language of stories.

- Support the children as they retell familiar stories and create their own.



- a recording of 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star'

- the words for the rhymes

- posters and pictures of stars

- Makaton symbols for the rhyme and assorted plastic and metal stars

- assorted home-made shakers

(1) Making links with home experiences
(2) Talk for a variety of purposes
(2) Writing for a range of purposes
(4) Asking questions about how and why things work
(6) Exploring rhythms


- Respond positively and value children's independent attempts at retelling rhymes.

- Plan shared sessions for children to explore rhymes in Twinkle, twinkle chocolate bar (see book box).

- Support the children as they use shakers to create rhythms.

- Ask questions that encourage children to talk about what they are doing and why.

- assorted paper and card stars
- wrapping paper with stars and moons design
- glitter
- sequins
- glue sticks
- glue and spreaders
- small cardboard boxes
- silver and gold paint
- gold and silver cards

(1) Selecting and using resources independently
(2) Writing for a range of purposes
(3) Copying, continuing and creating repeated patterns
(4) Selecting and using tools
(6) Exploring 2D and 3D creations


- Respond positively, valuing children's independent attempts at writing.

- Support the children as they make their own greetings cards.

- Create situations that promote creativity - what could we make a magic box for? Who could use it?


Some practitioners will actually be able to give children opportunities to explore the dark, but this will depend on whether the setting provides sessional or full-time day care. If children are at the setting when it is dark, consider taking them outside (warmly dressed) to sit on blankets around an imaginary 'campfire' to listen to stories or play. Support children as they use torches to throw beams of light across the grounds. Imagine the magical effect of strategically, safely placed night-lights.

All settings can give children opportunities to develop den role play and pretend it is night-time. Provide:

- climbing frames or A frames
- string
- blankets
- fabric lengths
- cushions
- sheets
- clothes pegs
- carpet squares
- large empty cartons
- sticky tape

(1) Co-operation and collaboration
(2) Talk for a variety of purposes
(3) Measuring and estimating
(4) Exploring and investigating
(5) Handling construction equipment with increasing control
(6) Using their imagination in play


- Encourage the children's independence and autonomy.

- Promote creativity - sharing stories about the moon and the stars and things that go bump in the night!


In the Early Years Foundation Stage, it is important that settings are well-equipped to respond to predictable early childhood interests when children show an interest in a particular topic.

Night-time lends itself to various routes of exploration, including festivals, bedtime and being outdoors at night.

To support children's general interest in night-time, consider providing:

- tent or den-making materials

- torches

- duvet and cover, blankets, sleeping bags, sheets and pillows

- selection of pyjamas and nightdresses

- dolls and blankets

- books and rhymes with a night-time theme and props (see Book Box, page 20)

- posters and pictures of stars

- stars, glitter and collage materials

- star-shaped cutters

(pictured are Display Stars from Hope Education, £8.50 for a pack of 40)


Tuning in

Making time to talk to parents and carers is an important way of finding out about children's current interests and about what matters to them. Such information helps practitioners provide a curriculum that is relevant and meaningful.

Having an existing interest in a particular theme means that children approach it with enthusiasm and expertise, giving them confidence and increased motivation to engage in the activities provided. Children can use this expertise best in carefully planned, open-ended learning opportunities without prescribed uniform outcomes.

Enhancing provision

Any significant interest that a child or children may have should be explored by enhancing a setting's continuous provision - that is, by adding theme-based resources to the areas of provision that is available daily to children and should comprise:

- role play
- small-world play
- construction play
- sand and water
- malleable materials
- creative workshop area
- graphics area
- book area

By taking this approach, children can choose to engage with the theme or pursue their own interests and learning independently. Adults need to recognise that children require a suitable length of time to explore any interests in depth and to develop their own ideas.


If children's interests are to be used to create the best possible learning opportunities, the adult role is crucial.

