The humble home corner is a staple in thousands of early years settings across the globe. It’s a safe, cosy corner where children can role-play, dress up and act out events that they associate ‘home’ with. Maybe yours has a little couch and a coffee table with magazines and a teapot, or a kitchen with a tea set and aprons hanging in the corner.
But have you ever stopped to think about how important a home corner actually is, and why you have it as part of your early years environment? And what it is that children love about them?
We’re taking a look at the meaning behind home corners, and if confining them to one area is the best idea. And more than that - if we should be focusing on maximising the learning that goes on within them and opening up that type of play to the entire setting.
Traditional early years home corners come in all shapes and sizes, but they tend to mirror ‘daily life’ at home. Some are brightly coloured kitchens where children play with miniature tea sets, aprons and pots and pans everywhere. Some are completely made of wood with real fruit and real dishes stowed away in the cupboards.
In essence, they're there to let children act out the roles they see in their own homes, role play and let their imaginations run free. One minute they might be making fried eggs, the next putting all the family members to bed for the evening.
“Children often act out situations from their own world - from making meals to doing the washing,” states Debbie Garvey, Early Childhood consultant and owner of Stonegate training. They recreate the familiarity of their home life and bring it straight to the setting.
And this is why home corners can be a way for children to work through big life changes, like moving house for example. “Children can play out situations they find quite difficult to process,” says Debbie. The familiar setting of a ‘home’ lets children process things they might not quite understand - it breaks it down and practitioners are able to support them through those life changes happening outside the setting.
In short, they’re not just corners where children put on an apron and start making a pretend cake. They’re extremely powerful in assessing children’s emotional state and wellbeing.
How many times have you ever had difficulty expressing your thoughts or problems into words? We all have trouble from time to time, and it’s exactly the same with our little ones.
“I’ve personally observed trauma and abuse being played out in the home corner,’ says Debbie. And Stephanie Bennett, co-founder of the Curiosity Approach, takes a similar view.
“Maybe the way they act or handle a baby doll communicates something to us that they couldn’t possibly communicate verbally,” says Stephanie. And this is exactly why 'home play' is absolutely vital in an Early Years setting. It gives children the space and opportunity to act out events from their own lives.
“It’s their way of communicating what’s going on inside their heads, and it’s how we spot when a child really needs help,” Stephanie continues. The non-verbal communication is vital in assessing their wellbeing, and wouldn't be possible if we didn't allow this type of play to flourish.
From letting children process tough emotions to showing signs of abuse or trauma non-verbally, there doesn’t seem to be any downsides to home corners. So why are we asking if they’re a thing of the past? Well, more often than not, they’re always confined to one area of the setting. And when we really dig into it, this might not be the best way to go about it.
Stephanie advocates taking away the literacy corner, the home corner, the maths corner. Instead of confining it to a certain space, it should be opened up to the whole setting.
“By confining it to a corner, we’re restricting children’s play and experiences,” says Stephanie. “We need to let children be pilots in their own play.”
By zoning off an area dedicated to the ‘home’, we’re restricting home play outside of that. What if a child wants to take the playdough to the kitchen? Or the pots and pans outside to the tap? That isn’t a ‘yes’ environment - in fact, it’s the opposite. In disallowing children to take that home corner play outside of the home area, we’re restricting what a child might really need in that moment. If they needed to work through something big but we stop their play, is this helpful? Stephanie doesn’t think so.
Let's go back to the example of a child playing with a baby doll and what that may tell us about their own home situation. If the child in question wanted to take the baby over to the reading corner to act out their home play there, and we stop them because they need to keep it to the home corner, the signs of trauma or abuse may be completely missed.
Kimberley Crisp, co-founder of The Heart School in New Zealand takes a very similar view to her practice. In fact, Kimberley’s entire ethos is centred around ‘home-i-tising’ - the idea of making the entire setting feel like home. Instead of a corner, the setting is made up of a lounge, a kitchen, a dining room, a garden. She's taken the concept of a home corner and applied it to the entire setting. There’s no ‘corner’ - the setting is the home.
“It’s so much bigger than creating a home corner - we need to create a home away from home,” says Kimberley.
Kimberley has seen first-hand that when a place is created with more home and more heart, children’s play is so much richer. It creates this ‘yes’ environment. Children’s imaginations aren’t confined, but flow freely throughout the setting. It shouldn't be about making your home corner a better version of home, but allowing that home corner to expand and reach every corner of your setting.
It goes without saying that opening up your home corner to your entire setting is easier said than done, and you might not be in a position to do that. But if you’re looking for the first steps and things to think about to assess your current provision and open up your corner, here are a few things to start off with:
If you’d like to read more about Kimberley Crisp and how to home-i-tise your setting, she has a free course on the subject here. And if you're looking to read more about putting children’s play and environment to the forefront, feel free to browse Stephanie Bennett’s Curiosity Approach.