How to Set Up An Effective Enabling Environment – Investigation Area (4)

Setting up a classroom can often be a daunting and time consuming process. Thinking how to organise the furniture, display and store resources as well as ensuring that your children have access to the right equipment is often not covered when training and yet is such an important part of a teacher’s role. How many teacher’s spend their holiday organising their environment each year or term? How many teacher’s have to rethink their environment depending on the cohort? How many tweaks do teachers have to constantly make to their environment to keep up with current thinking?

It doesn’t matter what age group you teach, the environment is crucial and can significantly aid or hinder learning. It should be seen as an additional adult and if set up effectively it can promote independence, support organisational skills and provide a clear focus for learning.

The environment in the Early Years should be segmented into different areas. When children are participating in child initiated activities they should move freely throughout the different areas extending, reinforcing and practicing their learning through play. Resources in the areas must be organised and clearly labelled so that children know where they are and can access them independently. They should be allowed to move resources between areas and know where to ‘tidy’ them at the end of a session. Within each area some resources should always be there – Non-Negotiables, and some should be added/removed according to specific learning and children’s interests – Enhanced Provision.

The areas usually include:PICS for folders 016

  • Creative Workshop
  • Graphics/Writing Area
  • Number Area
  • Role Play
  • Small World
  • Construction
  • Book Corner
  • Investigation Area
  • Music Area

The areas inside should also be replicated outside with larger equipment and resources to facilitate larger experiences e.g. water tray inside, paddling pool outside.



An exciting and interesting Investigation area should fire children’s interest and curiosity and stimulate their enquiring minds. It should be a catalyst for developing children’s skills in observing, predicting, exploring and investigating and it should provide daily opportunities for children to discuss, explain and interpret what they discover. By providing a wide range of tools, materials and resources and practical first hand experiences children should be encouraged to make choices and decisions and use tools and materials appropriately.PENTAX Image

If you look up the word “investigate” in the dictionary it tells you that it means “to carry out a detailed examination or enquiry to find out about something or somebody”. If we apply this to our Early years environment then we must offer children a wide range of “investigations” which not only fire their curiosity but also provide them with opportunities to acquire new skills and knowledge across all areas of learning.  

Traditionally the Investigation area in an early years setting consists of sand, water and dough but it can be so much more than this in so many ways! There is a huge range of natural materials that can be offered in the investigation area and a wealth of additions and enhancements that can add challenge, stimulate imagination and provide that “WOW” factor to your learning environment.

Imaginative ways to equip your INDOOR investigation area

  • Sand – wet and dryPENTAX Image
  • Gloop (cornflour and water mixture)
  • Dough
  • Wax
  • Clay
  • Pastry (flour and water)
  • Cooking ingredients for children to create their own unique recipes (e.g. gravy granules, custard powder, dried spices, porridge oats)
  • Water – different temperatures, with bubbles, coloured, with different smells
  • Ice
  • Dried foods – lentils, spaghetti, rice, tapioca, pasta shapes,
  • Shaving foam
  • Lux flakes
  • Foods of different textures – baked beans, cereals, cooked potatoes, bananas, jelly

Imaginative ways to equip your  OUTDOOR  investigation area

  • Sand set up as a beach – so that children can walk in it barefootPENTAX Image
  • Water in a tray large enough for children to paddle in! (or wait for a storm and paddle barefoot in the puddles!)
  • Sawdust
  • Mud
  • Straw
  • Compost
  • Cement
  • Wallpaper paste
  • Shredded paper
  • Leaves
  • Bark chippings
  • Gravel/stones
  • Pebbles
  • Shells

All of these materials can be used in lots of creative and imaginative ways by adding thought provoking tools and changing the properties of the materials. Here are a few ideas:

  • Add waterproof/non waterproof containers to water e.g. socks, small freezer bagsPENTAX Image
  • Add utensils with holes to the sand and water e.g. spaghetti spoon, potato masher, slotted spoon
  • Mix sand, soil and PVA glue to make real mud pies
  • Add rubber gloves to sand and water
  • Get children to make their own dough
  • Fill old tights or stockings with sand and/or water
  • Heat and chill different foods e.g. icy cold baked beans or warm cooked spaghetti
  • Provide contrasts by using raw and cooked foods e.g. pasta, rice
  • Add potato mashers, garlic presses, ice cream scoops to use with different substances
  • Add a variety of containers for filling and pouring e.g. cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, seed trays, plant pots
  • Mix different substances together e.g. compost and cooked spaghetti (looks like worms!!)
  • Provide a mortar and pestle to crush different substances
  • Add sponges of different shapes and sizes to water

So, how do you know if your Investigation area is doing its job?

When I first set up my Investigation area my biggest problem was having complaints from my children that they couldn’t access it due to its popularity! What a fantastic problem to have! So after a bit of a revamp to create more space, I was delighted to see children totally absorbed, persevering, experimenting and talking about their experiences and getting VERY MESSY! This was a true reward for a now much improved and larger Investigation area!PENTAX Image

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