Adults need to be able to:

- enhance continuous provision to reflect children's interests

- use enhancements to plan meaningful learning opportunities across all areas of the EYFS

- know when to intervene in children's play and when to stand back

- recognise that children will need a suitable length of time to explore any area of provision to develop their own ideas

- model skills, language and behaviours

- recognise how observation, assessment and reflection on children's play can enhance their understanding of what young children know and recognise how these should inform their future planning.


All practitioners know that families have an essential role to play in developing children's love of stories and books. As 2008 is the National Year of Reading, why not begin to plan activities now that will encourage families to get into the habit of sharing a bedtime story with their child?

There are lots of ways to get mothers, fathers and other family members on board. Consider a 'Bedtime Story Party' when children and staff bring pyjamas and slippers to wear in the setting and families are invited to the launch of 'A Book at Bedtime'.

Before the launch, spend time talking to children about their favourite books. Create a display which includes children's paintings and drawings of their favourite books and stories, photographs of them reading books and speech bubbles with their comments about the books. Make lists of the children's and practitioners' favourite books and authors that can be shared with families. Consider developing a book loans scheme or story sacks for families to borrow. If possible, try to provide a story book as a gift for every family.

Often, staff from local libraries are keen to be involved in events such as this and they can provide storytelling facilities. If not, practitioners and parents can share books with children on comfy rugs and cushions. Perhaps the whole event can be tied in with Bookstart.

Remember to add copies of favourite storybooks to the home corner so that children can include 'bedtime stories'.

For more information about the National Year of Reading and World Book Day, see:




There is a wide selection of available fiction and information texts about night-time. Remember to use the local library and encourage families and members of the local community to share books:

- Nighty Night! by Colin McNaughton (Walker Books) Littlesaurus creates a gigantic rumpus when Daddysaurus says, 'It's time for bed.' Simple story made great fun by the sight of exasperated dinosaur parents.

- How to Catch a Star by Oliver Jeffers (Philomel) Oliver longs to have a star of his own, but he can't reach it in his rocket as he used up all the petrol last Tuesday and all his other efforts end in failure. Then, out at sea, he sees a beautiful star, which is eventually washed ashore, and Oliver and his starfish walk off together hand in hand. A charming, award-winning story with humour and endearing illustrations.

- In The Dark, Dark Wood by Jessica Souhami (Frances Lincoln; new paperback edition) Turn the pages and lift the flaps to search the house, peep under the bed, look in the cupboard and find an array of spooky creatures - the spookiest is kept for last.

- I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis (Barefoot Books) A young boy's magical adventure with his friend the Moon. Their unusual journey is described in lyrical verse, creating a magical story that celebrates the serene beauty of the world at night.

- One Bear at Bedtime by Mick Inkpen (Hodder Children's Books) A great counting book in which one little boy thinks he needs only his one teddy, but kangaroos, giraffes and a ten-headed monster all feature in the bedtime routine.

- The Bedtime Bear by Ian Whybrow (MacMillan Children's Books) A short poem of goodnight wishes from a young rabbit preparing for - or attempting to postpone - his own sleep, by saying goodnight to every object in sight and within earshot.

- Laura's Star by Klaus Baumgart (Little Tiger Press) Laura is often lonely, but one night she sees a falling star, takes it to her room, mends it and lays it on her pillow. She tells the star all her secrets. But when she wakes in the morning, the star is gone.

- When the Moon Smiled by Petr Horacek (Walker Books) One night on the farm everything is topsy-turvy, and the moon will only smile when things are put right. It's time for him to light the stars, one by one. A counting book that combines die-cut pages and peek-through holes - warm, ingenious, interactive and fun.

- Night Monkey, Day Monkey by Julia Donaldson (Egmont Books) Trying to play together allows Day Monkey and Night Monkey to each see how the other views the world.

- Stars by Bob Barner (Chronicle Books) - Simple rhyming text describes stars and the planets of our solar system in this non-fiction book.

- Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star (Sign & Sing-Along) (BSL) by Annie Kauber (Child's Play)

- Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Sylvia Long (Chronicle Books)

- Twinkle, Twinkle Chocolate Bar: Rhymes for the Very Young edited by John Foster (Oxford University Press).

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